Saturday, June 30, 2007

Changing our future...for the better or the worse??

To what extent will we (Whites) go to in order to avoid being around people of color?

If you read the history books, that was a real problem back in the '50s. Thank goodness we are beyond that.

...aren't we???

This week we have a new landmark case to add to our history books. Fifty three years after Brown v. Board, we now have Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. As a result of this case, schools are no longer allowed to use race as a factor when trying to create a diverse student body.

What bothers me most about this decision is the way it was argued. Chief Justice Roberts argued that, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” He went on to say that his views were “more faithful to the heritage of Brown,” the landmark 1954 decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

Roberts' argument is flawed. True, discrimination means creating unfairness. However, Brown came into effect because schools were segregated and unequal. A school system that is committed to racial diversity for the sake of our future is not unfairness. It is strategizing the only way it knows how because it recognizes that we have not and are not choosing to live beside one another. Our neighborhoods are highly segregated...which is why our schools are highly segregated. (The average White student attends a school that is 80 percent White, while 70 percent of Black students attend schools where nearly two-thirds of students are Black and Hispanic.) The school systems that chose to make racial diversity a priority in their schools obviously recognized that unless we begin associating with one another on a regular basis while we are still young, we will continue to remain segregated.

Unfortunately, many people side with Justice Roberts...liberals and conservatives alike. Maybe not so much in their speech as in their actions. Over many years, we have become comfortable with who we live around. Because of those time-honored traditions, it is hard to change. Because of those time-honored traditions, we like to make all kinds of excuses as to why we don't need to participate in active diversity initiatives:

We say our children are already in diverse situations. (Yet when you look at their friends, they are all one color)

We say it's not fair for our kids to have to endure such a long bus ride away from their family and friends. (What's the difference in a child commuting to school and an adult commuting to work? We accept it later in life. Why not get them ready for commuting while they are still young?)

We say it's not fair that the kids have to go to school with other kids that aren't their friends (Yet families move from city to city and state to state and kids change schools. The kids always seem to make friends in their new settings in those situations. What is different in this situation?)

It was uncomfortable for the Little Rock 9, Ruby Bridges, and so many others to integrate schools in the 50s. I'm sure they didn't always enjoy doing the right thing so that the rest of us could benefit. Those kids and their families persevered because it was "the right thing to do." We need to do the same. They have already paved the way for us. It is our turn as White people to make some sacrifices so that what they started will continue to progress.

Note: The Time magazine cover in this blog was from 1971.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A different way of looking at things

My thinking was challenged today as I heard about the discovery of a new book of the Bible called, "The gospel according to Judas."

We all know the story about Judas. He betrayed Jesus, right? Maybe not. The newly discovered Book of Judas suggests that Judas was actually the favorite disciple...and the only one Jesus could entrust with his command to hand him over to the Romans.

Interesting perspective.

Of course, the thought that there might be a Gospel according to Judas challenges what we've always been taught to believe...that the Bible is a set of 66 books...and only those books. There have, however, been other books found--the gospel of Mary...the gospel of Thomas--each with their own interesting perspectives.

In fact, I remember hearing about the release of the Dead Sea Scrolls while I was in college. My questioning mind wondered who narrowed the documents down to 66 books and who decided which of those documents would and wouldn't be included.

It was at that point I realized the books of the Bible, in fact, were chosen by men...fallible humans. Over the years, the most troubling part of that, to me, is not that the books were chosen by man. (That makes sense.) What has come to bother me most is that most people don't seem to think (or maybe even care) that the books in our current Bible were chosen by men during a certain time period in our history. We don't think about the fact that who chose them and when they chose them could definitely have affected which ones they chose.

For instance...I was always taught to follow the New Testament, even though the New Testament encourages slaves to remain slaves...that it's part of God's plan. The New Testament also talks about women covering their head in public.

We know that is not the world we live in now. The Bible is contextual. It was written in a time when slavery was taken for granted and women covered their heads. We have no problem explaining why we do not abide by those commands today. So, like it or not, we filter out and choose which parts we want to follow.

I'm afraid, as Christians, we sometimes blindly accept what we've been taught and we listen to preachers and spiritual leaders without question. The problem isn't that we're blindly trusting's that we're trusting man. We even let man tell us which portions of the Bible are important. What would happen if we read and used all of the scriptures? What would we find is important?

Then, what if we looked into all of the documents that have been left out? What would we find?? Would the message change?

Who knows...once we read ALL of the information, we might have a different outlook on our Christian beliefs.

For more information on Pagels' and King's book about "Reading Judas," click here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Faith--It Goes Without Saying

I have had many a conversation with my friends about this issue. Why is it people feel that wearing their faith on their sleeve makes them more Christian...and for those of us who don't, it makes us less so? I could write my own blog on this, but Rawlins Gilliland says it so perfect. Click on the title below if you would rather hear it from him.

Commentary: Faith - It Goes Without Saying
By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

DALLAS, TX (2007-06-19)
I recently lunched with a self-described Fundamentalist Christian childhood friend who was upset. According to him, when the winner of the Masters Golf Tournament, Zach Johnson, was being interviewed by sportscaster Jim Nantz, Mr Nantz was, "clearly uncomfortable" when Johnson said "My faith is very important to me. Jesus was with me every step." I offered that perhaps Nantz was not "uncomfortable" at all, but rather, simply continued to interview Johnson regarding Masters Tournament specifics.

Nope. This could never ring true with my friend. He insisted that by not responding to this man's witnessing in a time of great achievement, the press was marginalizing Johnson's intended point; that all "glory goes to God." I suggested that the "glory goes to God" part is filed under "Believer 101". Adding, That goes without saying . Or so I thought. Before America became the promised land of New and Old Testament testification. Gone are the days when personal faiths, like children, were seen and not heard.

Ours is an era when people freely question whether Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama is "black enough". Overnight, everyday plain John Protestants like me are not "Christian enough" unless we become Evangelical. It's not like I don't get it; I was raised an Episcopalian by a Catholic mother, attended Methodist and Holiness churches. My brother-in-law is Church of Christ. My friends and lovers range from Baptist to Mormon. I've been around the Biblical block.

All that seems to validate no one. Must you shout it from the hills like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music: "The hills are alive with the love of Jesus." That I'm more reticent than many regarding faith compels some to question my piety, as my friend questioned Jim Nantz when he did not respond accordingly to Zach Johnson. There is absolutely nothing wrong when others bare their Christian soul and bear witness, but it is rarely revelatory. When someone tells me about the importance of faith in their lives, I'm tempted to respond: "Yes, and I cannot say enough for how oxygen helps me breathe." It goes without saying. Or it used to.

So someone's not dying to hear you've been "born again". Does that unmask them as a heretic? Isn't personal rather than public faith an option? Apparently not. Our not so brave new world insists; it's not enough to be changed by childbirth; we must become Celine Dion, the first mother to discover parental love. Stopped drinking? Preach from the rooftops that your liver is rising from the dead. Reformed smokers; rejoice telling even those who never smoked at all how you rebuked that devil weed that held you hostage!

Suddenly everyone's become a "Sally Field's Academy Award speech" Christian; He loves me. He really loves me!" By the time the 30th Grammy winner announced "I owe this to Jesus", I was ready to recount the ballots. Does anyone ever think perhaps God appreciates your work, but doesn't play favorites for best dance track remix?

Believe me; there's no heathen here. With God as my witness, I'm simply saying this prayer and singing that hymn; Give Me That Old Time Religion ?


Rawlins Gilliland is a National Endowment for the Arts Master poet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The desire to serve

One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was from my mentor and friend, Lisa Nigro, who founded the Inspiration Cafe in Chicago.

I had visited the Cafe while on a spring break campaign in college. A fire was lit in me as Lisa explained the concept: The restaurant is only open for breakfast. People who are homeless can request to be in the program. There is a limited number of spaces. If they are accepted, they eat breakfast here every morning (a nice and hearty breakfast prepared and served as if you were in a diner...complete with a short-order menu. The cook and the servers are all volunteers.). For guests to continue in the program, they have to be actively looking for a job and be actively working on their sobriety (if that is an issue). The cafe also offers GED classes and other classes that might be necessary in helping people move forward in their quest for a more stable life.

I was extremely excited that she agreed to hire me for a 6-week paid summer internship at the Cafe! I was so excited and eager to serve!

My first day, I immediately asked Lisa what she wanted me to do.

Her response?

A very calm, "Sit down and eat breakfast with the guests."

So I did.

...but then I was ready to serve!

I approached Lisa very eagerly, once again, "I'm done! Now what would you like me to do?"

To which she replied, "Get to know the guests."

So I sat back down and talked to a few people, somewhat disappointed that she hadn't given me some great, meaningful assignment.

The next day, once again, I came in ready to get to work. Lisa once again replied, "Sit down, eat breakfast, and get to know the guests."

After a few days of me continuing to request things to do, she finally explained that my "job" for the first two weeks was to simply sit down and get to know the guests. She explained, "Though they are homeless, they are people and they have thoughts and opinions. Find out what they think about politics, who their favorite baseball team is, etc. Get to know the people."

I had only six weeks to be there and this lady is paying me to sit down and talk to people for the first two of them! It was ridiculous in my mind, but it was her money so I did what she said.

Fortunately for me, Lisa had already learned something that I didn't know: there is power in a two-way relationship.

As I built new friendships, I was given the opportunity to stand in line and eat at the Salvation Army, experiencing life from the recipient's point of view. I attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I learned about the 12-steps. I learned that Cooper was a poet and a great salesperson...he introduced me to Kahil Gibran, an author he enjoyed... and he taught me about having a positive outlook on life (Every morning, when asked how he was he would say, "Mighty fine, I woke up this morning!"). I had great talks with Lena and Tommy. Harry always looked out for me and Richard was a great friend--both were addicts in recovery who ran the cafe and amazed me with their ability to know when someone was running game.

Now that I am in a non-profit that accepts volunteers, I realize the importance of Lisa's words. I am so thankful that Lisa was steadfast in teaching me about valuing people.

In the non-profit world, volunteers want to come in and "do." But often what is more beneficial to them and to our neighbors is if they would simply come, get to know people, and build long-term relationships over time. Listen to people's hopes and dreams...and share their own hopes and dreams. Find out what someone needs, but also find out what they have to offer.

If you really want to be a blessing to someone, simply be a part of what is already going on. Get to know people. By getting to know people, you will know when someone wants to get in to college, but may not know where to start. You will know if someone is trying to pass their GED, but can't seem to pass their writing. You may come across someone who wants to open a bank account, but is scared to trust a bank and unsure how to write a check or balance their account. Through friendship, conversation may lead to discovering a genuine need someone has.

And on the flip side... may also learn that when you have a need, you now have someone you can go to as well.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wisdom from Pops

A lot of the things I do, I realize, are because of things I watched my parents do when I was a kid. Though they did not have a college education (what I call "formal" education), they had a lot of wisdom. It's amazing how well their strategies from the farm hold up in my work with city kids 30 years later.

Lesson #1: Earn your keep.
My parents have always been big on "earning" what you get. I don't remember ever receiving an allowance. We had chores that we were just expected to do...bring in wood for the fireplace, empty the dishwasher, set the table, gather the eggs, mow the lawn, etc. I do, however, remember having a time card and getting paid for working on the farm and doing things that needed to be done. ...running the pigs on Saturday morning (that may only make sense if you were raised on a farm. :)), raking hay in the hot sun, helping my parents balance their farm account at tax time, and other things like that.

Lesson #2: Give back to the community.

There were times my parents gave generous donations to people or organizations. However, my dad always made room in his budget to hire a high school kid or two to work with him on the farm. Through that, I believe, many of us who worked for him learned a lot about job skills, work ethic, and earning our keep.

Lesson #3: Live so that people respect you.
Dad has always been very involved in the community--from politics to Lion's Club to school board. He is involved. He is fair. He listens to what people want--even if they are griping and complaining. Because of the way he has conducted himself over the years, our family name carries a lot of weight in our small town.

Lesson #4: Never doubt the ability of a child.
Lesson #5: Teach kids about investing while they are young.
When I was in first grade my parents took me to the bank to open a checking account. I can then remember my dad "making" me buy a calf from him and teaching me to write a check. He told me he would take care of and feed the calf along with the rest of his herd and then he would sell it for me so I could make a profit. (I still think he forgot to ever give me the proceeds on that calf...but at least I learned the lesson about investing and what buying low, selling high meant.).

At 16, we took a trip to the stock broker. Dad had the stock broker explain the stock options. Though I didn't (and still don't) understand the stock market very well, he allowed me to listen and make my own decision about how to invest my money in stocks. (If I would've listened to my dad and invested in Wal-mart, today I would probably be much better off financially...but he allowed me to make my own decision.)

Both of my parents did things that, through all of my higher educational studies, I have found are very sound...and even progressive...educational practices.

On this Father's Day, I want to say


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Explore the possibilities

Are we teaching our kids to learn how to learn or to learn what we know? If all I ever do is teach a child what I know, our future is going to be extremely limited. However, if I can teach a child to explore, dream, envision, take risks, and accept challenges, there is no telling what he/she will come up with.

Our After-School Academy mission has always been to provide a Christ-centered atmosphere in an educational setting that will equip kids to dream and envision who they can and will one day become.

I'm thinking I may need to adjust it so that it ends with "equip kids to dream and envision." If we can guide our kids to dream and envision, they will be the ones coming up with things like the computer in this video (depending on your connection speed, you may have to wait a while for it to load):

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

State of Tomorrow

As I mentioned in the last post, if we are really serious about preparing our kids for a global society, we must look at learning differently. Watch the 6-minute video below to see some reasons why:

Twenty two years ago was the first time I'd ever touched a computer. I took a computer programming class on an Apple computer in 8th grade. One year later the class was outdated. The rest of my high school career we only used computers for typing.

Fifteen years ago, while I was still in college, I heard about email for the first time. My friend, Cecilia, was excited that she would be able to "email" home to Guatemala for free. I thought she was crazy. I "knew" there was no way they would let people talk to someone in another country for free! Yet, here we are.

I don't think I need to go through a list of the things that have happened since then.

Every day our world is changing.

As the video notes:

...the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn't exist in 2004 ~Former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley

...We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist...using technologies that haven't yet been order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

...The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years. For students starting a 4-year technical or college degree, this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.

I want to be sure that our urban children are not being left behind.

"To address a rapidly changing world, the very best thing we can teach our children, is how to teach themselves." ~David Warlick (Two cents worth blog).

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Critical thinking, learning, and video games

As this school year approaches, I'm trying to figure out innovative, fun, and exciting ways for the kids in the After-School Academy to develop their critical thinking, vocabulary, and reading skills.

Today I came across a brainstorm: video/computer games.

I have never been a fan of drilling kids inside and outside of school so that they could pass the statewide exam nor am I a big fan of kids sitting in front of an X Box 360 (or whatever the latest one is).

However, I believe learning is much bigger than menial, rote learning. Because of this belief, I have turned down grants that offered us TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tutoring software and, instead, opted to purchase my own reasonably priced educational software that focused on a variety of math, reading, writing, and even music skills.

Despite my attempt to think outside of the box, I noticed that the kids still were easily bored with the games and, instead of actually taking the time to figure out math problems that flashed on the screen, they simply shot the targets and maneuvered the game until it gave a "Correct!" answer and moved them on to the next level.

A new revelation occured to me yesterday after reading an article in Ode magazine (Sept. 2006). In his article, Visscher accurately notes:

Computer games have already become part of the lesson plans in some schools. But these are usually simple games for elementary-school children. They use bright colours and amusing sounds to make math or spelling "fun." But these only take the edge off the age-old practise of rote learning. This is not the type of game-based education Bushnell and Prensky advocate.
The educational games I have been buying do not inspire creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. They do not generate conversation. They are more of the same rote learning tools that I rail against!

David McDivitt, a history teacher, uses the game Making History in his classroom. His research shows that the students who didn't read textbooks or attend classes but played and discussed Making History learned more about WW II than students in other classes. His students talk about the game outside of the classroom. He overheard a kid once saying, "Hey dude, you weren't supposed to invade my country, we had a defence agreement!" How often do you hear discussions about the politics of leadership after reading a textbook chapter??

DeKanter, co-founder of a software company, agrees: today's world, data is available anywhere on the Internet. What's more important now than learning names and data are the skills to analyze that data and to apply inforamtion to gain insight and make decisions.

I'm afraid that the way we are teaching, especially in the inner cities, is preparing our kids for low-level, menial jobs. We say we want them to succeed. We say we want them to have the same opportunities as other kids. If we truly mean that, then we have to prepare them to be able to compete in our global society. Check back in the next couple of days for a video that explains why this is so critical.

If you're interested in looking into some of the games they recommend, see below. Some are free online and some cost:
Myst: Take a journey of discovery through the exotic island of Myst to solve an ancient family drama.
SimCity: Ever wanted to build your own metropolis? Become the mayor of SimCity!
Civilization: Create an entire civilization while learning history.
Food Force: Help millions of starving inhabitants on the fictitious island of Sheylan. Developed by the United Nations World Food Programme.
The Sims: Control the lives of virtual characters while learning about real life. This is the best-selling game worldwide.
Making History: Put yoruself in the shoes of European governement leaders during WW II.
Darfur is Dying: Discover how the Sudanese refugees in Darfur live and the difficulties they face. A co-operative venture initiated by MTV.
Re-Mission: Roxxi the mini-robot helps you destroy cancer cells on your way to better health.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

So much more than words...

The problem need to learn to read.

The problem don't comprehend.

The problem is...they don't enjoy reading.


The problem is...

...we are so busy teaching reading, teaching comprehension, and telling them how to enjoy reading, that we forget that they need the fun experiences and the context to understand what they read so that they can read, comprehend, and enjoy it!

After doing reading assessments on our After-School Academy kids, I had a realization:

Our kids can read!

That may sound bad, but with all of the talk about how low-level inner city children are, I bought into it. I think what happens is we see the ones who struggle and begin focusing our thinking on their decoding skills (or lack thereof).

At the beginning of the school year, 64% of our After-School Academy kids were reading at or above grade level. By the end of the school year, nearly 90% of our kids were reading on or above grade level. Because of the ASA staff, the school, the parents, and the kids, we've done pretty good.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

I had an a-ha moment after testing three of our 6th graders. Each were tested separately; all were given the same story. All three read at an 8th grade level, with a reading accuracy of 96-97%. However, when I asked them to tell me about the story, they completely missed the main point. After coaching them on how to look for the main idea, something prompted me to ask them to tell me what a couple of key words were in the story: "the sun sears my back," "the molten pavement," and maybe one or two others. Although they pronounced the words perfectly, they had no idea what they meant and, therefore, missed the whole meaning of the passage.

Although 90% of our kids read on grade level, only 10% are at or above their grade level in comprehension skills.

Kids need new experiences.

I grew up in the country. I had never really seen "art." However, after going to a semester of college in Europe and traveling around seeing the Van Gogh museum, the Sistene Chapel, looking at Renior paintings, going to the place Monet painted his water lilies, etc., I came back to the states and passed my Art Appreciation 101 class with flying colors. I had context. I had experience.

I remember reading the Agony and the Ecstasy after returning from Italy. As I read, the references to Michelangelo, his apprenticeships, the towns that were known for their marble, Michelangelo's struggle with painting the Sistene all came alive! I could visualize the David. I had seen a pieta and now knew what a pieta was! I was tired as I read about Michelangelo walking up and down the steep, Tuscan roads; I had walked where Michelangelo walked.

The book was easy for me to read because I knew what they were talking about. Why, then, do we focus so much of our energies on drilling kids on words and quizzing them on definitions?

I don't suggest sending everyone across the world to gain different experiences. It's a little improbable (though that isn't a bad idea!). I do, however, think we should re-evaluate our approach to urban education. Learning isn't just about reading words. Decoding is important, but kids must learn to decode while gaining multiple experiences in multiple settings along the way. Our society has become global. We have to recognize that and equip our kids accordingly.

"Teach kids to read," sounds good on the surface, but there is so much more to reading than just learning the words.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Get an education!!

I read Larry James' blog every day with my morning coffee. The focus of his blog is:
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor."
Because of this, he and/or his readers often speak about education. I have seen many comments that suggest if urban residents (teens and adults) would simply get a college education, their life would be better. While this may be true enough, allow me to explain why this is way more difficult than it seems.

Yuri, an 18-year old Hispanic young lady, came to me last year (while a senior) and told me that she was going to quit school and go to Job Corps. When I asked her why (she was an A/B student at the time), she explained that the people at her school told her it would be a good thing for "someone like her." They explained that if she went to Job Corps she would be trained in a skill and get paid while they trained her.

After a lengthy talk, Yuri told me she would think about staying in school. Obviously she did. She invited me to her graduation and told me she was planning to go to college...but she needed help. She asked to set up an appointment and asked if she could bring a friend who also needed help. We met today at 11:30.

We started their FAFSA (financial aid) online, but realized they had to have a PIN number. They applied for that, but will now have to wait for 3 days to receive it before we can finish the application.

I began to ask them questions about what they had done toward applying to college (both are planning to go to the local community college).

note: Community college is a much easier process than a 4-year university. Though this process is time consuming, the 4-year would be MUCH more time consuming and MUCH more difficult.

Have you filled out your application for the school yet?...Taken your ACT/SAT?...Taken your THEA?...Applied for Rising Star?...Gotten your transcript from your high school?...Know anything about the TRIO program that works with first generation college students?...Do you have your parents tax forms?...your social security number?...your parents social security number? ID?

Though Yuri could answer yes to most questions, Checo could not. He explained he was busy in school trying to pass the TAKS test to make sure he would graduate. Yuri was willing to help and coached him on several things she and I had talked about earlier this week.

I asked more questions:
How many hours do you want to take?
I don't know...what's a "full load?"
Do you understand how hours work in college?

I went on to explain how classes and hours work. I explained how many hours they will have to take each semester if they want to graduate in 4-4 1/2 years. I explained that they will have to take a placement test to see if they need developmental classes (90% of the kids I work with do). I let them know that developmental classes count for no credit and cost them money, but they must take them to be ready for college level classes.

Both were very receptive and attentive to everything I explained.

Then I started giving "assignments." Go to the school. Get your transcript (You will have to pay $3). Get a Rising Star Application. Meet me on Monday at 8:00 at El Centro. Be prepared with two pencils, paper, ID, tax information, and anything else you think you might need. Check your email this weekend to see if you have received your PIN yet. We will complete the FAFSA on Monday or Tuesday.

Before they left, Yuri asked me to fill out a recommendation form for one of her scholarships and to print an essay she wrote for her Rising Star application. After reading her essay, I refused to print it until she made corrections. Though she speaks fluent English, a lot of her mistakes were grammar mistakes due to mix-ups in translation and sometimes simple errors because of a lack of experience with computers. I always spend the time editing for the kids because 1) I find that teachers often won't/don't, and 2) If she is applying for a scholarship, I want her to have the best chance possible.

By the time we finished it was 2:00...and that was just the first day. There will be many more.Some of those hours will be spent explaining how college works, talking to FAFSA people on the phone or in the office when they don't receive their financial aid on time, figuring out how to register for classes without their financial aid money, encouraging them to keep going to class even when a $6/hour job seems to be making them more money, and so much more.

Kids/families know education is a good thing. But sometimes the obstacles to get there are daunting. Their perseverance and willingness inspires me.

Maybe we're the ones who need an education!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Taking the Lord's name in vain

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. –– Exodus 20:7 (NAS)

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. --Exodus 20:7 (NIV)

Exactly what is "misusing his name?"

I was always taught that verse meant not to say things like,"Oh my God!"..."Good Lord!"..."Jesus Christ!" when expressing surprise, disgust, or whatever emotion I might be feeling. ("Oh my gosh!" was an acceptable substitute. :) ).

I had a new revelation the other day, though.

Most people I talk to about coming to the inner city already have their predetermined ideas of what they want to do and how they want to accomplish it. However, what the inner city needs is not always what people from the outside have decided they want to give. As a result, when I make different suggestions of what we need...that aren't usually so "hands on"...I often hear the response, "I'm not sure. Let me pray about it and I'll get back to you."

I've begun to notice a pattern with people once they say, "Let me pray about it.": Their answer is always, "No."

Perhaps the people who are "praying about it" are in tune with God's will, which is why they had their plan already in place. Maybe that's why their answer always comes back as, "No, we'll find something else."

However, my other speculation is that perhaps, "Let me pray about it," is simply exploiting a Christian phrase and using God as a cop out.

That may seem cynical, but it was really interesting to me the other day when I thought back and could not recall one time anyone said, "Hmmm...I'm not sure about that. Let me pray about it," and then got back to me with a change of heart or mind (they actually usually never call back...even though they say they will).

I understand that there are many different ways to serve and many different ways to demonstrate Christianity. What I suggest to people who call is just one way.

What has begun to bother me over the years, however, is the way people exploit religion in the process of giving an answer. From what I can tell, "Let me pray about it," has become an acceptable phrase to say to get us off the hook...and it's an expected phrase in the world of religion.

Are we really "praying about it?" Are we really willing and open to new suggestions? Or do we just say that so we can be "seen by men" as religious?
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. --Matthew 6:5a