A poetic musing on perception

Perception

from where I am, I perceive

from my perceptions, I conclude

from these conclusions, I understand

from what I’ve understood, I encounter

through encounter, I believe.

Yet this that I perceive:

Is not me

Existed before my seeing

Is More than my conclusions

Greater than what I understand

Deeper than my encounter

And exceeds what I believe.

What I perceive is, in itself,

Other

By Kelley Mata ©

While this poem may not be very intricate, the idea that our perceptions are limited is one that we need to engender in our communities, our faith communities, our families…in ourselves.   Just the honest realization: that an “other” might be looking for much the same thing in life that I am but in a different way…that they are not my enemy but a fellow traveller.  These ideas could radically change our polarized culture, our argumentative “my way or the highway” and often violent response to difference and to otherness.  This remains my wish, that we could see value in each other, in each others perspectives and in humanity broadly.

Merit based pay for teachers doesn’t consider the whole picture

I have been and continue to be a supporter of President Obama’s accomplishments and most of what he is intending to do. However, the merit based pay that our president and so many other politicians and policy makers want to enact doesn’t help situations and isn’t appropriate unless some qualifiers can be added into the evaluation. I understand the desire to hold our educators accountable to their task, this happens in other jobs and is reasonable. I understand that teachers are supposed to teach students and that there should be improvement in the capabilities and knowledge base of students, this too is reasonable, as long as mitigating circumstances are also considered. So my issue is not with accountability.

My problem is with the unfair way that student improvement is measured. The measure for student improvement is a test that all students take each year: in Idaho the IRI. Using this test as the sole basis for determining whether students are learning is, I believe, a flawed way to measure teacher performance. To begin with the least of the flaws, there are students who have challenges with taking tests, just like there are students with different intelligence types who don’t fair well with our verbal linguistic oriented education system. Additionally, there are students for whom English is a second language and not one of which they have adequate proficiency. Then there are the children whose challenges ( IQ, developmental issues, learning disabilities, students with challenges such as DOWNS Syndrome or Autism, and students with significant psycho-social issues) hinder or preclude their ability to make significant progress and who will probably always fall below the standard established and measured by this test. Lastly there are so many students these days whose home life is deficient and or not safe. There are children living in cars, abused children, hungry children and/or so many other circumstances that hinder their ability to progress. Maslow’s hierarchy demonstrates that when the lower more basic needs in our lives are not met, i.e. our safety, our shelter, food in our stomachs, social stimulation, etc. aren’t met, the ability to grow and proceed in higher levels of actualization are hindered.

Yet none of these mitigating circumstances are considered in the merit based pay initiatives. Such issues are for many teachers are insurmountable, depending on the demographics of the populations they are serving. While many of the students can show substantial improvement, others of their peers won’t and probably never will reach normal and appropriate levels due to some of the challenges listed above. Consider the plight of teachers whose classrooms are specifically dedicated to helping our challenged populations. Some schools have greater percentages of the above mentioned limitations that others, so not only will many of the teachers fail to benefit from merit based pay, but schools are also penalized because of low scores, when the reason for the low scores has nothing inherently to do with their performance.

So while the desire for accountability is good and appropriate, the choice of measuring improvement and progress without the ability to make reasonable adjustments because of these mitigating circumstances is simply unfair.

The point of Jesus’ ministry

I have been thinking for a long time that the way we have characterized Christian faith is maybe not what Jesus intended.  What if Jesus intended to impact how we lived more than what we believed?  Now I know that Jesus spoke a lot about belief in God who sent him and having faith in the kingdom of God that he represented.  But more and more I am not so sure that belief was the point of his message, but that what he intended was for us to live as he lived, to love, to forgive, to accept those others reject, to be part of the healing of this world.  I think that Jesus came to teach us to be better humans than more spiritual.

If that is true, then maybe the ones living those values are closer to Christ than the ones who “believe” the “right” things about Jesus, but live for themselves, or fail to exhibit those characteristics and values inherent to Jesus and his ministry as portrayed in the Gospels.

This thought reminds me of a parable found in Peter Rollins’ book The Orthodox Heretic: and Other Impossible Tales on page 57 entitled “Finding Faith.”  In this parable there is a firery preacher who has a gift that when he prays for someone they lose their faith.  In the story this preacher encounters a person who claims Christian faith but in business hurts and damages other people, knowing that in Christ he is forgiven.  He asks if he can pray for the man, who willingly allows him to.  The business man immediately loses faith.  Over the coming months he can no longer stomach the ruthless business practices that have characterized his career.  He leaves that mode of business and begins to put his experience toward helping and fighting against such practices.  In this story, did he lose faith, or find it?

Jim Wallis: The War in Iraq: At What Cost?

The link below is to a recent article by Jim Wallis. I commend it to you because I believe what he is saying is true and right. The war in Iraq should never have been but unfortunately it happened. The result is that so very many people in The US and in Iraq have lost so much and paid such an incredibly high price for our bad choice.

I, too, feel a sense of relief that the combat mission is over in Iraq and a great sadness at the losses and the horrors that rained down on so many. Thanks for hell George Bush.

Jim Wallis: The War in Iraq: At What Cost?.

Deep River by Shusako Endo

I have become a big fan of Shusaku Endo.  For those of you who don’t know who he was, he was one of Japan’s premier novelists, some have called him the Graham Greene of Japan.  At any rate I have recently completed my second of his novels and will be looking to find others that he wrote.  Unfortunately he is no longer with us in this world so we will not be blessed with further stories to challenge and encourage us.

In this book, Deep River, Endo leads us on a soul finding journey through the experiences and life stories of five very different individuals, Isobe, Mitsuko, Numada, Kiguchi and Otsu. These individuals are all looking for something elusive and in their varied paths converge upon the same tourist journey in India and specifically at the holy river Ganges. Their stories have taken them through many painful experiences and all over the world…but it is here at the “river of humanity” that journeys find an end, and maybe a new beginning.

Endo was a Japanese Christian, which adds a breadth to his view of God and all things sacred, expanding beyond what traditional western Christianity is willing to consider. It is precisely this breadth, but also an incredible depth of understanding into the redemptive life and death of Christ that is applied in this fantastic story, which makes it so wonderful.  Some have not appreciated this work of Endo’s as compared to other great books by him, but in this book, as well as in Silence (another fantastic work of his) I find his genius at work coalescing that breadth and depth into a powerful and meaningful story. As with the other title mentioned above, Endo’s last chapter is where the punch of the story is felt. You may be tempted to put the book down at many places along the way, I know I did.  But luckily I picked it up again. However, Endo’s genius and depth of insight are worth the wait and it all comes together at the end, so hold on and finish this one.  The picture of Christ is clear!