Saturday, July 4, 2015

David May speaks to the remaining students in Roberta.'s home school, on the occasion of the graduate of the first student, Michemanna Blaise, July 4, 2015

Challenge to students in Roberta’s home school program on the occasion of the graduation of Michemanna Blaise, the first graduate.  By David May, BAE, MS, friend of the family.  July 4, 2015.

Today we have come together here to honor Michemanna and her achievement and all her hard work and perseverance.  And I want applaud her for that.  Some said it could not be done.  And today it has been done.  

Now that Michemanna has torn down that wall, the rest of you can join hands and go running through the hole she has made.  It is hard work, and it gets boring day after day.   But I want to encourage all of you to hang in there.  I often ask one of you how many more booklets you need to finish in order to complete the grade you are working on.  So far, none of you have been able to give me an answer.  I can't imagine how you can keep at it like that, never knowing whether you are almost done or have just begun.  I challenge you to find out exactly how many books you need to finish in every subject in order to complete the grade you are working on.  And then work on them diligently.  Make a list and mark them off as you get them done.  Seeing them crossed off the chart will help give you the courage and the hope to keep going.  I will continue to ask you how many books you need to finish, and I will expect you to answer, 3 math, 6 science, 4 social studies.  Or whatever the correct answer is.

You also need to know this.  Roberta (Mom) has given you a tremendous gift.  By providing you with the English language, she has opened many doors for you.  Some of you have already been making money translating for English speakers and listeners.  But more than that you need to continue your education.  A knowledge of science, math and history are essential to getting and keeping a good job.  

And you will need to know your French.  Just because French speakers can seem a little snobbish is no reason for you to ignore it.  Listen to this: You need French to speak intelligently to people who will not otherwise listen to you.  [Repeat]. Just as the Apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship when it worked to his advantage (and didn't mention it when it wasn’t) we need to have the ability to be “all things to all people.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.

90% of Haitians speak only creole.  That puts those of you with good English ahead of 9 out of 10 of your peers.  If you can pick up French and Spanish, that will put you in the top 1 or 2 percent.  But you can’t slack off on the math, science and social studies.  If you speak the languages, but don’t know anything intelligent to say, it won't do you any good.

Listen to this, God said, “’I know the plans I have for you.’  This message is from the Lord.  ‘I have good plans for you.  I don't plan to hurt you.  I plan to give you hope and a good future.  Then you will call my name.  You will come to me and pray to me and I will listen to you.’”  Jeremiah 29:11-12.  

But God is not going to impose his plans on you.  He doesn’t work that way.  You have to pick up the books.  Get this: this is not Roberta’s school; this is your school.  It is here for you.  You don't have to do anything with it.  You can ignore it.  And you don't have to do anything with the plans God has for you, you can ignore them.  But you will be disappointing them both, Roberta and God, if you don't take advantage of the gifts they have given you.

There is a song from the movie, “The Sound Of Music” that I dearly love.  That’s a great movie with lots of talented singers, but this song  is my favorite.  It is an older woman giving advice to a young woman just starting out in life.  It goes like this:

Climb every mountain, 
Search high and low, 
Follow every byway, 
Every path you know.

Climb every mountain, 
Ford every stream, 
Follow every rainbow, 
'Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need
All the love you can give, 
Every day of your life 
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain, 
Ford every stream, 
Follow every rainbow, 
Till you find your dream

You need a dream and you need to dream big.  A detailed road map will do you no good if you don't know where you are going.  Think about it.  Pray about your dream.  Talk to others about it.  Ask God to give you wisdom as you choose your dream and courage as you go after it.  Don't be satisfied with what others are doing – dream bigger.

But the song talked about climbing every mountain, and in Haiti we know that when we get to the top of the mountain, what is on the other side?  Yes, another mountain.  But the Haitian Christian Acapella group, Ujece, sings a song called “There are Mountains beyond the Mountains.”  And in that song they sing that faith is believing what we cannot see, and that God gave us wings and gave us freedom.  We may not know what is on the other side of the mountain, but God knows.  He has gone before us.  

We are like the Israelites reported in Deuteronomy 1.  God said they should not be afraid, that he would go before them and he would defeat their enemies.  Sometimes we are too afraid or too lazy to give it a try.  When the Israelites were not bold enough to follow God into battle, God told them that they would not ever live in the promised land – that their children and grandchildren would, but not them.

But there were other Bible characters who did trust God.  Rich Mullins is one of my favorite musicians.  One of his songs is called “Where You Are.”  It talks about the fact that wherever you are, God is there.  He sings about Daniel in the lion’s den and the three young people who the king had thrown into a fiery furnace.  The song goes that the “fire didn't burn them and lions didn't bite, and the Lord reached down and you can be sure everything turned out right.” Then he goes on to say, “Oh, you meet the Lord in the furnace a long time before you meet him in the air.”  You can meet the Lord over your school books.  Talk to him about it!

Let's don't be like the Israelites who were afraid to go, even though God promised to go before them.  Pick up the books.  Work on them.  And get this.  Help each other.  Don't try to do it by yourself.  If you think you can't do it alone, you may be right.  Work on this as a team.  Set a goal that when you graduate, your friend will be standing beside you.  If someone doesn't understand something, help them out.  And when you come to a hard part, ask for help.  You know this verse: 

Ecclesiastes 4:12
“An enemy might be able to defeat one person, but two people can stand back-to-back to defend each other. And three people are even stronger. They are like a rope that has three parts wrapped together—it is very hard to break.” You are not in this by yourself.  You have your family and your friends and you have God.  And don’t fall for Satan’s lies that it cannot be done.  It has been done.

In closing, I will offer these words both to Michemanna and to the rest of you coming along behind.  

Psalm 121:  "I lift up my eyes to the hills.  Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord,  the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let  your foot slip- He who watches over you will not slumber;  indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you - the Lord is your shade at your right hand: the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Monday, June 29, 2015

How a White, Southern Boy Learned About Racism

I learned about racism in a cafeteria line.  I was at school, in the 10th grade, 14 or 15 years old, depending on whether it was before or after my mid-November birthday.  The year was 1956.

It seems strange that I would learn such a lesson at such a late age, given that I was raised in highly segregated Memphis, Tennessee, but I had not been around people whom I knew were racist and I was not familiar with the concept.  It was not something people talked about.

Memphis Central was the oldest high school in town and was recognized as the college prep school.  When someone “lettered” from Central, the letter they were given was an “H” for High School.  Nearby Memphis Tech was the technical school.  Both were all White.  It didn’t occur to me that things could have been organized differently until the next year, in 1957, when our sister school, Little Rock Central in Little Rock, Arkansas, was desegregated by nine courageous students with a court order and a bevy of U.S Marshals.

The high schools in Memphis were three year schools (Grades 10-12) at the time.  In 1956 I entered Central as a Sophomore.  I was added to the ROTC and joined it’s drill team.  As I remember it, the Reserve Officers Training Corps was mandatory for Sophomore boys, and was voluntary for Juniors and Seniors.  The Drill Team was voluntary for all grades.  Girls were not under consideration for ROTC.  I am not sure what they did instead.

There was this one guy in ROTC who had it all together.  Thankfully, I don’t remember his name, but he was really cool.  Everyone looked up to him, including me.  He was the person we all wanted to grow up to be like. We weren't friends, but somehow on the day in question I ended up behind him in the cafeteria line.  As I remember it, we had to have a nickel at the end of the line. Something to do with milk, I think.  I was juggling my tray, a couple of school books and my nickel, so without thinking I put the nickel between my teeth.  I didn’t think anything about it.

So, this hero guy turned around, saw my nickel in my mouth and got the most horrible look on his face.  I don't believe I would remember the look, though, if we're not for what he said – “Eww!  Take that out of your mouth!  Some N***** may have had that is his mouth!”  My view of the world came apart.  I lost a hero.  He had instantly become a jerk instead.  And I began to understand that some White people did not see all people as equal, in spite of what Lincoln had said in the Gettysburg address.  In a sense, I lost my innocence that day.  I am sure it was to my betterment in the long run to recognize what was really going on around me, but it was really painful.

Friday, June 26, 2015

South Carolina's Confederate Flag

Flags mean different things to different people at different times.

When I was a kid I used my bicycle to get around Memphis. My favorite destinations were my Dad’s barber shop, about two miles away and my grandmother’s apartment in government housing about five miles away.  Though I didn’t know the term, I guess you could have labelled my grandmother a “liberal.”  Besides the multiple pictures of her grandchildren she had around, there were two large pictures on her wall – one of John F. Kennedy, the other of Franklin Roosevelt. She also had a three inch brass medallion of Roosevelt that I still keep.  I learned about her heart, though, not from any discussion of politics, but from watching how she treated the people around her.

When I was older, I rode the city bus to school.  That was the 1950’s.  The Black people rode in the back, the White people in the front.  As a kid, I didn’t know to question the arrangement.  That is just how it was.  But I do know that I frequently sat beside a Black woman on the bus about half way back.  I didn’t learn about racism until the 10th grade, but that is another story.

For the four years of college (1960-1963)  I worked in a (White) Boy Scout camp in North Mississippi.  The first summer at the end of camp the staff were all asked if any of us wanted to work another week or two at the Black camp, not far away.  I was the only volunteer and was the only White person at the camp.  I was the most junior staff member.  I served as a cabin counselor and a scout craft teacher, teaching things like knot tying and map reading.  I fondly remember one little boy who asked to sleep under my bunk because he would feel safer there.

My school was Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, which in my last year there earned notoriety with the federal imposition of the admission of James Meredith, it's first Black student.  My friends and I cheered his arrival, and the arrival of the U.S. 101st Airborne to ensure his safety.

Yet, I remember taking pride in the confederate flag.  I did not see it as a sign of racism.  The Ole Miss marching band had a copy that was as wide as the football field and once each year they would bring it out. It would completely cover the band on the field while they played Dixie.   To me it represented warm summer evenings, thunder storms, playing in the rain, fried chicken, sweet tea, mashed potatoes.

But as I grew older, I learned that it represented much more to others.  To some it represented “Whites Only” signs, segregated schools, the back of the bus, KKK rally's, and even lynchings. What was beautiful to me was ugly to others.  As my eyes were opened to its broader meanings, it became less beautiful.  To fly it from a state Capitol says to the world, “We don’t care about its ugly side, about its hateful past.  We don't care about the people who are hurt by seeing it there.”

So the purpose of this little note is to add my voice to those who are calling for South Carolina to take it down.  Not because you have to, not because of any law or federal requirement.  South Carolina, take it down because it is the right thing to do.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Disenfranchised! No place for me?

My first vote ever in a national election was for Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater’s platform was that less government was better. I had been a very independent teenager and remained, though in the United States Marine Corps at the time, a very independent young man.  I saw no need for the government to go messing in my life or anyone else’s.  A lot of that is still with me.

About 30 years later one of my sons and I helped get Ross Perot on the Minnesota ballot by getting signatures on a petition.  We worked the front of the local grocery store.  Perot’s platform was about what he called “the crazy aunt in the basement.”  The crazy aunt that no one talked about was the budget deficit and the national debt.  Ross promised to eliminate both of them.

Somewhere between those two, Matt and I went to see Jesse Jackson during his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.  We stood by the entrance door and got to shake his hand as he came into the auditorium.  We even went to the local Democratic caucus to try to get him on the ballot. 
Jesse, of course is as far from Barry and Ross, ideologically, as you can get, but I wasn’t into ideology as much as I was into fairness.  It was time for a Black person to make an entrance onto the national political scene.

Since then I have tried to reconcile what I see as good about the Republican Party with what I see as good about the Democrats.  My grandmother, “Nina” (nih nah) was a dyed in the wool Democrat.  She had family pictures in her little government owned apartment, but the biggest and most prominent photos were of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F Kennedy.  A non-attending, but contributing, Methodist, her heart was with the poor.  In all-white government housing in the 1950s her house was a regular stop for the Black mail carrier for a glass of ice water at her kitchen table.  And the fatherless children knew they could find an open ear at her house.

Today I have problems with both parties.  My beef with the Democrats is their adamant support for killing off unborn babies.  That’s the same reason I cut off support for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).  Republicans, on the other hand exude meanness toward the poor, toward strangers, and by extension at least toward people of color.  

Neither can I reconcile calling myself an independent because there is a capitol “I” Independent party that picks up the deal breaker positions from one or both of the other two parties.  

So here I sit, with another national election warming up, and no suitable party to turn to.  Do we have to start our own?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The War on Science

Picture of a worker adjusting a diorama of a moon landing at the Kennedy Space CenterThis month’s (March 2015) National Geographic cover article is titled “The War on Science.”  I saw a copy in a doctor’s waiting room and later bought a copy to finish reading the article.  You see, in my book, "Does the Church Really Have Good News", I make the point that God and science are not at odds and I wanted to see who is at war with science and on what grounds.  I was also hoping to get some of the scientific facts of the subjects of the supposed war: Climate Change, Evolution, The Moon Landing, Vaccinations, and Genetically Modified Food.

As it turns out, the author, Washington Post Science Writer, Joel Achenbach, was more interested in how people decide what to believe than in arguing the points of disagreement.  That is a fair position for him to take in the article, just not what I had expected, especially from National Geographic.

I have been particularly interested in the evidence for global warming and for the assertion that it is being caused by human activity.  I read a lot about the consensus of scientists on the matter, but I never see any facts to support their agreement.  The only fact Achenbach had in this article was that the earth’s surface temperature has risen 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 150 years.  That’s 10 degrees every thousand years.  Unless there is something else going on (and maybe there is, like melting the ice caps) that hardly seems enough for all the hype.

Achenbach’s main point was that we tend to take our positions based on our feelings and on what our group of friends and family believe more so than on a logical examination of the facts, and that is true of scientists as well as disbelievers of science.  “We still have a need to fit in,” he asserts and that need trumps science.  Even scientists are very reluctant to take a position contrary to that of the bulk of their peers.  And disbelievers don’t want to go against the beliefs of the bulk of their peers either.  There is much more to the article and it is worth the $5.99 cover price for the magazine.  

Meanwhile, for more on the lack of disagreement between God and science see "Does the Church Really Have Good News?"

What facts do you have about global warming?