Charleston Tragedy: Race, Religion, & Mental Illness

The tragedy in Charleston, SC this week was horrific. Regardless of who the shooter was, what his background was, what color his skin was….he was a disgusting individual. Notice I didn’t say sick. A sickness can be cured, it is something that one recognizes and treats in order to get better. This young man was not sick. He was deranged and cruel.  There is no sugar-coat for that type of person.

I have read an article and seen one news story so far that has tried to analyze his mental state and it appears these sources are leaning towards the “mental illness” card. To that I say, STOP IT! Working with those on a daily basis who are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, and life trauma, I’ve seen someone who is sick and ill. If I’m being honest I can even say that there are some who come seeking “help” for their illness who, after assessing their circumstance, are really just cruel and malicious like this boy. These are the ones who give the mentally ill a bad rep.

For this young man  to walk into a “Black” church (more on that in a minute), where he was definitely out of place, and for him to still be accepted and welcomed to join them at the table. For him to sit there for an HOUR and listen and participate in discussion surrounding Christ….and then to say he wanted to kill Black people and open fire on these innocent people….that is not mentally ill. That is mean. Call it what it is. We have to stop allowing these types of people to hide behind a label. A label that millions of people actually deserve, and for those who do suffer, the stigma is increasingly negative. This guy is the reason why.

As humans we are really bad about judging others. It’s a part of our sinful nature, and it’s never going away. But it can be controlled. The only way for this to truly happen is to get to know others of opposing cultures. However, sometimes this makes things worse because the stereotypes are true. We all have to stop living out the stereotypes and learn to become our own person. If we don’t want to be perceived a certain way, we have to stop acting that way! Otherwise, when people meet us, they will only be let down to know that we are “just like everybody else”.

Another way to stop enhancing the stereotypes is to educate ourselves on what the perpetuating force is for the judgement and alienation. I saw a discussion online between two individuals were multiple studies were cited. One stated that those who had more ethic names were shown to be less productive on the job. Also, young black males were shown to be least productive on the job. Therefore, many find it okay for employers to base their decision of hiring on such studies. If two individuals have the same qualifications and research shows that the young black male with the ethnic name will STATISTICALLY not do as well, they probably won’t be the one hired. Which from an employer standpoint, makes sense. But from a life standpoint, it doesn’t allow those males to beat the stereotype and prove the research wrong. There are two sides to every coin.

So what can we do about it?

I say, assimilate. Don’t give up your home culture or cultural identity completely. But when you are in public in the United States, make sure you are able to fit in relatively easily. Culture is very important, but so is a good job and having the means to be able to provide for a family.

Many parents don’t think about this the day they give birth to a beautiful girl. They want people to know their child is unique and special, so they come up with a name that is hard to pronounce and not phonetically correct. Down the road, this could ultimately be a disservice to the child. After all, most people who become of very high importance have names that are easy to pronounce and easily recognizable. Do you want your child to be the President one day? Give them a name people can say and will remember. Even if your child doesn’t become President….it would be nice to be able to remember the name of the car mechanic as well. In the society we live in, especially those of us in the South, so much of our collective culture relies of being able to greet individuals with a smile and by name. Think about that next time you want your child to have a special name.

The same premise applies to those who learn English as a second language. Bilingual and multilingual individuals are extremely valuable in our country. It would be ideal if every business establishment was able to employ at least one multilingual person. That way more people can be reached! Because odds are, if you can’t talk or communicate with the person, not much business will get done. However, many individuals where I live who are bilingual don’t even utilize it. I’m not sure if they don’t think they are valuable or there is a market for them, or if they just want to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Either way, these individuals could educate themselves and capitalize on their value to our country.

Third, parents must have responsibility for the way others perceive their children. People are judged not just by their names, but on the way they talk and dress. Children begin to develop language skills at a very young age, even prior to entering school. Parents and caregivers are their primary source of education on language skills. If parents are not educated on the proper way to pronounce words, read, or speak…their children won’t be either. Some say that their way of talking is just an accent. However I think the accent is not the problem, it’s the ignorance on how to actually speak, or the laziness not to care to learn or carry out what they know. This not only perpetuates the stereotypes but sets the children up for failure as well. An accent is the way words are said, the sound of a long A or short O. However, leaving letters off the word or changing the letter within the word is not an accent. This is a learned behavior that becomes a choice once who learns the alternate way. Children who learn to say “axe” instead of “ask” go into Kindergarten at a disadvantage. It makes them the target of bullying if their classroom primarily consists of those who say it properly. It makes it a lot more difficult for them to learn to read and write. Because children are taught to sound things out. And they will sound them out and spell words the way they say them. That’s just a fact.

When I was in middle school, we were forced to wear uniforms beginning in the 7th grade. I’m not 100% sure of the reasoning but I can guess two things…1. To keep children from focusing on name brands and alienating children who could not or chose not to afford such things and 2. To keep children from wearing suggestive or vulgar clothing. This trend has trickled all the way down to Elementary School now, but stops in high school and children are again allowed to wear whatever they choose, within reason. I know there are many children who become involved in adult activity how are “good” kids, however, it’s safe to say the majority of kids who become gang members or teen moms didn’t begin their behavior overnight. It all starts when children believe they are older than their age. They want to dress, act, and talk as if they are the age they wish to be. Therefore, parents who think clothes are just a fashion statement are SADLY mistaken. Teens today are already developing more quickly than in past generations. A fourteen year old today looks nothing like I did, that’s for sure. And if this girl wears a low cut V neck shirt, or a tight or short skirt…she definitely doesn’t look fourteen. What parents must remember is that you are in control of what your children wear! If you don’t want your daughter to be perceived as a slut, don’t buy her clothes that resemble a street walker. That’s common sense.

What does this have to do with the tragedy in Charleston? Children, regardless of race or religion, are a product of their environment. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

Teach your child what is right and good. Help educate them and nurture their creativity and independence. Ensure that YOU as a parent have done everything in your power to make sure they will be a fully-functioning and productive citizen once they are an adult.

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Human Worth

How do you put a price on someone’s life? To actually be able to see how much an individual is worth? Is it by the amount of money they make (their net worth), the amount of positive change they have brought to the world (humanitarianism), how many lives they have saved (a hero), how much they mean to those closest to them (a loved one), or simply the price someone will pay to have them as their property (a slave)?

I remember times throughout middle and high school when we would read a book with the topic of death and the teacher would ask us to do an exercise and rank which person we would keep or kill from the story or boat or island; and then justify it to the class. What an odd thing for a 13 year old girl to do. But yet, here at 24, I still find myself and those around me, weighing the cost of a life every day.

Did you know it costs $245,340 to raise a child from 0-18 in America (Thomas, 2014)? And if, by chance, your child enters the prison system, you (as a taxpayer) will continue to pay $167,731 per year to house and care for your child (Associated Press, 2013).

Did you know that children who are being sold by human trafficers can be purchased anywhere from $2 to $25,000 per child, depending if you want a little girl from Mozambique or a kid from the UK (Havocscope, n.d.)? Imagine, buying a child…a little human life…for only $2. When compared to a British child, that little girl’s life isn’t worth much.

Furthermore, it costs on average around $3,500 to have a hospital birth in America (Fetters, n.d.). However, the drugs for lethal injection only cost around $100 (Erb, 2014).

Then there are those groups in society that don’t value based on money, but on merit. Doctors and lawyers and engineers are more valuable and important than garbage-truck guys. And I won’t deny, those people are vital and necessary….but so is the garbage guy. Just think…if the 8.1 million people who call NYC home did not have their trash picked up for even a few weeks, what a mess there would be!!! You see, each person on this Earth has a purpose and role to play. The Bible tells us in Psalm 139 that God knew you in your mother’s womb and formed every aspect of you before you even breathed a breath. You are fearfully and wonderfully made! Yet, there are those people around you who live their life putting a price on your head.

In my studies for therapy I have spent a lot of hours both reading about and interacting with those with mental health. I worked for 3 years in an acute-care hospital, surrounded mainly by elderly and dying patients. I’ve watched friends and family enlist in the military to fight for our country and freedom…knowing it is quite possible they won’t make it out alive. I’ve encountered educators who have changed my life, and strangers who have changed my way of thinking. Each and every single one of these people are important.

I was born in the most wonderful country on Earth, to two loving parents, in a neighborhood surrounded by good people. I am white, female, educated, and Christian. I could not be more privileged.

That being said, I can never know how it feels to be another person. Of a different race or circumstance. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, and you don’t know what it’s like to be me. Regardless of our spot on the ladder, there are struggles and difficulties. But I can tell you one thing…all lives matter.

Black lives, white lives, Asian and Hispanic lives, police lives, criminal lives, mentally-ill lives, elderly lives, abused lives, abuser lives, homeless lives, wealthy lives, child lives….they matter.

And you know why these lives matter? Because they exist.

The violence and divide that has plagued our America for too long is getting worse, not better. Those who break a law are being killed over a small misdemeanor charge. Police are scared to do their jobs, for fear of backlash from the public and private sector. What does that say about us, as a nation? What does that say about you, as a person?

Pastor Rudy Rasmus says, “You can never remain unchanged by your circumstances. Everything you encounter affects you, either for the good or the bad.” You play a role in this world. You may not live in Ferguson or Baltimore or Atlanta or any other place of violence…but you are making a difference there.

You see, Pastor Rasmus says something else…he says, “those who see themselves as fellow travelers on the road of seeking God have the greatest impact on people.” This could mean you. People around America are thirsting for a leader…a positive role model who is open and honest and has a heart for the people. Our country is full of those who are manipulative and conniving with a hidden agenda.

Be different to make a difference. Just take the time to do so, and I promise you will see results. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what we are called to do. When Jesus called out to Peter and Peter jumped right out and attempted to walk on water….he wasn’t very successful. However, Jesus saved him simply by extending a hand. It has been said, “Jesus created the entire universe with a word. Certainly, He could have simply spoken and rescued sinking Peter. In His dealings with people, however, He often chose to touch them.” Have you ever truly thought about that? Jesus touched him, and that simple act saved Peter’s life. Maybe your touch could do the same.

Violence and protest and discourse has become common-place in our world. However, we can’t allow the frequency to determine our reaction. There is a song by Jack Johnson with lyrics that say, “Why don’t the newscasters cry when they read about people who die? You’d think they could be decent enough to put just a tear in their eye.” Yet we have all become numb to the needs around us. We don’t allow the needs we see on television, or even the needs we hear about around our family dinner table, to touch our hearts.

Today, and every day, we need to practice valuing our neighbor….regardless of who that may be. When Jesus commands us to love our neighbor, he doesn’t let you pick and choose. All neighbors, close to home and across town. And if we will just extend that love to others that Jesus shows to us, we can’t help but scream ALL LIVES MATTER!

References

Associated Press. (2013). NYC’s yearly cost per inmate almost as expensive as Ivy League tuition. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/30/nyc-cost-per-inmate-almost-equals-ivy-league-education-expenses-tied-to-rikers/

Erb, K. (2014). Considering the death penalty: Your tax dollars at work. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2014/05/01/considering-the-death-penalty-your-tax-dollars-at-work/

Fetters, A. (n.d.). What to expect: Hospital birth costs. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/considering-baby/financing-family/birth-hospital-costs/

Havocscope. (n.d.). Human trafficking victim prices. Retrieved from http://www.havocscope.com/black-market-prices/human-trafficking-prices/

Thomas, E. (2014). This is how much it costs to raise a child in the U.S. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/18/cost-of-raising-a-child_n_5688179.html

Future Promises

I just rounded out another year with a birthday…the big 24 now….with that comes continued comments of “when ya gonna get married?” or “any babies coming soon?” The answer to those questions are “God willing and in his time, but not today.” I may only be a year shy of half-way-to-thirty…but I am mature for my age (judging by the actions of my peers and elders). In my seemingly short time here on earth so far, I have experienced a lot. Seen a lot. Been a lot of places. And got some education.

That being said, it irks me to no end when a middle-aged mom or dad says to me “Oh, you wait until you have kids. You’ll change your tune.” Or “just because you have all these child degrees, you think you’re smarter than me.”

Is it naïve of me to think that I won’t change my tune? Furthermore, is it stubborn of me to be determined that I won’t?  Now I know that some of the irrelevant practices may change, but I can promise you there are some things that will remain the same regardless of the age I am when I have children. I can promise you this because I will not change, and my values will certainly not waiver.

A few promises to my children:

I promise to love you unconditionally. This means without a single stipulation attached. If I am your mother, the Lord has blessed me far beyond what I deserve or could ever dream of. He has entrusted me with your wellbeing and I intend to do my very best to raise you right. Nothing you could ever do could make me love you more or less. There will be times when I dislike you, I am certain of that, but loving is never in question.

I promise not only to love you unconditionally, but to show you that love unconditionally. This means that even if you make a decision I disagree with, I will do everything in my power to respond with love. If you happen to be gay. If you choose to date outside our race. If you become a teen parent. If you choose to ruin your health with drugs and alcohol. Through all of these things I will love you. And I will try my best to show that love to you, as Christ would. Your life choices are not my decision, once you hit a certain age. And I may have to show you tough love, but it will be love. I promise.

I promise to spank you. Not because I want to. Not because I feel like it. But to be used as a form of discipline. I will not harm you, but I may hurt your feelings. You will ask me why do I spank, and your friends parents may not do the same. But that’s okay. Everyone is different. Your grandparents spanked me, and I learned lessons easier for it. You will get similar treatment.

I promise not to sweat the small stuff. There are things that matter and things that don’t. I promise to determine the difference appropriately. You’re going to get dirty. You’re going to break things. You’ll color the walls and shave the dog and knock out your own tooth. But that’s okay. You’re a kid and you’re learning to be a good one. Love us, respect us, love Jesus, and respect yourself….the rest is small stuff.

I promise to teach you about the love of Jesus. As a child, your imagination will run wild and the stories in the Bible will come alive to you. That is amazing. That is wonderful. And the sooner you learn about the importance of Jesus, the better. Growing up in church will allow your faith to grow and mature with your body. How special is that?! The sooner you realize that you were put on this earth for a purpose, the sooner you can start figuring out what that purpose is.

I promise to let you be a kid. You will get to play and have fun. That’s what being young is all about. Computer screens and cell phones are for adults, and they hurt your eyes and probably contain carcinogens. Those things are not for you. Sorry, I’m not sorry. Go play. Outside. Inside. With friends and neighbors and cousins. Get dirty.

I promise to let you be independent. I’ve been there. I know you think you’re so smart, and maybe you are. But I can promise you one thing, you aren’t smarter than me. Now I will let you pick out your clothes, help around the house, and teach you to cook a meal. But never fool yourself into thinking that isn’t part of my plan. I am helping you grow up to be big and strong and not be dependent on anyone else.

I promise to always be honest with you. I don’t like secrets or surprises and if you’re a child on mine, you probably don’t either. I will tell you straight and you can trust me. Sometimes I may have to phrase things a little different in order for you to be able to understand, but I will do my best. I know you’ll ask me some hard ones….where do babies come from? What does it mean to pass away? Can I have a pony? How do I say “no” to my friends?….yes, these questions will come. And I will be patient with each one.

I promise to always be your Mama. This doesn’t mean I’ll always be your friend…because I know there will be times when we are not friends. But I promise that I will always be here, and one day, you’ll want to be my friend. And when that day comes, I’ll smile because I knew it was on the way. And I’ll be relieved that the tense times are behind us.

I promise to never take you for granted. You are a person, who was made in my body, given to me by our Lord. You are a blessing. Every moment that I have with you is one I will never have again. Each day is here and then gone. I promise to seize the day and cherish our time together. I promise to say thank you. For all you will ever do and help me with and give to me. You are special. You are beautiful. I will love you for as long as I am here.

These words are simple. These promises aren’t extravagant. But they are precious. And they are true. And I wish in my heart of hearts that each child born had these things promised and fulfilled throughout their lives. This is what each child deserves. I am not yet a mother, but the Lord willing, I will have a chance to put these thoughts into actions one day.