Kindergarten – fall break 2013

School is out this week, so I’ll tell you a story from last year.

Part of being in kindergarten is about learning how to interact with others. Many of these children have never spent a whole day with others. Many have no siblings. Even if they have spent time with others, it isn’t -these- others. The rules are different. Each family teaches in a different way. What works with one person doesn’t always work with another.

It is important to know how to get along. Kindergarten teaches valuable lessons that will serve you well throughout your life. Keep your hands to yourself. If it isn’t yours, leave it alone. And most importantly, learn how to share.

Being a good loser is partly about sharing. Not everybody can win. It is impossible. That is just the nature of things. Where would be the joy in winning if everybody won?

I was playing a card game with two girls last year. “A” was a white girl with blonde hair. She was from a poor family. She was a little large for her age and had a hard time reading. “S” was a diminutive Hispanic girl. She tried very hard and even though English wasn’t her first language she was doing better than A.

In the game, S. was showing signs of winning. Being able to identify words was part of the game. It wasn’t luck that determined the winner. It was skill at reading. A. simply didn’t have that, so she was lagging behind. She started to cheat.

Kindergartners can be ruthless when they cheat.

While it is nice for everybody to feel good about themselves, cheating isn’t the way to do it. So you won? So what? You still don’t know your letters. So really you haven’t won. The point of the game isn’t really to win. In part it is to practice letters. In part it is to learn how to play a game.

Playing games is about learning the rules of games and following them. It is about taking turns. It is about cheering on your opponent. It is about playing fairly. You can lose the game and still win because you played well.

A. went back to class and S. stayed with me a bit. We had played other games with other opponents over this school year and she had lost many more times than she had won. I celebrated this win with her. When we had started working together that year she barely spoke at all because she didn’t know English. Now she had bested a native speaker.

I didn’t mention any of that. She knew it. She knew she had won fair and square. I congratulated her on being a good winner, but more importantly I congratulated her for all the times she was a good loser.

Learning how to be OK with losing is one of the most valuable lessons you can learn. Just because you lost doesn’t make you a loser. It just means that the other person won that time. It really is all about how you play the game.

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Living wage

There is a lot of debate these days about a “living wage”. People who work at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart want to make more money. This is true for all of retail and fast food.

There was a lady who said that she has worked for McDonald’s for ten years and she doesn’t make enough money to feed her children or buy them shoes. She showed up at a board meeting and confronted the president and demanded a raise. She got arrested.

Before we get upset about this and think that upper management is saying “let them eat cake” let’s stop for a moment.

When did working for a fast food restaurant become a career? I remember when I was growing up that it was something teenagers did to make a little spending money and to learn how to be a good employee. It was a first job. It wasn’t meant to be a full time for the rest of your life thing. As a manager, that would be different. But as a front line clerk or a cook, no. It is supposed to be a job that you have for summer, or a year at most, and then you move on.

And if McDonald’s or Wal-Mart employees start making $12 an hour at a job that requires nothing more than a high school diploma and very little skill, then does that mean that everybody else is going to get a raise too? Then everything will just cost more, and we will be right back where we were. People talk about how cheap cars were back twenty years ago. But so was everything else. And we all made less. It is all the same ratio of money in to money out.

Raising the minimum wage won’t fix anything. Let’s raise our expectations. Let’s figure out a way to help people determine what they are good at early on and encourage them to seek training in that. Vocational education is a good thing. Not everybody has to be a doctor. The world needs plumbers and electricians and auto mechanics. The world needs teachers and physical therapists. The world needs people who know how to do something well, and that something needs to be something that they enjoy. Let’s not encourage people to stay in a dead-end job by giving them more money. Let’s encourage them to set their sights higher.

“Ma’am!”

I was shopping at Hobby Lobby a few years back. There was this weird area that was kind of behind a counter. It kind of looked like the area was just for staff, but all the paint brushes were there. There isn’t anything so special about paint brushes that they need to be controlled. I don’t think there are lots of shoplifters who go for paint brushes. So perhaps the area wasn’t off-limits after all. I asked permission to go behind the counter and the clerk told me that was fine. He kind of looked at me funny, wondering why I asked.

I was in an area that looked like it was for staff – but I didn’t look like I was staff. I had my purse slung across me. I had a shopping basket next to me. And most importantly, I didn’t have on the vest that every Hobby Lobby employee wears.

In a short amount of time lady stood behind the counter that was behind me and said loudly “Ma’am!” I knew what she was trying to do. She thought I worked there. She was trying to get my attention. I ignored her, hoping she’d notice the purse, the basket, and the lack of vest. I had nothing that indicated I worked there. Nope. I was wrong. Louder she called. “Ma’am!”

Not “Excuse me.” not “Do you work here?” nor even “Can you help me?” She barked at me, like I was her servant. Her voice was shrill and sharp.

I got up, slowly turned around, and faced this bleach-blonde twenty something standing with her mother, and said simply “I don’t work here.”

Oh, she said, and walked away.

I wanted to speak on behalf of all retail employees everywhere. We are not your bitches. Don’t yell at us. Don’t treat us like dogs. We are people. We are here to serve you, but we aren’t your servants. You don’t have a right to yell at us.

But I didn’t. I’ve been trained well, to keep my opinion to myself. Lots of retail does that. Having a psychopathic, narcissistic manager will do that.

It is very stressful working retail. Somehow people assume that if you are working behind a counter it means you are beneath them. They treat you like you are stupid. Maybe they get a rise out of putting you down.

The library is a lot like retail, but it is nicer. People assume that you have a degree to work there. To do what I do, no. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement. But I am happy to have people treat me better, usually. There is still some retail “she’s behind the counter so she must be beneath me” attitude going on, sometimes.

I remember a time at the end of a transaction I said “thank you”. The guy got really angry and said “You are supposed to say ‘have a nice day'”

No. I’m not. There isn’t a script. If there was, he’d understand that it was time for him to exit stage right.

I don’t say have a nice day because it is trite. I don’t like it when people tell me that. I said “thank you” and it doesn’t even make sense for me to do that. I helped him. The library doesn’t make any money from people, so it isn’t like we need to say thanks. I said thanks to be polite. But he jumped on me.

Weird. If people want good service, they need to not be mean. I expect that in his mind, he gets shoddy service everywhere he goes. You get what you give.

Exodus

I’ve found that more people are leaving my old church. These are people who have gone there much longer than I have, and have worked in lay ministry much longer than I have. These are people who are essential to the running of the church. These are people who are also waking up to the fact that church should be more than margarita karaoke and a night out watching the local baseball team.

Those things are fun, sure. But they aren’t the purpose of a church. Church is meant to build up the Body of Christ. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can make the world a better place. Together, we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Together we can do what Jesus did.

I haven’t told them to leave. They haven’t read my blog. They don’t know why I’ve left. But they too are leaving.

I’m not the first to leave. There were others before me. Others with children, who were dismayed by how the priest handled a change in how Communion was distributed to children. They were the first of the group of active members to leave. They were acolytes and chalice bearers and readers. The problem is, the membership wasn’t that big to start with, and of that number, there were even fewer who were willing and able to serve in liturgical roles. That is the thing with liturgical churches – you have to have worker bees. It can’t all be done by the queen.

It shouldn’t be done all by one person. That is the purpose of church. Church should be training ground for the rest of the week. In church we should learn about how to work together to build something amazing. In church we should learn about our own unique gifts and talents, and learn how to use them to serve God. We do it through the simple actions of preparing the worship space and time. We do it by polishing the silverware like we are preparing for a special guest (we are). We do it by assigning readers for that week’s lessons. We do it by practicing those readings, so that people can hear the Word of God clearly.

These are literal yet symbolic actions. They pale in comparison to what we are supposed to do outside of church, but they are still important. But when the people who do these things are leaving, it is a sign that something very deeply wrong is going on. It is a sign that needs aren’t being met.

I wrote the Bishop to let him know my concerns. I let him know about my concerns with that parish specifically, and of the Episcopal Church, and of Church in general. I wrote to tell him that I feel that we are doing it wrong, that Jesus didn’t mean for us to have church buildings and ordained ministers. Our tithe was meant to feed the hungry and clothe the naked – not pay for minister salaries and a mortgage. He told me thanks for writing, but he doesn’t see any problem. Of course he doesn’t. His job would disappear.

The more I read of what Jesus said, the more I see that His words don’t synch up with what we do. A person cannot serve two masters, after all. I can either serve Jesus, or I can serve the church, which often seems to be going in an entirely different direction.

I don’t want it to. I don’t want people to leave. I want this thing to work. I’m deeply concerned and sad about the state of things. I want church to be about healing and reconciliation and love. I don’t want it to be about chili cookoffs and ice cream socials. I don’t want it to become another social club.

Church isn’t the building, but we’ve spent so much money and time and energy on it that it has become the building. Church isn’t about ordained ministers either. Jesus told us not to have any. Yet we’ve given them money and time and energy too and we’ve gotten distracted. We’ve forgotten that WE are the Body of Christ. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ones who build up. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ministers, every one of us.

Some churches get it. Some churches understand the healing power of having many hands make light work in doing the work of Jesus. There is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of people who need help. There are some churches that get that we can’t waste our time just hanging out together – we need to hang out while we are doing this work.

Meanwhile people are leaving. It is an Exodus, a leaving. They are escaping a bad situation, and looking for what they are being called to. They are leaving to try to find another place that gets it. They are frustrated. They haven’t left entirely. They are there half the time. The other half the time they are church shopping. They go to other area churches of the same denomination. They go in a group. Twice a month they are gone.

They haven’t come to the conclusion that I have. I don’t expect them to. My leaving was radical. While I’m sad that something that I’d come to see as the center of my life is gone, I’m also glad. I’m glad that the leaving wasn’t drawn out. It was a clean break. The words of the priest were so severe when she read my concerns about church that I had to leave. There is a bit of mourning, sure. I miss going to church. But what I really miss is that church never was what Jesus wanted it to be. I think I miss the never-was more.