The Canticle of the Turning…

This morning was a vastly different morning than the morning of my youth. I dont quite yet know how I feel about that (completely, I don’t think any of us yes know), but I do know it was vastly different.

In my youth, whether I liked it or not, Sunday Morning meant going to church. Although I had friends and did have fun at church, it was not always the number one place where you wanted to go. I can recall many saturday nights that coould have been sleepovers that were never meant to be because we had to go home and go to bed for church. Many times, Satudays, were no different than “School Nights” in our hoouse because it unfairly (in my opinion) meant going to bed at the same time we would have on Sunday night to prepare for school on Monday.

Now, as an adult, I relish my time at church. IT truly is where I feel closest to God. It is also where I feel closest to my grandfather who has since passed. I am disappointed every sunday when I still don’t see him sitting outside our Youth Director’s office. I know he is there, like he was every Sunday when he was alive, but he is not physically there. That is not all though. I relish that time becasuse no matter what my week has been like, no matter who I have met that has challeneged my patience, no matter what meeting that could have been an email, I walk out of that holy place a new person. It never ceases to amaze me, but it restores my faith in hummanity and in myself – week after week after week.

This week was different, however. This week was Church 2.0. This was church in the age of Coronavirus. This was church in the age of the anomaly that is the term Social Distancing.

I sat in my underwear, with my parents who were in their pajamas to attend church this morining. We mirrored our iMac to our TV using AppleTV and we watched the services as they were streamed through Facebook live. It was VASTLY different from any church service I have EVER attended. And oddly enogh, I walked away from church with the same restoration of my faith that I have the million times I have walked away from church before. God Truly works in mysterious ways.

Was it different? Yes, it was.

Do I prefer the face to face meeting? Yes of course. I oddly enough don’t even like attending church in your underwear or pajamas.

The older I get, the most I listen to my gut, the feeling my students call jujuu. That conscience or gut feeling that many attirubute to god. He spoke to me today and many others through one of the songs we sang called “The Cantcicle of the Turning.”

I fell in love with the song I heard several years ago, and those feelings of joy came turning back as we sang to our tv screen. Truly, god spoke to us this morning through song. The Question is, were you listening?

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight on the servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forbears heard
is the promise that holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around. (Refrain)

Read back over the lyrics, my friends. Listen to what they are saying. Yes, this is an especially challenging time for those of us who love the church. Yes we have been scared and are still scared. Yes, we are confused. But must importantly, YES. GOD. IS. WITH. US.

And for that, my soul cries out with what you know is a joyjul shout!

To my trinity family, I missed seeing you this morning, but until things change, we must keep the faith and the safety of others (like Halleigh) close to our hearts.

To those who do not worship with me, my message is simple: Keep the faith. WE have been through dark days in the past, and we will have many more to get through in the future. We will only be able to do it, together.

God’s Peace and Blessings to one and ALL! AMEN.

-WB

Cold Mountain Wisdom

As I was channel surfing one night this week as men are prone to doing, I came across one of the films that was moved into my top ten list of greatest films of all time. The Anthony Minghella-directed masterpiece that is Cold Mountain originally premiered in 2004 and stars Nicole Kidman and Jude Law and Reneé Zellweger in an Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG Award, and BAFTA winning performance. In addition to those three mega stars the film also has other major star players in supporting roles including Donald Sutherland, Jack White (from the White Stripes), Charlie Hunnam and Jena Malone. The Soundtrack is also superb featuring music from Jack White, Allison Krauss, and Sting. The trailer is below.

Many people might raise an eyebrow that I put Cold Mountain in my top ten films list but it truly has something for everybody: amazingly nuanced and well written characters, Civil War battle scenes, and a love so deep and meaningful that people are willing to go to hell and back to be reunited with one another. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that the reunion love scene between Kidman and Law’s characters isn’t scandalously hot as well. In addition to all of this, the movie takes place in Cold Mountain, North Carolina which is less than an hour’s drive from where I was born, raised, and still live. So the scenery has often reminded me of the area of this world that I call home.

Only missing the first 20 minutes of the film, I immediately put the remote down and watched the rest of the movie. However, watching the movie this time something happened that had never happened before. On three separate occasions, I was moved to tears by the dialogue of the film. Confused as to why this happened this time and not any of the dozens of times I have watched the film before, I thought about why this could possibly be, and I was struck by something that was too perfect that I couldn’t not write about it. The reason I had to write about it? It is too perfect of an antidote to the madness that is going on in our world right now. Or, I guess I should say more specifically, the madness that is going on in our country.

The first scene that brought me to tears comes about half way through the movie and is shown in the two clips below (I couldn’t find one YouTube video that contained the entire scene). Early in the film the Civil War starts and it becomes clear the south is at a disadvantage when the Home Guard (the men on the horses who go to the farm), influential men who were able to weasel their way out of fighting in the war who have been tasked with tracking down and killing deserters and those who help them visit the Swanger’s farm. We do not know it until this scene, but the movie has insinuated that the Swanger’s young sons have deserted and they are being hidden on the family farm.

The seconds scene that made me emotional, perhaps the most emotional of the three, is about three quarters of the way through the film. Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman’s character) and Ruby Thewes (Reneé Zellweger’s character) have just learned that the Home Guard, the same people responsible for killing Sally Swanger’s husband and children, have supposedly killed Ruby’s father and another man that Ruby has a crush on. Ada struggles to find the right words to say to Ruby and Ruby responds by saying the following:

The Final scene from the movie that got me all up in my feelings comes near the very end of the movie. To set this scene, Ruby and Ada go off looking for Ruby’s father. While they are gone, they find her father and they also save his life. Additionally, they find W.P. Inman (Jude Law’s character), the love of Ada’s life who deserted the Confederate Army early in the war and has spent the entire movie trying to make his way back to her. The scene in the video below picks up as Ruby and Ada are going back to the farm where they live, and you should only watch the first 2 minutes of the scene if you do not want a major plot spoiler.

As I turned off the movie and started getting ready for bed that night, I made a point to figure out why I got emotional. I have seen that movie probably two dozen times. I even showed a heavily edited version of the film when I taught a social studies elective course called Geography in the Cinema several years ago; and yes, the three scenes are sad, but I have never been moved to tears before. So what made it different this time? Well, as I was working on some art projects the next day, I figured out the one thing that was different this time from all the others: This is the first time I have watched the movie during the presidency of Donald Trump.

In every single one of those scenes, in my opinion, there is is one line that stands out and cuts above all the rest. In the first two video clips it is what Ruby says at the very end that gets to me. In her shock, and grief, and anger, and sadness Ruby (an uneducated backwoods hick, by all accounts) eloquently states “This World won’t stand long. God won’t let it, stand this way long.”

This World won’t stand long. God, won’t let it, stand this way long.”

Reneé Zellweger as Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain

If you are anything like Ruby Thewes and me, you have felt this ghastly feeling throughout the majority of Donald Trump’s presidency. Through our outrage, indignation, tears, rage, and a myriad of other unwanted but necessary feelings we have lamented how America could have turned to this. How the country that has been the shining city on a hill as a beacon for freedom and liberty could be turned into what many of us see as the antithesis of America and her values. Ruby Thewes may be a fictional character, but she does what every single one of does when we face those feelings: she turns it over to God.

God won’t let it, stand this way long. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought that since the genitalia-grabbing gargoyle has occupied the people’s house. I have stared in disbelief as news cameras briefed the American people on what the President has said today (although a game of Mad Libs would probably be more appropriate). I have cried tears of sorrow looking at the pictures of the drowned bodies of Oscar Martinez Ramirez cradling his 3 month old daughter Valeria on the Banks of the Rio Grande River. I have looked at people whom I know and love and respect in disbelief as they try to defend the actions of Trump; and when I am left at a loss for words or for reassurance, I reassure myself by reminding myself that God will see us through this current nightmare.

We will be seen through this, just like our nation was seen through the Revolution. Or the Civil War. Or the Civil Rights Movement and countless other times when our nation has struggled to live up to be the nation we know she truly is. We must remain steadfast in our belief, just as Ruby is. We must constantly remind ourselves that this is not normal. That none of what is happening is okay or acceptable. We cannot waver in our belief that God and his love for all people won’t let this world that Trump and his minions are trying to create last long. God won’t let it stand this way long.

The second scene is one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie. Ruby has spent the better half of the movie reconciling with her father for a terrible childhood and her reaction to learning that he is now most likely dead is heartbreaking. It’s made even better by Zellweger’s impeccable acting. What she says in her response to Ada’s apology, however, is indicative to the way our government has functioned over the last two decades. Ruby places all the hardships that she and the South are currently facing, squarely at the feet of their leaders.

Every piece of this is man’s bull shit… They call this war a cloud over the land, but they made the weather, and then they stand there and say ‘shit it’s rainin’!

Reneé Zellweger as Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain

If that is not the perfect example of the way our politicians operate, I don’t know what is. We have so-called leaders on both sides of the aisle obstructing the governance of this nation and only looking out for themselves. The Civil War, once it was apparent the South was going to lose, became known as the cloud over the land. Ruby was right though, the people in charge were the ones who made the choice to go to war and now they are lamenting the fact they are not going to get there way.

Both of our current political parties are guilty of doing the exact same thing. It started during the Clinton Presidency and it has gotten worse and worse, and all our politicians seem to do is complain about how they can get nothing done. Once again, Ruby was right: every piece of this is man’s bull shit. And our so called leaders have nobody to blame but themselves. They did this. They created this mess. They made this cloud on our land. And they keep making it worse.

The last clip really got me, but it also gave me the most hope and strength going forward. When staring the man who is responsible for much of the problems and stress in her life and facing the fact that she knew she was most likely going to be killed right then, Ada Monroe confidently looks the leader of the Home Guard in the eye and states what she knows and I know to be true: a reckoning is coming.

There will be a reckoning when this war is over. There will be a reckoning.

Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain

Long after we are through this national nightmare and Trump is no longer President, there will be a reckoning. There will be a reckoning where judgement is passed and a sentence is given. It won’t be just Trump, either. It will be his lecherous family and his basket of deplorable billionaire henchmen who have helped him carry out these illegal injustices. Injustice shall be met cruelly and swiftly with true and lasting American justice. The history books will record the Trump era as nothing more than it truly is: one of the darkest stains on the American Democracy in its history.

It will not just be Trump and those in his administration that have to face a reckoning. It will be those who have stood silent (and therefore complicit) in his racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. I am under no illusions that every single person voted for Trump is racist. I know that is not true. With that said, though, a storm is coming on the horizon. The 2020 election will be an event that this nation will have to figure out who it truly is. Those of you who are considered voting for Trump, I ask you now to reconsider, because a reckoning is coming and if you are not opposed to all of the hatred that Trump is bring to the forefront of the consciousness of this nation than you are for it. And in this reckoning, justice will be served, Cold Mountain Style.

The Broken Christian Church

Last night I went with a friend to The Tabernacle to see The Try Guys. You probably know them as those four nerds who produce videos for Buzzfeed, but if you still have no idea who I am talking about, you can find their YouTube channel here. While we were walking to the venue I found something that gave me the warm fuzzies as soon as it came into my eyesight. We were passing a large church with bright red doors. If you might be wondering why that made me happy, then you probably did not already know that I was born and raised Lutheran (and most Lutheran churches have red doors).

Side note, if you have never seen a Try Guys video, check them out. There are super funny.

However, imagine my surprise to know that it was not a Lutheran church after all. It was actually St. Mark United Methodist Church in the heart of midtown Atlanta. At the end of the day, however, it is not the denomination of the church that got me excited. It is what that church was boldly flying right down the front side of the church: a huge rainbow pride flag. Yes as in the one used to celebrate and uplift LGBTQ pride and equality.

Growing up in suburban South Carolina, religion is everywhere. It just sorta encompasses everything when you live in the Bible Belt. So much so that during college when I asked a friend from Pittsburgh what the major difference between Pittsburgh and Clemson was he chuckled before saying religion. When I asked him what he meant by that he said back home he knew which families were Italian, or Irish, or Polish. He then went on to say that here he knew who went to the Baptist church, who went to the Lutheran church, and who went to Newspring. Even though religion is everywhere, I am still often met with scoffs or raised eyebrows when I say I go to the same church I grew up in (maybe not as frequently as my pastor would like though).

Usually I am asked some sort of question along the lines of “Oh, I don’t know how you still go to church?” That question pains my soul, but it is often a reminder of just how broken the Christian Church is in the eyes of many people. Luckily, I have never been one of the people who has thought that, although I would be lying if I said I had not come close to believing it before. It just truly saddens me that something that is an integral part of so many people’s lives has become something that is exclusionary and hateful. If you have been paying attention to the news over the past several years, this should not come as a shock, though. Most Christian denominations have been wrestling with the topic of sexuality and how it fits in with the church.

The Lutheran church went through the debate several years ago about their position on human sexuality and LGBTQ clergy members. The largest Baptist church in my city actually left the Southern Baptist Convention over some of its more conservative views. Most recently, the Methodist church as a whole voted 53% in continuing to ban same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy members. This was just another disheartening example of why so many of my friends and so many LGBTQ people don’t consider themselves Christians or don’t attend church regularly. However, its not just queer people who aren’t going to church. Millennials are the first age group to see a huge decline in church membership and attendance; 59% of people aged 22-37 who were raised in the church have already left. I fall smack dab in the middle of the millennial age group and have heard from most of my non-church going friends they are immediately turned off by the cries of specific groups of people going to hell simply for loving some one of the same sex. Or for having sex in a loving committed relationship to someone you are not married to.

It was always hard to not take the comments about being hell-bound personally. I have been a lifetime member of my Church and some of my fondest memories revolve around the church. I even love the historic building its in. It has always felt like home. So to even consider a fact that an all knowing god created someone like me in his own image only to damn me to hell never made sense; and although I never truly believed that statement it lead to a lot of years of personal shame and feelings that I was somehow broken. I knew my family and how they would feel and I knew my church and how they would feel, but it didn’t matter. It still sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind about how God felt about me.

Although many people believe the Church is irreparably broken, I adamantly disagree with this. There are many Christian leaders who are leading the way for a more inclusive church – for all of God’s peoples. Two of my personal favorites are Nadia Bolz-Weber and John Pavlovitz. Quite frankly, I wish I was half the writer that John Pavlovitz in posts like this one about the Christian Left or half the speaker Nadia is in this video here. Seriously, how many times have you heard a pastor say something like “Blessed are the sex workers?” Although the voices of Bolz-Weber and Pavlovitz are not as loud as the modern day Pharisees (I’m looking at you Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, and all you other Pat Robertson groupies) they are the true followers of Jesus and eventually people will see that the Christian Church is a big-tent church.

It is not just individual leaders that are leading the way, either. Organizations like Reconciling Works is seeking to show the word that the church isn’t as broken as the megaphone wielding mega-churches seem to make it. The organizations mission states “Working at the intersection of oppressions, ReconcilingWorks embodies, inspires, advocates and organizes for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners. On their website, you can find welcoming churches that state on the church website plainly that all people are welcome and that their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, documentation status, sexuality, gender identity or employment status don’t matter to the church in any way. If you would like to find a church that is a Reconciling in Christ Church near you, please click here.

The road forward will not always be easy, but there is a way to help fix the church. That starts with calling out the wrongs that our church has done by many different oppressed groups of people and uplifting the work of churches that work every day to make sure every living soul has a seat at God’s table. Which is why it was so inspiring and heartwarming to see dozens and dozens of United Methodist churches here in America rebelling against the vote and vocally standing against the notion that some people are not worthy of God’s love. Hopefully, my church can work with their churches to show the world what the church truly is: God’s love.

On a personal note, my church recently made the decision to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation and I don’t think they will ever truly know what that has meant to me or the other LGBTQ members of the church. It moves me close to tears when I read in the Sunday bulletin the welcoming statement. To know that my church stands with me and many other “undesirables” and celebrates God’s love for ALL of us has been such a loving and humbling experience – for the most part. It would be dishonest of me to not acknowledge this did cause some discord in the church and we did lose members over the decision. Members I considered to be part of my family. That has been disappointing and very hurtful hurtful. It caused quite a few feelings: anger, betrayal, and sadness among them, but after much thought about it, I came to a realization that should have been apparent all along.

The epiphany that came to me was that by continuing to feel those feelings I was making it about me and not about the Church – because at the end of the day, it is clear what my reaction should be. It is perfectly alright for me to have those feelings, but with those feelings should come forgiveness. Because that is what the Lord gives to me for giving it. So although I won’t be perfect moving forward, and I am sure I will have feelings of disagreement about some Christians decisions, I am going to strive to keep moving forward, because the health of the Christian Church depends on it.

So in conclusion I have two things to say. First, If you live in the Upstate South Carolina area and you left the church because you felt like there was no place for you, I am sorry that happened. But more importantly, if you ever get to a place where you want or need to go back, reach out to me and I will take you to my church,* where you will be loved and welcomed while you are there. Just the way God would want it. Second, to those of you who left my church, stay in churches were not everyone is welcome, or continue to thing God excludes people I want you to know that although it saddens me, I wish you know hard feelings and I respect your right as a person to believe what you do. I hope your religious journey gives you what you need – truly I do. I simply and humbly disagree with you and I don’t think it will, because I believe that if I were to have lived in Jesus’ day and I knocked on his door, he would loving break bread with me and welcome me. And if you ever change your mind and start to believe that too, I” save you a seat at my church’s table. God’s Blessings to you all….

-WB

*I say church and not specific church because the views in this post are mine and mine alone and I do not wish to imply that my church does or does not agree with, endorse, or believe any of my own personal opinions.

300 Crusty Old White Men

Grab your carmine capes and big white bonnets, ladies. Or should I say Handmaids? Or maybe it should be Ofreds? It doesn’t matter, in the end. Just know that those of you with a uterus should get ready to lose your basic human rights (Not if this man has anything to say about it though).

This country has gone crazy. I no longer understand the country of my birth. One of the many great civilizations this world has known is falling apart. It is becoming a dangerous and evil place, and we must all work together to stop it from passing the point of no return. This will be easy, though. It will be easy because the culprits are known to us. The root and cause of this evil infecting America is hiding in plain sight. It is a group of people seeking to destroy the liberty that comes with being an American citizen.

Many of you are probably guessing some of the common groups that people throw out as groups that are bringing America down, but to save time and get right to it, allow me tell you.

It is not Muslims. Or Jews. Or Gays or Lesbians. Or Atheists. Or Millennials.

It is not people who speak Spanish. Or French. Or German. Or Arabic. Or Russian.

It is not brown people. Or black people. Or Asian people. Or even Bi-racial people.

The people seeking to destroy this nation are White men. Usually crusty old white men. Men using their elected power to try and legislate what women should do with their bodies. Men trying to use religion as a veiled smokescreen to intimidate and harass doctors into not giving women medical care that they want or need. 300 weak, old and crusty white men trying once again to return this nation to the time when all women were subjugated and ruled over by the men in their lives – both by men they knew and men they did not know.

What 300 white men, you ask? The 300 white men in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi who recently voted in favor of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. When adding all three state Senate votes and House of Representative votes up, the abortion measures passed 335-152. 335 people voted in favor of essentially outlawing abortion. 300 of those 335 yes votes came from white men. White men who have never had a uterus. Who have never (at least in terms of publicly acknowledging) have survived rape situations. Who have never been forced by elected officials into making the choice between a serious personal and private decision and throwing themselves down the stairs or performing an abortion in a back alley with a coat hanger.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortze was write with her tweet. This men are using God and religion and abusing their power to try to maintain ownership of women. If we close our eyes, we will all be living in Gilead before it is all said and done. I refuse to allow that to happen. I don’t currently have my own children, but it will be a cold day in hell before I allow any potential daughters I have be born into a world where they have less rights than the rights of their mother and grandmothers.

“Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

-Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale

That quote sends shivers down my spine. If you think about it, it is scarily accurate. That is what these men are hoping will happen. State by state they hope to eradicate the choices women have. Women will not allow that to happen, however. I will not allow that to happen. And it that means I have to throw on a bonnet and cape to stand with my sisters in this country so be it.

At the bottom of this paragraph you will see pictures of the 300 white men. The 300 white men who believe they know better than medical professionals and the 8,944,087 women who currently reside in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The audacity and arrogance to believe they should be allowed to make private, personal, and in some cases, deeply painful medical decisions would be laughable if it weren’t so eerily close to the country that Margaret Atwood gives us in her novel.

To My Future Malalas: An Open Letter to my Female Students

Dear Girls,

Today is March 8, 2019. It is a Friday. It looks like it is going to rain. And it also just so happens to be International Woman’s Day. And while that might not mean anything to you now, it is my sincere hope that you recognize the significance and the importance of it at some point later in your life.

International Woman’s Day has been a day recognized by the UN for many years now. It is a day to celebrate the achievement of women, to advocate for their advancement in our society and to denounce things like sexism and misogyny. It is a day that you should get behind. It is a day you should be a part of pushing it forward. To make it visible throughout our nation- especially in the parts of our country where you are challenged the most.

I have never before written a letter to my female students on IWD. However, IWD now takes on a more pressing tone, in your teacher’s humble opinion. There is a sense of urgency because we have a misogynist in our White House (when we should have a woman there). We have a man who openly boasts of sexual assault and called it locker room talk. We have a man who does not see you as his equal simply because you are a woman and he is a man. This is one of the many reasons I do not and will not support the man-child in the White House.

Students, if you have never seen First Wives Club, your homework is to immediately stop what you are doing and go watch it.

To put it more plainly, I choose to believe you. I will believe you and stand with you and do everything within my power to help you if you ever find yourself in a place where someone does something you do not consent to. I will be in your corner in every way possible. I will silence those who say you were asking for it or that you had it coming. I will drown out the chorus of idiots who try to blame you for drinking too much or wearing a skirt that is too short. All you have to do is be brave, hold your head high (because you did nothing wrong), and ask for help. I will come and help you- no questions asked and no judgments made. I will believe you.

Have the strength of a Khaleesi. And when he tries to make you feel small, remmind him who the eff you are.

Since we live in South Carolina, I think it is only fair you know something. South Carolina ranks in the top 5 for states with the worst domestic violence rates. At first, this statistic surprised me, but after 7 years of observation, while teaching, it no longer does. I have seen far too many of my boys harm (both intentionally and unintentionally) my girls. Whether it be verbally or physically, I have seen some of you be used and abused. Some of you could see it and some of you could not see it. Which is why I will remind you after I will believe you.

I will remind you that you should be uplifted and celebrated and loved. I will remind you that you should treat each other as sisters and lift yourselves up together instead of putting each other down. I will remind you that your body is yours and it cannot be taken or hit and that any man who tries do either is not a man at all. I will remind you of your worth and I will remind you of his weakness. I will remind you that any man who does not see you as his equal is not worth your time, money, or love. I will remind you by telling you things like Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backward and in high heels. I will remind you of all of this, each time you doubt yourself and each time you stumble off the path of greatness you were destined for. I will remind you.

I will remind you that any man worth knowing will treat every moment with you and around you as a privilege.

Finally, my young ladies, I will help you, and in order to do that, I must first be honest with you. Please allow me to check my privilege society affords me as a male and just tell you some things as straightforward as I can. Life is not always going to be easy for you. In some aspects of life, you have a strike against you before you even start. Since many of you are young ladies of color, many of you have two strikes against you. These strikes are simply because you are female. Is it fair? Hell no, it is not! Is it the way it is sometimes in our society? Yes, but not for long. It won’t be that way for long because I will help you. I will help you break down doors, barriers, glass ceilings, and whatever else the sexists and misogynists of the world throw your way. I will help educate those who think a woman in a position of power is dangerous or nothing more than a bitch. I will help you point out those who seek to do you and other women harm. I will be a cheerleader supporter, and source of advice should you ever need it for as long as I live.

Be confident in who you are and what you do. Besides, a bitch is just a Boss In Total Control of Herself.

So with all that said, girls just remember this: You are worthy. You are equal. You are a badass. You are smart. You are amazing. and You are strong. I know all of these to be true because I have amazing women in my life. I have learned many things from all of them, including the fact that I have yet to meet a man who was as strong as my mother, grandmothers, aunts, great aunts, and cousins. I hope you remember those things, but should you ever forget, I will remind you.

I will remind you. I will believe you. I will help you.

I will do all three of those things as much as I need to, but you won’t need it. You won’t need it because of who you are. You won’t need it because of who your sisters are. Your sisters have made herstory.

Your sisters helped put a man on the moon. Your sister helped end segregation. Your sister helped defeat the Taliban. Your sister defeated the Spanish Armada. Your sisters ran, putted, served, spiked, swam, and drove their way into the record books. Your sister flew solo across the Atlantic. Your sister won two Nobel prizes in two different sciences. Another sister just won the Best Rap Album at the Grammys. And others still have won Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Pulitzer Prizes, Purple Hearts, and Medals of Honor. You sisters did all of this- so smile. Because you got this.

Happy International Woman’s Day to my future Amelias, Cardis, Katharines, Rosas, Maries, Malalas, Serenas, Hatties, Gingers, and (last, but certainly not least) Beyoncés. Now get out there and run the world.

-Mr. B

Sexism, Scandal, and Stolen Moments

Like Many Americans, I watched the US Open Ladies Tennis Finals yesterday afternoon when Serena Williams played Naomi Osaka for the Grand Slam title. Had Williams won, this would have been her 24th Grand Slam Title, and would have tied her for the record with Margaret Court. My hope is that she will win 2 more grand slams and Margaret Court will fade into oblivion for her bigoted views, but that is a story for a different article. At this point, we all know the outcome of what will go down as the most controversial women’s final in US Open history. Williams was denied a 24th title and Osaka came out victorious, but neither lady went home happy as a result of several controversial calls by referee Carlos Ramos. I was content to not write about this. Partially because so many people were talking about it and partially because Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post wrote without a shadow of a doubt the most eloquently written view on the subject – if Jenkins doesn’t win a Pulitzer for that commentary I would be highly surprised. I was content to let Jenkins have the final word, but then I awoke this morning to the news below:

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I am dumbfounded by this move and I cannot fathom what type of malarky the United States Tennis Association is going to come up with to try and defend an indefensible position. Time and Time again the US Open and United States tennis has screwed Serena Williams over and time and time again she has been vilified by the public and most of the press as a hysterical ABW in the throws of major meltdown. Each time, Serena Williams has emerged and changed the sport of Tennis for the better. Each time Serena has showed the governing body of a sport that is almost exclusively played by wealthy whites that there is room for all types of people in tennis – both those with and without melanin in their skin. Whether or not the USTA and the US Open every thank or realize just how important Williams has been to the game of tennis remains to be seen. But if they don’t realize it by now, then they probably aren’t going to and that just makes them as stupid and unappreciative as they currently seem.

serena-williams-us-open-2018I am not going to go through the minor details of what happened on the court during the finals. There are a million different videos from every angle imaginable. I will be the first to admit that I, along with millions of other Americans, wanted Williams to win yesterday. I always prefer an American win and I have loved and respected Serena since the days when you could hear her coming a mile away because of all the beads she had in her hair. Last night Serena abused her racket, but the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lookalike referee took a note from the Iranian dictator’s playbook when he abused his position of power. and that is far worse.

When trying to think of the reason or reasons I support Serena the most, I ended up coming up with other athletes I like. In tennis along with Serena and his sister Venus I routinely cheer for Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. In football I like Deshaun Watson, OBJ, Russell Wilson, and DeAndre Hopkins. Baseball turns me into a Nationals fan because I am a big Bryce Harper fan. Basketball has me pulling for Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. Swimming I rooted for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Soccer I of course like most of them, but I digress because at this point we are getting away from ability and moving into physical appearance.

I thought about Serena and what she has in common with every single one of these people, and if you know any of the above names its not hard to figure out why I cheered for them. Every single one of the people on that list has passion for success in their sport and they are not afraid to show that passion on the court, field, or pool when they compete. The reason I gravitate towards Williams and Nadal in tennis is because I find tennis players like Federer and Djokovic boring to watch because they play so stoically. I like watching Steph Curry show off on the court and I like watching the swag that Russell Westbrook has when he walks into the stadium before a game looking fly as hell. Same thing goes for DeAndre Hopkins, whose instagram makes him seem more like a model for Emporio Armani than a player for the Texans. That is why I never had a problem with all the antics of Baker Mayfield when he played for Oklahoma. Yes, he was a show off, and yes, he could be obnoxious, but at the end of the day he could always back it up with his performance.

Each of the people I mentioned above has won and lost on the international stage. Each of the people above has received calls that both did and did not go their way. Each of the people above has showed their ass and looked like a petulant spoiled child. However, the only person above who has been treated and then reported on in a grossly unfair way has been Serena Williams. When the men on the list above show out and act unprofessionally they are NEVER called out on it the way Serena is. They are called passionate, or people say they are hyper focused, or in the zone. When Serena does it she is called hysterical or people throw out the word Meltdown. Just look at the tone of many of the headlines that were used last night and earlier today.

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Granted, two of the above publications are owned by Rupert Murdoch and that fact alone means they really aren’t worthy of using as toilet paper, let alone reading the fact remains the same: No male professional sports figure in recent history has EVER been called self-obsessed, narcissistic, or having the “mother of all meltdowns,” which is especially disgusting considering the fact that Serena Williams almost died giving birth less than a year ago. The majority of the people who tweeted or commented or spoke negatively about Serena used one word that is so sexist and disrespectful that I can’t even understand why it is still in use in polite conversation: hysterical. Since I do teach history for a living, allow me to give you a history lesson on the sexist word hysterical.

The root word of hysterical is hysteria. Hysteria means ungovernable emotional excess. The origins of the word hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus and because of this, hysteria was used as a medical diagnosis almost exclusively for women and carried a variety of broad symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a “tendency to cause trouble”. This was used as a medical diagnosis starting in the Victorian era in England and was not discontinued until 1952. The term hysterical is almost exclusively used when a woman is upset or angry. With many incidents involving professional athletes, that term has been thrown around, but I have yet to find an instance when it was used with negative connotations towards a man.

In regards to Serena’s three penalties all I will say is this. The first penalty for coaching is ridiculous. The fact that coaching is not allowed is just plain dumb in the first place. The fact that a player can be penalized for the actions of their coach when a player did not even see the coach is wrong to me. I think the rule should be changed, but if the governing bodies of tennis are going to leave it in place than it needs to be routinely enforced across the board. There needs to be a judge watching each coach at every match and they need to call it each and every time they are playing. In regards to the second penalty, I have no problem with that. It is in the rules you cannot abuse your racket and Serena clearly abused the hell out of the racket. I take umbrage with this penalty more than any other penalty, and here is why.

By giving Serena a penalty for coaching, he is saying that Serena was trying to have an unfair advantage over her opponent during the match. Essentially Carlos Ramos (who has spared with both Venus Williams, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal in the past) called Serena Williams a cheater without using the word. The fact that an umpire can assault someone’s character in the middle of a championship match is bad enough; and for those of you wondering or skeptical looking at my assertion of assault of character, that is exactly what Ramos did. To call someone a cheater is to say that don’t have the grace, dignity, and class to win without an advantage. It implies the only way they got there was to lie and manipulate their way there.

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Serena Williams is the antithesis of what he has described when he called her a cheater. She is a woman who came back from the brink of death after giving birth to make it to two Grand Slam finals less than a year later. She is a women who agrees to multiple extra inconvenient drug tests each year so people will know she doesn’t cheat. She has fought racism and sexism in her sport long before standing up for injustice was a popular thing to do. Starting with Indian Wells and continuing with her fight for equal pay, Serena Williams has spent most of her professional life in the public fighting for what is right, even when she knows it will cost her in the court of public opinion. When Ilie Nastase made vile, racist comments about what color Serena’s biracial baby would be before she was born, Serena responded with class and grace by quoting Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise.” When John McEnroe has repeatedly made sexist comments about Serena Williams she simply and cooly replied by politely asking McEnroe to respect her and her privacy. Most recently, when the chairman of the French (a country with a huge racism problem) Open banned Serena’s cat suit, which she wore for medical reasons, because he said it did not respect them game, she responded by wearing a tutu to the US Open and posing playfully for photographers before the match.

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I have a news flash for the chairman of the French Open. People respect the game of Tennis BECAUSE of Serena Williams. Both McEnroe and Nastase were reknowned for the on-court behavior in their time. So was Andre Agassi. Currently, so is Nick Krygios. None of them ever received penalties back in their day that were as severe as Serena’s penalties were. None of them were accused of hormonal meltdown in the press. When the press still writes of all of those individuals there is a touch of longing nostalgia for the excitement they brought to the court- even if it was unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. However, because Serena is a strong confident black woman who stands up for herself in a white sport, she is demonized for it. It is high time this changes and changes quickly.

There is not a person alive today who has not at some point thought about how they want to be remembered after they are gone from their career or this world. Most of us hope we will be remembered fondly by our love ones. We hope we will be remembered for the contributions we made in our career fields. I personally hope I  will be remembered as someone who left this world better than he found it. When McEnroe, and Nastase, and Agassi, and countless other men in other sports are long gone they will all be remembered fondly. They will all be remembered as some of the greatest to ever hold a tennis racket, or club, or glove. When Jimbo Fisher is fired from Texas A&M several years from now, people will reminisce and say “remember that time ole Jimbo lost his cool on the officials when he played Clemson?” There will be a hint of positivity to the question. God knows if Serena had said the words that Jimbo Fisher clearly said to not one, but two referees last night, she would have been banned from tennis for life. And nobody referred to it as a meltdown. He simply, lost his cool. Or gave the refs a piece of his mind.

BJKSerena Williams will be remembered differently, but this time she won’t be remembered differently because of her race or because of her sex. She will be remembered differently because she is different. Serena Williams will be remembered differently because the respect she brought to the sport through her struggle to bring equality to the sport while she still kicked ass on the court at the same time. It is not always popular; Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova can attest to that. But King and Navratilova did not fight for gender equality and LGBTQ rights both in tennis and outside tennis. They fought so people like Serena and Venus wouldn’t have to. And when they weren’t completely successful, Venus and Serena continued the fight. Now it is personal for Serena Williams the tennis player – mom. The women who had already been a multi-hyphenate added the most important one to her title.

Serena Williams, in my opinion is the greatest athlete of our generation. Notice I did not say female athlete. I said greatest athlete. She has nothing to be ashamed about from last night. She was robbed and so was Naomi Osaka. Neither will be able to get the moment that Carlos Ramos stole from them back. All because he couldn’t take the tone with which a woman talked to him with. At the end of the day though, Serena Williams displayed grit, determination, strength, beauty, and class. She did us proud, but most importantly, she did her daughter proud. And that is all she should care about. Keep going, Serena! Number 24 is just around the corner. Immortality is yours for the taking!

-WB

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The Top 10 Easy Ways You Can Appreciate Teachers

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week here in the United States. As a teacher, I probably do have a little bit of bias when it comes to what I am getting ready to say, but I know I am right when I say that teachers are the most overworked and underpaid and underappreciated profession around. Education is the only career field I can think of that has to deal everyone – even those without education degrees – throwing their two cents in about how we can fix our flawed educational system. Let me remind you: opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, but we do not always need to see yours. In addition to dealing with people’s “magic fixes” for our educational system we also get to deal with statements like “you only work nine months out of the year anyway. How could you possibly expect a higher salary?” I could do 10 whole blog posts where I discuss how much rage that brings me. And yes, I have actually had someone say that to me.

With all that said, I do not want this to be negative. I want this to be a celebratory post because teachers are so important to our society (not to toot my own horn, but – toot toot!). So without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you the top 10 ways you can thank and appreciate your teacher this week:

  1. Write your teacher, your child’s teacher, or your former teachers a letter explaining how much you enjoyed them or you enjoyed their class.

While yes it would be nice for a higher salary and all that jazz, at the end of the day, every single teacher I know wants to feel like they made an impact in a student’s life. We definitely don’t get told enough when we do so take the time this week and let us know.

2. Support us in the Classroom.

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I am sure everyone has seen the cartoon above at least once before so you know it is definitely true. Every single year of my teaching career I have parents try to talk me out of assigning the grade their child earned and instead give them a grade they did not deserve. Support us when it comes to the grades your child earned because I will not compromise my integrity and forge a grade and we could really use your support to get your children to see they need to do better. Once you make them see that, we can all three sit down together and figure out how we can help them do better. We could also use your support in regards to behavior and discipline. For the record. Little Timmy is telling you lies. He WAS talking. I DID warn him. Now back us up with the punishment that comes with it.

3. Support Us Outside the Classroom

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Just because we aren’t always in the classroom doesn’t mean you can’t still support us. When you hear people make negative comments about school teachers call them out on it. When we go on strike (I know it is frustrating to you, but we are trying to live and support families – strikes are sometimes necessary), join us on the strikes. Most importantly, however, is VOTE. Vote for politicians who are pro-public education.

4.  Communicate with us more than just when your child is not doing well/in trouble.

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Most high school teachers like myself have over 100 students that we are responsible for imparting knowledge to. It is not always feasible or timely for me to call home when an issue arises, and it is just downright difficult for me to return every single email or call at the end of the quarter over grades. Sometimes I don’t know something that I should no in regards to your child. It would be nice to know that upfront and after the fact, It also shows us they have a parent at home who cares and we love seeing that. If we communicate with each other early and often it will do nothing, but double your child’s chances of success.

5.  Volunteer to donate supplies or to take some Task off Our Hands.

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For supply money, Greenville County School District gives me $250 dollars for materials each year. That’s it. I have spent at least double that amount and thankfully I have nice parents who are willing to help me out with supplies as well. Most of us work multiple jobs and we still barely make ends meet. We will never turn down supplies. If we can’t use it, we know someone who will. For tasks, we have a lot on our plate. Offering to run copies or coordinate emails to the class, or chaperoning a field trips seem like small tasks, but they are huge weights off our shoulders.

6.   We’ll Take More Coffee/Coffee Gift Cards, But for the Love of God No Mugs!

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Most teachers I know run on caffeine. We could us IV drips. Until that happens, a nice Starbucks gift card goes a long way. Seriously though, no mugs! We have a million. Every variation of World’s Best Teacher you can find, and I have a weird last name so you won’t find one that says, Mr. Boliek. So just save the time and give us a nice Hallmark card with a Starbucks card thrown in and we will feel super appreciated!

7.  We are going to make mistakes. We are humans too – forgive us.

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With over 100 students to look after and with many other responsibilities, sometimes we are stretched to thin and something doesn’t go the way you or I wanted it to. Give us the opportunity to own up to it and apologize. Then forgive us and help us move on. Trust us – when we screw up, it bothers us more than it bothers you.

8. Be Involved and Engaged With Your Kid Regurlarly

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Nothing plays a bigger role in your child’s success (other than their own effort of course) than your involvement in their educational career. I could be the best teacher in the world and if you don’t show engagement and interest in your children’s educational accomplishments then eventually they will stop caring and trying. All it takes is a few questions here and a few “good jobs!” there. Help them with their homework even. It will show that you think education is important and you get to spend quality time with them. It’s a win-win. Or a win-win-win because the teachers usually get better behaved students and better quality work when parents are involved.

9. Get Informed – Know About Current Edu. Events & Policy Issues.

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This one you really should do anyways, but if you aren’t up to date already get up to speed quick. The sanity of your children’s teachers depends on it. And with someone like Betsy Devos running the Department of Education, we need knowledgable parents to help us get back on the right track.

10.  BUY. THE. FREAKING. PENCILS.

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When you see the school supply list at the beginning of the year, and it says pencils and notebook paper, please go buy the notebook paper and pencils. If you take the attitude of “I am not going to buy it because they will end up giving it to them anyways.” then you, my friend, are a terrible person. 99% of the time, teachers end up having to buy materials for their students whose parents refused to buy them the supplies. Most teachers salaries are well below what they should be. Don’t make them pay for items that you can afford for your children. To drive the final point home, let a Target Mom explain why you should buy the pencils.

To all the teachers out their, take a moment and enjoy this week. You earned it. You deserve a lot more than you are going to get. You are awesome!

And to Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Callaghan, Mrs. Goetz, Mrs. Cothran, Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Van Dyke, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Carden, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. McKamy, Dr. Wolfe, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Lee, Dr. Ground, Mr. Smith, Coach Cook, Mrs. Barber, Mrs. Bartlett, Mr. Linn, Señora Larrain, Dr. Lochridge, and Mr. Duncan – Each of your played a role in making me the person I am today. In case I never told you then, which I probably didn’t, thank you for what you did. Some of you will never know how much you truly impacted my life and I don’t mean just when it comes to academics. Some of you got me through some very hard personal matters as well. And for that you will not only hold the title of kick ass teacher, you now hold the title of kick ass friend!

 

 

 

A First Lady’s Feisty Legacy

I do not know when I came to the realization that I was not as conservative as the members of my family. As I started to develop my own opinion and own views on things, I naturally gravitated more to the left due to many social issues. Although I have voted for candidates from both major parties I have definitely voted for members of one party more than the other. And the party I voted for more, was not the party of Barbara Bush.

With that said, I was extremely saddened by the passing of Barbara Bush on Tuesday at the age of 92. What saddened me the most about her passing was the thought of George Herbert Walker Bush having to live a life without Barbara after living with her for the past 72 years. I still cannot watch that video of President Bush reading the love letter he wrote to her where he gets emotional at the end. I start to ugly cry. If I am lucky enough to have a love half as strong as the love that the Bushes had for each other than I will consider myself a lucky man.

I grew up in a house that thought very highly of Barbara Pierce Bush. She was always spoken of fondly and positively – especially by my mother. Looking back on the conversations and stories and reflecting about my own opinions on things, the life and legacy of Barbara Bush is one of the few areas of “politics” that I do not disagree with my family on the issues. There is something about Barbara Bush that one cannot help but like and admire. With excellent cheekbones (even at 92) and a warm, cheerful smile her personality alone just seems welcoming and reassuring to be around. After learning more about the life this extraordinary women lived, Barbara Bush can rest easy in heaven as she waits on her husband to join her, confident that the gifts she gave her family and to our nation will be treasured for years to come.

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Photo courtesy of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

As a teacher, one of Barbara’s biggest legacies that she leaves behind is close to my heart. Working tireless throughout her public life to combat the problem of illiteracy, Mrs. Bush recognized how important the ability to read was for our society. As her husband was running for President, Barbara Bush founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She gave speeches up until the last 6 months on the topic. A staggering 36 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills. One in four adults cannot read above a 5th grade level, and research shows the single greatest indicator of a child’s future success is the literacy level of his or her parents. I work at a school where the majority of my students read significantly below grade level. It saddens me that my students were not fortunate enough to have been blessed enough to have been born with many opportunities I had and took for granted. It angers me that most of my students have been passed off to be “someone else’s problem.” Barbara Bush realized the importance of the ability to read has in our society. And because of her fight, millions of dollars have been raised to help with childhood and adult literacy and millions of people can read.

As a family-oriented person myself, Mrs. Bush’s fierce love and desire to protect and safeguard her family and the Bush name is something I have always respected her for. My family is so large and has been together for so long I often joke when introducing friends to members of my family I will draw them a family tree later. As thew mother of 6 and the grandmother of 17, Barbara Bush was a lover of family. She was fiercely loyal and protective of her husband, her children, and the Bush name and she surrounded herself with people she could trust. Beneath the Aunt Bea demeanor that Barbara Bush showed to the public was a backbone of steel and a desire to help further the careers of her husband and her children. It is reported that President Bush sat with his wife for hours and held her hand as she passed on from this life. Just typing that sentence has me in tears, but I know she is in heaven smiling – because that is how she would have wanted it. The chance for the eternal reuniting with her daughter Robin (who died in childhood from Leukemia) is something Mrs. Bush spoke about frequently in her later years.

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Barbara Bush would argue this is the most important piece of her legacy. The Bush Family at the Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, Maine in the early 2000s. Photo courtesy of TIME.

As someone who has been called blunt many times before (even though I prefer the term honest), the Barbara Bush humorous quips are legendary around the Washington community. From saying she hopes Sarah Palin would stay in Alaska (me too Barb, me too.) to joking that her Husband could have been Speaker of the house (a not so subtle jab at Former Speaker of the House John Boehner) because he cried during an interview the two did with granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager, Barbara was quick witted and while it would typically turn people off when a public figure would respond in that way, Barbara Bush made it endearing and one of the things you like most about her.

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Barbara Bush holding a baby born with AIDS back in the late 1980s. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

As a person who believes firmly in public service, Barbara Bush devoted her life to public service. She worked tirelessly to further the causes that she believed in and she sacrificed a life of normalcy to further her husband’s career and the values of the United States of America. Barbara Bush leaves a legacy of public service to those society would typically cast off. Following the lead of Diana, Princess of Wales, Barbara Bush was one of the first public political officials to talk about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and was the first American political figure to touch someone living with AIDS – at a time when many people still were unsure of its origins.

Finally, as a person who has always admired strong women – especially strong southern women, Barbara Bush was one of the strongest. Genteel and scrappy at the same time. She was the original Julia Sugarbaker – full of grit and determination. It is this grit and determination that allowed her to win over a liberal bastion like Wellesley College while giving a commencement address there in 1990. Barbara Bush is proof that you can have it all – you can raise a family of successful children, support your husband, and not have to give up your own successes. Like southern women are known to do she spoke volumes without speaking at all. She never publicly came out as pro-choice until writing her memoir in their post-presidency life so as not to damage the career of her husband, but all you had to do was read her facial expression and body language to know where she stood. I see so much of Barbara Bush’s strength in my mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. I was raised by strong women. And every single one of those women is stronger than the men in their lives. Barbara Bush would approve – she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Barbara Bush believed in the ideals and principles our nation was founded on and gave her life in service to furthering those causes. In an interview at the end of her husband’s presidency she was asked what is something that she learned from her decades in public service. Without even pausing Bush responded:

“Every person in our country is capable of offering something to everyone else. Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life’s blood – But everyone has something to give.”

What a remarkable and true observation after so many years of giving herself to all of us. Many first ladies have given so much in service to this nation. With the exceptions of Eleanor Roosevelt and Abigail Adams, no other First Ladies have given as much as Barbara Pierce Bush has given. If she were still with us she would ask you to reflect on what you have to give. Since she is not her, I will ask. What is your gift you can give the rest of us? Give it for Barbara Bush’s sake. Give it for my sake. But more importantly, give it for the sake of yourself. You won’t regret it. Mrs. Bush sure didn’t.

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Thank you for giving Mrs. Bush. May the lord bless you and your distinguished legacy of service to your family and your nation. May the eternal rest and peace you now have with your daughter Robin comfort you until you are reunited with your beloved George. May the eternal father hold your family in the palm of his hand as the grieve your passing. And may he bless us with the wisdom to follow in your footsteps as we celebrate your life.

-WB

Killing them a Second Time – Taking Sides in Syria

My friend Madison recently shared an article on Facebook that saddened me both as a historian and as a person who wants to leave this world better than he found it. In the April 12, 2018 article “Holocaust is Fading from Memory, Survey Finds,” Maggie Astor goes into detail about a recent survey completed by the Claims Conference in regards to Holocaust Education in the United States and around the world. The results are both shocking and lead to a worrisome future if we do not do something to combat this dangerous new development. holocaust-knowledge-and_awareness-study

Let that statistic alone sink in. Half of millennials cannot name a single concentration camp. Not a single camp where 6,000,000 million Jews were mass-murdered in addition to 7,000,000 others (Gypsies, political prisoners, homosexuals, those who were physically or intellectually disabled, and POWs). To be fair I can only name 6 camps and recognized another 2 camps, but the fact that half couldn’t even come up with Auschwitz is unbelievable to me. Here are several more surprising statistics from the study:

  • Most Americans (80%) have not visited a Holocaust museum
  • Nearly one-third of all Americans (31%) and more than 4-in-10 millennials (41%) believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust
  • Most adults (86%) know the Holocaust occurred in Germany, but only (37%) identified Poland as a country where the Holocaust occurred despite the fact that more than half of the European Jews killed were from Poland.
  • Two thirds of all adults (67%) could not name or did not know of a Holocaust survivor.

The rallying cry after the holocaust became “Never Again!” Never again would the world stand by and let millions of people be slaughtered by a monstrous dictator. Never again would the world fail to speak up and defend those who cannot defend or speak for themselves. The only problem is the world did fail. The world failed multiple times. The World failed Cambodia. And Armenia. And Bosnia & Herzegovina. And Rwanda. And Darfur. And if we do not act soon, we will be failing in Syria once again.

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Ever since I read Night, Elie Wiesel has been one of my historical heroes. His ability to speak directly to your soul with his use of visual language and writing style is unmatched by any other memoir writer that I have been a fan of. In Night, Wiesel wrote:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Never shall I forget.

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Elie Wiesel in the early 2000s.

Wiesel’s writing is not what makes him one of my historical heroes, however. Wiesel is one of my heroes because after surviving the Holocaust – where he lost his father, mother, and sister – Wiesel spent his entire life speaking and writing about his experience. He traveled extensively and gave talks around the world. He met with world leaders and dignitaries to further the cause of peace. Wiesel was even awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1986. The acceptance speech he gave accepting the prize, and a speech called “The Perils of Indifference” that Wiesel gave in the East Room of the White House in 1999 at the invitation of President Bill Clinton are part of the reason that Elie Wiesel is my hero. Wiesel spoke about the importance of speaking out and standing up any time violence and acts of genocide are occurring in our world. It is because of his words and his views that I know if he were alive today, Wiesel would have been one of the most vocal about the current atrocities being committed in Syria.

 

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel spoke eloquently on the issue of speaking out against the oppression of peoples throughout the world. He said:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

Do I think Elie Wiesel would have been happy that a coalition force of British, French, and American forces bombed Syria earlier this week? Of course not. Nobody should be happy about it. With that said I do feel that he would have realized that was the only option. We have tried the diplomatic world with to no avail. We have tried sanctions and other solutions to no avail. So we drew a line in the sand and said there would be consequences and the terrorist Bashar Al-Assad crossed that line. We followed through we our promise.

We cannot allow a world where chemical weapons use is normal to be a reality. We cannot allow a brutal dictator propped up by the Russian continually uses chemical weapons against men, women, and children to become the new normal – and the reason we cannot allow this to happen is because we already did and we already promised never again. But too many people seem to be forgetting this. Too many people seem to have forgotten the world allowed another brutal dictator to come to power and use chemical weapons to try and gas an entire race into oblivion.

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Elie Wiesel wrote that part of the reason he spoke out was to help people remember. IN his world, to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. That line in Night makes me tear up every time I read it because I know how important it is to Elie Wiesel. He believes it with every fiber of his being. As a historian I believe it to. We are coming close to killing the victims of the holocaust a second time. It has been 7 decades since the Holocaust so this is not surprising., but we must still work to fix this issue. The scary thing, however, is we are coming dangerously close to killing the dead in Syria a second time. The first reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria was just a few years ago. Watch the video below before you read my final sentences.

Look me in the eye and tell me you can live with yourself if we allow these people to be killed a second time. If you can say that with a straight face you are a stronger colder person than I am. Just as the Holocaust was a watershed moment., this too is a watershed moment. We must not fail. Sadly, we are coming dangerously close. We. Must. Not. Fail.

Unified for America

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This morning I decided to end my Spring Break with a little bit of politics. While most people would rather jump of a cliff than deal with politics and our politicians in our daily lives – especially with how divisive we have become as a society – I will always say how important it is for us to engage – now more than ever – with one another so we can keep going forward. Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Nation, written by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and outgoing South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy is a book I can truly get behind. I personally have not voted for Senator Scott and I most definitely have not voted for Representative Gowdy; however, I support the meaning behind this book – which is why I went to Fiction Addiction this morning to pick up a copy and to have my copy signed by both men.

Unified allows Senator Scott and Congressman Gowdy, to use honesty and vulnerability to  inspire others to evaluate their own stories, clean the slate, and extend a hand of friendship that can change our churches, our communities, our state, and our nation by showing us something we all to often forget – that we have more in common that unites us than we do that divides us. Throughout the entire book they discuss different views that each holds – everything from a black man who was raised in the south’s views on law enforcement to a white son of a doctor former prosecutor man’s views on law enforcement. While discussing that and a host of other issues the overall theme of trusting and loving our neighbor comes back to the surface over and over again. I have not yet finished reading the book, but I firmly believe this to be why we are so divided right now: we all won’t to make this country better so badly, that we have forgotten that sometimes our view may not be the right view or the only view. We forget much too quickly and are much too dismissive of the “enemy” and “their view” that they want this country to be everything that it can be as well; they just want to go about doing that a different way.

 

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My copy of Unified, signed by both Senator Scott and Congressman Gowdy. I have got to figure out a way to make my signature look as cool and simple as these two signatures.

I am sure many of you rolled your eyes after that last paragraph or possibly muttered “yeah, right!” under your breath and that is ok. You do not have to believe me, even as I myself and so many others know this to be true. How do I know this? It is simple. While waiting in line this morning I lived it and I observed it with my own two eyes. Living through an experience whether it relates to this or something completely different has the power to change a person’s perspective on a litany of issues. Seeing, hearing, touching, and using whatever the last two senses I can’t remember, are the number one way for people to say or remember something as true. We place importance on direct personal experiences, and as I stood in line with my Nana and my aunt Cathy this morning, my personal experience with a bunch of people I probably do not agree with on a whole lot was nothing but pleasant, happy, and up-lifting.

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In the process of getting my book signed. Shoutout to the lavender staffer who looks like he is shooting laser beams from his eyes at my Nana for taking the picture. 

I got in line about 9:45 this morning. The signing did not start until about 10:30. As I pulled up I was not surprised by the people I saw in line. I may be slightly stereotypical in pointing this out, but I feel it will make my overall message more poignant. The crowd was overwhelmingly white. I do not recall seeing any POC other than the Senator. The crowd was also on the older end of the spectrum. I chuckled as I scoped out the younger end of the spectrum. Yes, most of them did have on cowboy boots and camouflage attire. As I suppressed a smile and stepped into the back of the line with my grandmother and my aunt I silently cursed at myself for not remembering to bring my Apple AirPods with me so I would have some music to listen to. If I was going to be stuck listening to people talk about their hatred of my girl HRC or the first man I was able to help change history with by electing him President of the United States than at least I could try to drown it out with some good Beyoncé tunes. Turns out I did not need any of that at all.

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Shoutout to my new friend Susan in the Navy and Gold Hoodie on the left hand side of this picture. She has one son in the Air Force flying F-16s and another son in the Navy as well. Shoutout to Susan’s awesome sons for their service. I hope they enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed waiting in line with their mom who was having 5 copies signed. 

I did not need to pretend to talk on my phone or my headphones to listen to music because I actually enjoyed waiting in line with these people today. What did we talk about? Yes, we talked about politics some – everyone (myself included) stuck to surface level topics and discussions. There was no mention of Roe v. Wade or Russian Collusion, or anything like that. It mainly was what we liked or did not like about politics in general. More than that though we talked about our daily lives and what we ended up having in common that we would not have known other wise. Turns out my friend in line behind me really enjoys the ABC show Designated Survivor. I told her that I also enjoyed watching that with my dad sometimes. My new friend Susan (I point her out in the picture above) has two children serving in the military. She was wearing a Navy Sweatshirt so after thanking her for both her children’s sacrifice as well as her family’s sacrifice I told her about my love of the tradition on the pomp & circumstance of the Army – Navy Game. She smiled as she told me about attending one of the games. I even found some fellow Clemson fans and I told them how exciting it was to attend the National Championship Game both the time we lost AND the time we won (Shout out to my Tigers – All in Always!).

 

As I started to read the book this afternoon something dawned on me. Those people in line this morning were no different from me. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. They are sons and daughters. They are neighbors who went to USC. They are friends who went to Clemson. They are our church family members who didn’t go to college at all, or they could even be our neighbors who go to a synagogue or a mosque or a temple instead of a church. They are people who like watching Designated Survivor, people who like watching HG TV, or people who don’t have or believe in cable. Some are even like me and mooch all of those things off of their parent’s charter subscription (thanks mom and dad!). At the end of the day, however, they are people who want a few things that are all in common. They all want the best for their family and friends. They all want their children (if they have them) to have more opportunities than they did. They all want America to succeed. And lastly, but certainly one of more important things I discovered, they all want to leave this world better than they found it.

I may never see Susan or the other great people I met standing in line again and that is ok. Hopefully I left them with the same view they left me with. “The Other Side” is not as scary or different as they originally seem. Hopefully she goes home and tells her two sons “I met the nicest guy standing in line today. And he was a democrat!” in the same way that I respectfully write about her for this blog. Even though I may never see some of those fine people again, and even though we probably would not agree on the right course of action for our nation going forward, I believe she wants what is best for us all. Hopefully she believes the same about me. Hopefully, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy can help us all realize this. Hopefully, we will all remember that we will ALWAYS have more that UNITES us than we have that DIVIDES us.

Happy Saturday, y’all. Go outside barefoot and thank your stars we live where we do. Both sides of the aisle just might remember a little bit more if you do.

WB

Dr. King – An Open Letter of Gratitude

Dear Dr. King,

It must seem very weird to continually watch in Heaven as students everywhere learn about your life, and more importantly, the legacy you left. I am sure 50 years ago in the hours of that fateful morning that you would have done nothing differently in your life. For that reason alone, you were, and still are, one the greatest peacemaker this world has every known. This letter of gratitude will have several spots where I try to put into words my appreciation for what you have done for me and my life. I am not anywhere close the orator you were and I make no attempt to say my writing is perfect, but I do pray that you can somehow see the importance that I am placing in this letter.

I want to first thank you for giving yourself and your message to myself as well as to the rest of the world. Along with Elie Wiesel, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Harvey Milk, you are one of the five people throughout my love of learning, studying, and now teaching history who has had the biggest influence on my life, my world view, and my view on what it means to both a man and an American. Without reading your writings, listening to your sermons and speeches, and learning just how much you sacrificed for us in your quest for equality I would not be the person I am today. And as I very much like the person I have become and take pride in both me and my beliefs, you should know you played a part in that.

I was not always aware to the influence you would have on me and my life. Being born a white male affords a person the privilege of not needing to have experienced the injustices that you rallied against to truly understand your message and the meaning behind it. As a result of this, it was not until my 10th grade year of high school that I truly “got” you. Of course, I learned about you throughout my academic career, but I never truly felt a connection with you until my AP Language course in high school. It was around this time in my life when I went through a process of self-discovery and learned about myself in the most authentic way possible. And it was thanks to being under the tutelage Dr. Sara Lochridge, for the first time in my life that I truly felt a personal connection to both you and everything you represent – both in your earthbound form and in the legacy you left us with to this day. IMG_6733

It was in that AP Language course where I was encouraged as a writer for the first time. It was also in this course where I first read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I instantly knew there was something special about it. Never in my life (up until that point, at least) had a piece of writing – especially a letter that was not even addressed to me – moved me the way your letter did. The dichotomy of power in the letter is something not many people will ever be able to emulate. It was soft and sweet at the same time. It was angry while also being calm and collected. My favorite of all, however, is how it was both accusatory and forgiving as well.

I have often wondered in my life where I would have been had I been alive in 1963 during the March on Washington, or in 1965 in Selma following Bloody Sunday. It is easy for me to sit here and say I would have risked my privilege and status in society and say I would have been a marcher. But after reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I can confidently say that I would have worked most of my life to have followed in your footsteps. To have been a drum major for peace, justice, and absolute righteousness. Often in my life, I have also been called a “bleeding heart liberal.” I used to roll my eyes and sigh when the phrase was spoken. As I have become older and more confident in who I am and who I am supposed to be, I wear that like a badge of honor. The same way you wore the badge of “extremist” as an honor. My bleeding heart is partially the way it is because of you.

d260f415519c4795def34c9ba085a995You once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever reflects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  This is how I know your heart was a bleeding heart. This is why I take heart in being a bleeding heart. Part of the reason I became a social studies teacher (other than my love of history, of course) is the important most history teachers place on the concept of social justice. We have studied history long enough to know that we all succeed only when everyone has the same privileges and economic opportunities as their fellow-man. So for being one of the original social justice warriors, I once again, wish to express my humble gratitude for setting me on a course of social justice in my life which I know will one day reach that mountaintop you so beautifully sought. Upon reaching the mountaintop, my eyes will overflow with tears as will all the eyes of the others who have striven for social justice in this world. It will be those tears that allow justice to roll down like waters. It will be those tears that allow mighty streams of righteousness to move us all forward.

The last reason I want to thank you is for being an inspiration to another one of my top inspirations. Just like you Harvey Milk’s life was taken by the cruel bullet of an assassin. Both of you had much more work to do on this Earth. Sadly, the world we live in had other plans for you both. Thankfully, however, Harvey Milk said or wrote numerous times on record, the influence that you had on him, Dr. King. So once again, because Harvey Milk had an influence on me, thank you for your influence on him.

mlk_memorial_nps_photoIt has often be debated and wondered where you would have fallen on the issue of LGBTQ equality and LGBTQ rights in our fight for acceptance. Your wife (an amazing woman worthy of a thank you letter in her own right) came out in support of LGBTQ rights and said you would have been a supporter as well. Some of your children have also, but the entire King family does not even agree with what your position would have been. I would argue that I know where you would have stood. Harvey Milk knew where you would have stood as well. That is why you were such an influence on him. In your letter from that Birmingham jail cell, you once said “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” This quote is one of many that I know supports my belief you would have supported equality for all Americans – regardless of sexuality. It is always right for us to stand up for our fellow American. You knew that. Harvey Milk knew that. I know that. And some day soon, thanks to your leadership, the world as a whole will know that.

Your end to Letter from a Birmingham Jail was without a doubt my favorite part of any of your writings. You end the letter by going through a list of people and saying that one day, the south will recognize its real heroes. You cover a host of people who will end up being heroes. People like James Meredith. People like the old men and old women who continually risked imprisonment and beatings at the hands of law enforcement to demanded the permission to vote in the nation that was supposed to give that to them as a birthright. You said “One day the South will know when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, there were in reality standing up for what is best in the American Dream.” I wish you had not said the south. I wish you had instead said the Nation. Because I think that is what you truly meant when you spoke those words. One day soon the world will know that those of us who follow your legacy, are being the drum majors for justice, peace, and righteousness. Are we there yet? No of course not. But you know all too well “that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.” How long until we reach that point? How Long? The answer is simple. How Long? Not Long. And for that, the world, our nation, and most importantly myself, can only simply say once again: Thank you.

With Humble and Loving Respect, Your Brother in Christ,

WB

 

Say Her Name: Sasha Wall

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Today is a sad day for South Carolina, and most people have no idea. Most South Carolinians will never know, and this saddens me most of all. The only reason I discovered the sadness of today is because I accidentally stumbled across a tweet while reading information about the teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and Kentucky.  Randomly while scrolling through I saw a tweet from the Human Rights Campaign that had South Carolina as part of the 240 characters. As I braced for the worst I clicked on the link. My fears and disappointment were once again confirmed. I shouldn’t be surprised or sad by the news, with the reputation that our state has on accurately covering issues that effect the LGBTQ community – especially when it comes to the “T” in our umbrella of an acronym.

In the early hours of Easter morning, trans woman Sasha Wall was murdered in Chesterfield County in the lower part of South Carolina. She was found dead in her car on the side of a rural road. It is believed the car was left running for over 2 hours before someone stopped and called police. Sasha Wall was shot in the head, neck, and shoulder at least a dozen times. She was the same age as me (29 years old). On Easter morning.

Sasha Wall

We should not be shocked at Sasha Wall’s death. Trans women – especially trans women of color – have one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. Wall is the 8th trans woman murdered in 2018. Of those eight trans women, seven were people of color. At the current rate, 2018 will pass the number of trans people murdered in 2017 by the beginning of October.

Most people will live throughout 2018 and they will not know this. They will not know it, because the media continues to not report the facts on the murders of these people. Trans people have some of the least reported homicides in the nation. When add this fact in to the fact that the media reports homicides of people of color at a less accurate rate than the rates of caucasian people, trans women of color were doomed from the start.

What shocks and saddens me more than Sasha Wall’s murder, and more than the fact that many people will never know about this human being is the disgusting and wrong way that Sasha was covered by the press here in South Carolina. Of the papers I searched for in the area, the only two papers to report on the brutal homicide were The State paper in Columbia and The Post and Courier from Charleston. In both papers, Sasha Wall was misgendered and deadnamed. As if being murdered for simply existing was not indecent enough, both papers listed Wall as male and used the name she was given at birth. Both articles made mention of the fact friends, family, and Sasha’s place of employment referred to her as Sasha Wall, yet they continued to refer to her by the wrong name and the wrong gender.

People who look at the Black Lives Matter movement with disgust and disdain are quick to shout that “All Lives Matter! They are quick to express outrage and moral indignation when they hear that phrase. Well you know I hear now? I hear deafening silence. I hear silence from the media. I hear silence from the general public. I hear silence from the shouters of “All Lives Matter!” But most importantly of all, I hear that deafening silence from the others members of the LGBTQ community. For far to long, it has been “every letter for themselves” in our community. The apathy that the queer community has for each other is just more deafening silence. And all of that deafening silence from all of those people fills me with disgust. With disdain. With outrage. With moral indignation.

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Where is your disgust now?

Where is your disdain now?

Where is your outrage now?

Where is your moral indignation now?

You say that all lives matter. Now is your chance to prove it. Now is your chance to walk the walk. To put your money where your mouth is. To put up, or shut up. To prove once and far all that All lives matter. I want to hear your disgust for Sasha Wall. I want to her your disdain for her. I want to hear your outrage for her. I want to hear your moral indignation for her. To help drown out the deafening silence I will be there with you. I will shout my disgust, disdain, outrage, and moral indignation with you. I am guilty of that silence, but enough is enough.

Sasha Wall was a 29-year-old woman. She was a woman who was loved by her family and friends, and she was a woman who loved her family and friends. She was a woman with hopes and dreams and ambitions just like the rest of us. Sasha Wall deserved more. Sasha Wall deserved more than being left on the side of the road like discarded garbage. She was a woman who deserves justice she most likely will never see. I cannot bring her back. But I can and will say her name. I will say her name so somewhere her spirit knows that I see her for the person she was and for all she could have been. I say her name and the names of the other 7 women who deserved so much more:

  1. Christa Leigh Seele-Knudslien, 42 years old
  2. Viccky Gutierrez, 38 years old
  3. Celine Walker, 36 years old
  4. Tonya Harvey, 35 years old
  5. Zakaria Fry, 28 years old
  6. Phylicia Mitchell, 46 years old
  7. Amia Tyrae Berryman, 28 years old
  8. Sasha Wall, 29 years old

May God Bless Christa, Viccky, Celine, Tonya, Zakaria, Phylicia, Amia, and Sasha with the peace in heaven that they were so cruelly denied here on Earth. But more importantly, may be bless us with forgiveness for our deafening silence, and the strength to now and forever more, say shout their names.