Categories
parenting

Justice is a Funny Thing

Watching Megan go through the college admissions process has been really hard.

On the one hand, I fully get why we have quotas and the need for diversity. I support it. If I were an elected official I’d vote for affirmative action in college admissions every time. Why? Because achievement isn’t just a personal accomplishment it’s also the result of a system that benefits some more than others. As a result, to make things more equitable, you have to favor one group or class over those who may have been more privileged the whole time.

On the other hand, it sucks when your kid has worked her butt off and the simple reality is it probably won’t matter because the scales are tipped in favor of others.

In high school, she literally could not have done more. She went to the only high school she got into via the lottery system. She took the hardest schedule her school has ever produced, completing 4 years of math in 2, taking every AP class she could, every dual immersion class they offered, she’s a class officer, volunteered like crazy, and interned along the way. She got the highest PSAT, then SAT, in her school’s history. She’ll graduate with the highest GPA in the school’s history– a reluctant valedictorian. And while it doesn’t show up on her transcript in most of her classes she finished with far more than 100% because she did all the extra credit, too. Because that’s what she does. Everything.

Admissions officers will never know she did all of these things not because of her school’s amazing curriculum but despite its failures. Her counselor and the principal barely knew her name until the day she got her SAT’s back in the Spring of junior year. But they know her name now. So do their donors. In truth, she’s never had a science teacher for an entire year. So many teachers… Turnover in charters is a problem and boy has she suffered through it. By graduation only 2 teachers will remain from her first year. Maybe. Three different people taught her AP Chemistry class last year because they quit, got fired, or just dropped off the planet. Consequently, they only got through half the material. So when she wasn’t in China last summer she completely re-taught herself her AP Chemistry class, all by herself, so she’d be prepared to take the SAT subject test… which she did while we were on vacation. Of course, she did great on that too because that’s what she does.

Looking back, this kid couldn’t have done more. And she made it look easy. Fun almost.

I think it’s awesome when kids get into their dream schools. Children of immigrants, refugee kids, kids who were homeless, or in foster care, or disadvantaged because of their race, ethnicity, gender identity. I cry when I watch videos of those kids opening up their emails and learning that their dream school selected them.

But my kid has dreams too, you know? I long to watch her celebrate like the kids in those videos. I want her to know that all that hard work has paid off. She too is hoping one of those big, fancy schools selects her. And who knows? Maybe they will? But probably not.

Over the past few months I’ve watched her pour herself into selecting the right schools for the right reasons, working tirelessly on essays– pulling all-nighters, getting recommendations, and everything else while raising her GPA even higher and managing an internship.

I say all of this because it’s been hard to watch Megan navigate an admissions system that, because of reasons we intellectually agree with, is built to favor things she can’t change about herself. She’s done all of the work but this system isn’t built as a meritocracy, it simply doesn’t favor her. She’s too normal. She’s just another middle class white girl with perfect everything. Dime a dozen.

And so we wait. She gets it. We get it. I get it.

But it’s hard.

Justice is a Funny Thing

Postscript

I wrote this angsty little essay on January 4th, 2019 as a reflection on all of the effort that goes into just applying to colleges. At the time she had submitted everything and was just beginning two months of waiting.

I decided to hold the essay instead of publishing it in the moment so that the dust could settle on the process. I’m glad I did.

Ultimately, she was accepted at 5 of the 11 schools she applied to. 5 acceptances, 5 rejections, 1 waitlist. Everything is peachy.

Categories
Social Action

The view from the other side of the fence

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus

Seeing these words painted in protest on the newly built, hugely fortified border fence in Playas de Tijuana, was eye opening. What happened to us? How did we get to this place? And where is the America of Ellis Island?

Here’s what we know. The American society we all enjoy is built on the backs of cheap labor. While we complain about expensive gas we enjoy cheap foods picked by nameless, faceless, undocumented people throughout our country. And that’s just the people who likely went in debt $5,000 to cross our monster border. We so easily forget about the hundreds of thousands of hands that manufacture goods in Tijuana.

Two weeks ago, I went into Costco and spent $230 on a new flat screen TV. I confess I never thought about the hands who assembled it in TJ or somewhere like it. Their fingerprints were invisible on the box. Their breathe filled space in the box between the styrofoam and the cardboard. But it was their product I purchased. We are enjoying their faceless handiwork.

I didn’t think that the person who assembled my TV makes less than $60 per week working 60 hours lives just 45 minutes from my home. That person might live in a community like I visited yesterday. It’s a place that doesn’t technically exist though several thousand people live on the flood plain of a river below the plant where toxic waste is routinely dumped. There’s no running water. No toilets. No showers. No electricity. And since they don’t have legal rights to the land the government can decide to move them out whenever they feel like. A team from Centro Romero was there a few years back when bulldozers did just that. They gave families 5 minutes to leave before bulldozing half of the community for a canal project.

When I bought my TV I didn’t think about the children who will grow up playing in the toxic mess while both parents are off at the assembly plant. I didn’t think about the miles those kids would have to walk to get to school. I didn’t think about the realities of their birth defects caused by heavy metals. I didn’t think about the loan sharks and child traffickers who make their living keeping these young families stuck in these conditions.

All I know is that I smiled when I bought my $230 TV at Costco that Sunday. It was cheap. I got a good deal. And our TV was broken.

It’s easy to hear about our nations billion dollar fence and feel good about it. But know that we’ve not stopped the flow of illegal immigration. As one of the signs said, “If you make a 12 foot fence we’ll build a 13 foot ladder.” All our fence has done is made the journey more treacherous. Along one stretch of road we visited a memorial to the 4500 documented deaths of people attempting to cross the border. It’s also gotten more expensive. Until recently, it only cost a few hundred dollars to hire someone to get you across the border. Now the price is around $5,000. How do people making $56 a week afford that? They become indentured servants on American farms. 

It’s easy to say things like, “I’m all for people immigrating to our country, they just have to do it legally.” Those are easy things to say from this side of the fence. These are easy things to say when you were born here. These are easy things to say when they are nameless and faceless to you. But also think about your $230 TV or your $1.99 fresh strawberries or your $10 t-shirt. It’s easy for you to say those things when you are enjoying the fruits of their oppression.

My challenge to you is to do what I’ve done. Take the time to learn their stories and walk in their shoes. I’ll take you to these places if you dare.

And then you’ll ask yourself– which side of the fence are you on? 

 

Categories
Books

Sticky Faith Book Club, Chapter 6

Sticky FiathThis is part 5 in an 8 part series on Sticky FaithJoin our book club by signing up here. (part 1234, 5)


Kristen: 
Since moving to San Diego, two opportunities stand out where our kids were “getting it”. Three years ago our community group befriended a local refugee family. We assisted the family in a variety of ways – purchasing groceries, advocating for the dad when he was treated unfairly by an employer, and serving as a go-between at parent teacher conferences, etc. One member of our community group even attended the birth of their youngest child, assisting them with hospital paperwork and helping them find comfort in the unfamiliar hospital environment. We did fun things too, like sharing meals, playing together and taking them to the zoo and ocean for the first time. My personal favorite was snuggling with their newborn daughter each Sunday during church. The following year myself and the kids had the opportunity to tutor refugee students as part of an after-school program. I enjoyed the weekly sessions knowing that Megan and Paul were welcome to come along. Even before reading this book, the idea of serving together as a family has been pressing on my mind. Chapter six only made it’s importance more glaringly obvious.

Adam: OK, so as of today we suck at this chapter. All of it. From top to bottom the McLane family needs improvement in this area of parenting.

I hope I didn’t sugar that.

In the course of our day-to-day life Kristen and I are pretty active about getting past issues of service and seeking practical justice. And while we do a decent job of talking to our kids about the nuts/bolts “why” questions of why we do what we do… we aren’t very good about getting them involved in acts of justice.

“That’s not fair” – This is the mantra of our house

Life’s not fair. Cope and deal kid.” That’s probably not the most compassionate thing to come out of my mouth. But I struggle with the “fair” game our kids play at this age.

Perhaps some of that is a developmental issue with our kids age? Megan (10) is just now starting to grasp the idea that she can serve others for a purpose greater than the reward she’ll earn from mom/dad for doing it. Paul (8) is happy to do just about anything with us… but he’s far from cognitively grasping an act of service as a form of justice. Justice for an 8 year old is getting to eat the same amount of Halloween candy as his big sister or having the same bed time.

Chapter 6 was a wake up call that I can’t just teach justice at church. And I can’t just practice justice personally. I need to teach my kids what justice looks like in our daily lives.

What I loved about this chapter is that it’s not too late or too hard to make changes. Heading into the tween and teen years we are fortunate enough to be positioned to do some really cool things with our kids. Whether its serving alongside them on one of the many service opportunities at church or having them join me on one of the justice projects I’m a part of… having made the connection that is isn’t enough for mom/dad to seek justice but it’s important to our kids spiritual development, those are adjustments we can and will make.

An addendum to chapter 6 for my friends in youth ministry:

As Kristen and I debriefed chapter 6 we talked about the disconnect between the examples of justice work given in the book and some of those in vocational youth ministry we know. It’s not that the examples given were bad, not in any way, they were just representative of a small minority of well-resourced ministries. We laughed together that some of the people following along with this book club don’t even know that churches like that actually exist!

I’ve spent many nights in homes of youth workers across the country. I’ve shared coffee at their kitchen tables. I’ve sat in their offices. I’ve heard their stories of extreme faith and deep poverty. (I’m not trying to dishonor anyone– but you need to know that many people in youth ministry are truly poor.) As I read this chapter I couldn’t help thinking of those dramatically under-resourced folks. While relatively powerless in their ministries they faithfully serve Christ day-by-day.

And I wonder if their kids look at justice a little differently? I wonder if instead of putting together some elaborate plan to teach their kids an object lesson on justice that they need to experience justice themselves?

Maybe someone needs to stand up for them? Justice for many ministry families is a liveable wage. Or health care so they don’t have to chose between a visit to the doctor and their light bill. Or even realistic expectations on their parents so they can be good parents.

As I think about those families, and not too long ago the McLane’s were one of them, I think that teaching justice to their kids looks a little different. Kristen and I joked (Not a funny ha-ha joke) about the choices we were forced to make. We willing chose injustice for our family for the sake of our ministry. Nights when we turned the heat up to 67 and served snacks we couldn’t afford for the sake of hosting an adult small group. Or times when we gave to up our vacation money to support things our church bailed on. Or times where we told our kids no to things because we couldn’t afford them in full knowledge that the senior pastors kids bragged about getting the same thing.

I just want to acknowledge these injustices as we think about teaching sticky justice to our kids. We can’t glaze over the injustice we experience and think that we’re teaching our kids anything. I think as we wrestle with this as a ministry community and try to iron out developing sticky faith in our kids– we need to wrestle with some of the justice issues in our own kitchen. Because when you experience justice for yourself you don’t have to learn about what justice is anymore.

Discussion questions:

  1. Kara shares how her and her husband define their family. How would you define your families priorities? What would your kids say?
  2. How would you describe your ministry role as justice instead of service?
  3. Tell us about a time when you and your family served together.
  4. Think about a few things your kids love to do. How can you help them connect their areas of interest to pursue justice in some area?