Category Archives for Free-for-all

accidental racist

Shameful Accident: Confederate Flag Travesty

You won't find many folk more Southern than I am. I was raised in North Carolina by people who were raised in South Georgia. I say “ y'all” when two or more are gathered; “all y'all” when “y'all” just doesn't seem to be enough. I like hot grits and sweet iced tea. I love the smell of honeysuckle and the sight of white fields of cotton ready for harvest. I greet every person I see; say yes ma'am and no ma'am, yes sir and no sir; and call people I hardly know “honey.” But unlike Brad Paisley, I won't be displaying the Confederate flag on my clothing or otherwise. Ever.

Accidental Racist, a duet by Brad Paisley, a Caucasian country singer and LL Cool J, an African American rapper, makes some great points. The lyrics encourage all of us to get to know individuals instead of judging entire races. Mistakes have been made in this country and the song admits to some of those made between African American and Caucasian citizens. Plus the very fact that these two artists came together on this project, promotes cooperation. All that’s good. Really good.

But then, there’s this.

Paisley sings about the Confederate flag and the misunderstandings and unfair judgments that surround it. He says essentially, “Look, it’s just a symbol of the South. I’m proud to be Southern, I like Southern things (some of which are adorned with the Confederate flag). So don't call me a racist just because I'm sporting this Southern symbol on my clothing or accessories.”

LL Cool J commiserates with Paisley by saying, “Yeah sure, I can look past the flag if you won’t judge my head gear. Deal?”

NO! No Deal!

There is no such thing as “just” a symbol. According to, a symbol is “something that stands for or suggests something else . . . especially: a visible sign of something invisible.” A visible sign of something invisible? Hmmm. So what is invisible in the symbol of the Confederate flag? Well let’s see. Let me think. Oh yeah. HUMAN BONDAGE! And don't give me that brouhaha, “The Confederacy was formed so Southerners could hold on to their agrarian way of life.” That’s just another way of saying, “The South seceded so they could hold on to their slaves.” Really. The whole agrarian lifestyle of the South was built on the broken backs of humans who were considered property.

But let’s acknowledge that the Confederacy wasn't all bad. Here’s something. Did you know African American Soldiers in the CSA (Confederate States of America) were paid the same as white soldiers? Not so in the Union, where African American soldiers earned roughly half what white guys were paid. And I'm sure during those four years (that’s how long the CSA lasted by the way: roughly 48 months) the South enjoyed an increased sense of community built around a common goal to defeat a common enemy. That’s good.

But get this: there were good things that happened during the Third Reich as well. Unemployment was low. The economy was strong. An entire race was annihilated, but that was only part of the history of the Third Reich. So why don't we see German trinkets emblazoned with the Nazi flag? Because that symbol has become synonymous with the Holocaust, that’s why. It’s offensive: because it’s not just a symbol. It’s a visible reminder of something invisible. It matters.

So if Brad Paisley is really “proud of where [he’s] from but not everything we've done” he should wear the NC flag and adorn himself with pictures of the palmetto tree. Heck, he could drape himself with kudzu. But don't promote the Confederate flag. It represents a travesty that makes proud Southerners ashamed.

holocaust book list

A Holocaust Remembrance Day Book List

It’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here are a few holocaust books I've read and loved in no particular order.

book thief

  • Book Thief, Markus Zusak. Classified as a young adult novel, this novel, narrated by Death, is compelling in its character development and plot twists. Excellent read.
  • milkweedSarah’s Key, Tatiana-de-Rosnay. Nothing could have prepared me for the end of this haunting story within a story. Haven’t seen the movie, but the book was phenomenal.
  • Milkweed, Jerry Spinelli. Spinelli, another young adult author, has worked his trademark storytelling magic in this story of a little boy living in a tragic time.
  • A Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank. This memoir introduced me to the holocaust through a child’s eyes when I was just a child myself.
  • The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom. I went to see this movie in the night70’s after I had read the book. The sacrifices made by the ten Boom family challenged me to be a better me.
  • A Boy in Striped Pajamas, John Boyne. This short young adult novel is by far the most shockingly tragic holocaust book I’ve ever read.
  • Night, Elie Wiesel. All the words I might have to describe this book would be inadequate. Read it. 

Gratitude: A Humble Servant

fbcmarionOccasionally, I teach a Bible study class at First Baptist Church of Marion. Every time I teach this class, I am blessed by the leadership of Mr. Z. Mr. Z opens the class with announcements and prayer. It takes him maybe five minutes; impressive on its own, by the way, since many Baptists have been known to stretch this task out to fill up the entire Bible study hour.

I've been teaching there for the last three weeks and have one more Sunday to go in this study. Two weeks ago, our numbers were low--folks out of town, threat of ice and snow, and such--but this past week the class was alive with energy and enthusiasm as members welcomed each other back into the fold. Mr. Z stood behind the podium, looked around at the room full of joy, them looked over at me sitting on the front row.

"Listen to that," he told me, his expression peaceful, but radiant. "Isn't that a joyful noise. I hate to ask them to stop, it sounds so good."

The class quickly quieted, as they always do when Mr Z stands. He welcomed them, got updates on prayer concerns, and made a few class announcements.

"Well," he said, moving right along, "If there's nothing else, then, I'll open us up with prayer and turn it over to Aileen."

Mr. Z has prepared for this moment, his prayer written in longhand on a slip of paper larger than a bookmark but smaller than a legal-sized envelope. He bows his head and begins. As he prays, I feel the Spirit fill the room. His heartfelt, divinely inspired words speak to local concerns, global issues, and the church universal. It's beautiful.

But that's not all. When Mr. Z prays,his words reach into my soul, touching the tender parts of my heart, the vulnerable places that yearn for understanding, hope, and grace. When Mr. Z prays, I get to know God better. And that makes me so grateful.

Related articles

Straight A's

Fake Your Way to Straight A's


August 11, 2012

I published a form of this article in a kids magazine back in 2006. In about 10 days, I start teaching at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (ABTech). I'll be teaching a class required for all first semester students on student success and study skills. Seemed like a good time to pull out this old article and post it. I've not updated it to include current technological aids, but I think you'll find these habits are timeless.

Fake Your Way to Straight A's

Disappointed in your grades? Want to be an A student? You can be. . .just fake it! All you have to do is find those academic superstars in your life and start imitating them. Here’s what you do: pay close attention to their class attendance; take note of how they take notes; and then study how they study. Once you have figured out how those A students act, just copy their behavior. Before long, your grades will look just like theirs!

One thing A students do is go to class--every time it meets. They treat class like a job. So do that. Be on time to class, pretending that you have to punch a time-clock. Be alert, ready to go to work. If you know you will have to miss a class, let the teacher know. Get your assignments. Act as if you care that you will not be there. If you do not know beforehand, just explain your absence to the teacher later. If possible, get a brief summary of the previous class and also find out how to make up any missed work. Then, of course, you should follow through and do the work. That’s what A students do.

C students often take lots and lots of notes, spending their whole class period with head down and pen to paper. Don’t do that. If you spend every second writing, you will miss the whole lecture. Most A students take notes sparingly. They have pre-defined abbreviations so that note-taking is more efficient. For instance, in a class on the Roman Empire, a good note-taker would just write a capital R for Rome or Roman, therefore writing less and listening more. After class is over, it’s a good idea to fill in any vague areas in your notes with details you might forget later. While you are doing that, quickly review all the day’s notes to solidify what you just learned. Take that a step further and breeze over them just before the next class begins. This way you have a fresh memory of the information from the previous class and can respond appropriately to the instructor’s questions. Not only does this make the upcoming information easier to digest, it also makes you look really smart.

A students study in many different ways. Some confine all study to an orderly desk. Others spread notes on the floor, prop up on an overstuffed pillow, and go to work. Whatever study environment suits your needs, that’s the environment you should create. It’s a good idea to post reminders in your study area so you will not forget what you are trying to fake. Make a sign for your study area that says, “A students enjoy studying!” Make a note in your car that reminds you, “A students make the most of every minute.” If you have a tendency to slouch in front of the TV like a solid D student, place a sign on it that suggests, “A students do not waste time.” (It’s not easy to be someone you have never been before; every little reminder helps.) Also, remember to allow sufficient time to study alone, even if you participate in study groups. Many A students benefit from group study; you might as well. But most A students prepare for group sessions in private and also do ample studying on their own.

One key aspect of studying is scheduling. At the start of your course, break down course requirements into daily study requirements. Stick to the plan whenever possible, but revise your schedule as the course progresses and as needs change. Sometimes classes need more time than you originally thought. Revise your plan if this is the case. And sometimes you will get behind. Again, readjust, refocus and get back on schedule. A students get off schedule all the time. The trick is, they make a new plan, they readjust, and then they get back to work.

Many times a study environment requires certain tools--things like computers, test tubes, calculators, books, notebooks and pens. But often, we find ourselves with time to study in places where these items are not within reach. When the tools that you normally use are not readily available, consider using mental rehearsal. This technique involves reviewing necessary information in your mind as if you were actually studying or practicing it. You can silently recite historical dates, mentally practice a music score or dance routine, or review mathematical or scientific equations, all without picking up a pen or lifting a finger. Mental rehearsal is convenient. It helps you make use of time that is often wasted. While you commute to class or wait in line, while you wait for your doctor's appointment or sit in line at the drive through window, wherever you are, you can use your best study tool--your brain.

One very irritating thing about A students is that they always do their class assignments, whether they get a grade or not. They practice formulas and do their reading assignments. So if you want to fake your way into straight A’s, this is crucial. No C student does assigned work just for the sake of doing it. So do those assignments, and do them in advance. A students usually have reading assignments complete before class discussion of that reading ever begins. They even bring questions to class about completed assignments that stumped them. And remember, A students do get stumped--all the time. They just ask questions, figure it out, and keep moving.

So are you ready for the test? You should be, almost. Because if you have done all these other things that A students do, cramming for the test will not be necessary. Complete additional study and review before the test. Do not stay up all night. Get plenty of rest and eat a good meal--that brain of yours needs sleep and nourishment! Get to the test on time, dressed in clothes that make you feel confident. (In other words, look the part.) Then get in there and ace that test!

See, you do not have to be an A student. Just pretend that you are! And in no time, you will find people are starting to imitate you!

final exams

Finals. Eww.

When I was in college, people often said things like, "You think this is hard, wait 'til you're out in the real world." Or, "Honey you ain't seen nothin'. When you're out in the real world--that's when the hard work begins."

Real world? Have you not been to college? It is scary real. Plus: in the real, real world, there are no finals.

Oh don't give me that. I know there are proposals and pitches, deadlines and due dates, but it's not the same. Really. It isn't. I know. I've been to college not once, not twice, but three times. And I've had about that many different careers. And seriously? Nothing compares to the intensity of finals. Often the only thing that got me through was telling myself, “In two weeks, it will be over; good or bad, it will end.”

There are some things that make it easier though. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from the 17 semesters I have spent preparing for finals.

  1. Start early. (Okay, it’s a little late for that now, but remember that next time.) Learn things well as you go along. Review your notes frequently. It will help keep the information fresh and will dramatically reduce your stress during finals.
  2. Do your reading when it is assigned. Haven’t done your reading? Well forget it then. You will never get all that read before the exam. So don’t try. Just skim the chapters and get a general idea of what’s there. Next time you’ll know: complete your assigned readings as you go along. (I didn’t learn to do this until grad school, so kudos to you for getting a head start.)
  3. Did your prof give you a study guide? Start with that (especially if you haven’t done your reading). I know, seems obvious, but sometimes in the frenzy to prepare, we miss the simplest solutions. Maybe you decide you’ll get to the study guide after you do all the readings you haven’t done yet or after you review your notes or whatever. Don’t do that. Start with the study guide.
  4. Take care of yourself. Keep up your exercise routine even though you think you have too much studying to do. If you must, take notes with you and read while you are on the treadmill or stairmaster. Even better: give yourself a 20-30 minute break from studying, exercise, and come back refreshed.
  5. Eat right. Carb crashes can cause serious exam fatalities. Get your protein. Drink your water. And lay off the sugar. Your brain will thank you.
  6. Sleep. No, not during the exam. But do get a decent amount of sleep. That means, you should be getting almost as much as you normally get. Of course you are going to have late nights and early mornings. Just remember that rested people recall information much better than exhausted folks.
  7. And remember: good or bad it will be over in a couple of weeks. You will make it through.

Thanks be to Technology

“Baker! Get in here!” Two remotes in each hand and I still can’t turn on the TV.

“Calm down, Mom. All you have to do is . . . “

“Don’t teach me. I don’t want to learn . . .”

“It’s so easy Mom; if you’ll just listen.”

“I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to learn. Just turn the stupid TV on for me.”

My son says I’m ridiculously impatient when it comes to technology and I suppose he’s right. I admit there are times when I miss the days when control was up close and personal and not one bit remote. But lately I’ve been thinking about technology that I appreciate. Here’s my annotated list.

Automatic Teller Machines also known as ATM’s. I remember when they came out and we were all nervous about this robot that took our money. Thankfully, the ATM has proven quite trustworthy. I love me an ATM. I love that no matter what time or day it is, I can go by the bank and get cash or deposit a check. Plus, now you can get postage stamps from these accommodating little automatons. Sweet.

Email. When I was in grad-school the first time, back in 1991, a friend of mine edited my papers for me. I printed them out on my daisy-wheel printer, separated the pages and removed the side perforations. Then I would drive over to her house to deliver them. During that year, her husband gave her some truly unbelievable information that she passed on to me.

“Vic says that there is a way to send documents from one computer to another,” she said.

“No way,” I told her. “I don’t believe it.”

“I know,” she said, shaking her head, “But he says it’s possible.”

Sure enough, before long, we were zipping papers back and forth and soon enough our computers sent whole picture albums to each other. Of course there are limitations. Now my laptop is in relationship with so many different computers it is susceptible to all kinds of viruses. Nothing, it turns out, is perfect.

Digital Cameras. Some of my readers will find this hard to believe, but back in The Day, there was a limit to how many pictures a camera could take before running out of something called film. In fact, I remember going to G.A. (Girls in Action: a mission-focused church group for, well, girls.) camp at Chowan University and taking my camera. And film. And flashes (the built-in flash came later). My mother would caution, “Don’t take too many pictures while you are inside and you should have plenty of flashes to last the week.” So when digital cameras came out (not the early ones; those were just irritating), it was so freeing. Take as many pictures as you want. Delete the ones that don’t turn out. Then load them on your computer and let it distribute them to your loved ones. Love it.

Texting (and cell phones in general). Need to send a quick message that doesn’t require a response? Text it. Forget your grocery list? No problem. Just have someone from home text you the list. Want someone to know you are thinking about them? Send an electronic warm fuzzy from your cell to theirs. Texting is quick and efficient. Of course it can also be outright rude. There is that.

I am also quite fond of my microwave and my programmable oven. Digital music is pretty awesome too. Oh, and my GPS. Love that thing.

So really, I like technology. And when I can’t get the TV on, I just curl up with my Nook instead.

Take Greed Out of the Ballgame

Published November 7, 2009

Caleb Spady, a 10 year old with DIPG, dreamed of being a Texas Ranger for a day. On the day his wish came true, the Rangers played the Angels. Reggie Willits, a fellow Okl.ahoman from Caleb's home county, welcomed him personally and continued his relationship with his young neighbor until Caleb passed away from brain cancer in July of 2009.

Caleb Spady, a 10 year old with DIPG, dreamed of being a Texas Ranger for a day. On the day his wish came true, the Rangers played the Angels. Reggie Willits, a fellow Okie from Caleb's home county, welcomed him personally and continued his relationship with his young neighbor until Caleb passed away from brain cancer in July of 2009.

I’m not a baseball fan—I’ll give you that. Still, I'm also not an anti-fan. I care if my son’s favorite teams win (which means the Red Sox and anyone playing the Yankees) and I like the Angels—because Reggie Willits is a real live angel, that’s why. (See caption at right for proof of this fact.) But no, I didn't watch the 2009 World Series. I did hear it, though; and I heard a lot about it.

Back in 1967, according to Google Answers, the average pro baseball player made around $6000 a year. In 2000, the average salary for the same job was $1.9 million. But get this. The median household income in 1967? Around $33,000. In 2000? Approximately $45,000. So, let’s just make this simple. In 1967, a pro ball player made one-fifth of his annual income playing ball; he made the rest some other way or he slipped below the average. Today, a ballplayer makes enough for his family plus 41 other families to live at the level of the common folk. (These numbers are, of course, for salaries, and don’t include income from commercial endorsements. I think we can assume there were no such things back in the 1960’s.)


Then there are the ads. An ad for this year’s World Series ran, on the low side, $100,000 for a 30 second spot. These ads tried to get you and me to buy stuff: stuff or services, we can’t afford because we don’t make $1.9 million, but that we will pull out our plastic and purchase because we think we will be better off if we have that which is advertised. (Also, perhaps, a discussion for another time.)

All this is appalling, but I heard something today that absoflippinglutely blew my mind. If you watched the World Series you noticed that during the game, little banners ran across the top of your screen pulling your eyes away from the batter. Stats of the player? Details about the game? NO! Another dadgum advertisement. You get this right: the $100,000 and up for the actual commercials was not enough! They needed more. What in the Sam Hill?

I don't care how much a person likes baseball. This is crazy.

Greed. It’s a nasty business.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15 (NRSV)

(In the words of my preacher friends, "That'll preach.")

Zhenya's Igloo

As a parent volunteer, I have often tutored kids for whom English is a second language. Such was the case a few years ago when I was working with a young Russian boy who was a student at my children’s elementary school. One day, we were working on adjective/noun constructions. He had written a story about building "a house from snow." I gave him some examples of the preferred English structure.

"If you build a house from brick, you call it a brick house. A house from stone is a stone house. A house from clay is a clay house. Is that clear?”

He nodded, eyes bright with new awareness.

Ahh, the joy of teaching: of shining the light of information into the darkness of ignorance. How much better off would this child be because I, the educated one, had taken time from my all-important schedule to stoop to his level of academic neediness, bringing him this nugget of knowledge? Surely his life was now changed forever because I had shared my gift of teaching with him.

Energized, I pressed on. "Great. So if a house from brick is a brick house and a house from stone is a stone house, what would we call a house from snow?"

He smiled and with great confidence he answered, "Igloo!"

Chocolate Sleaze

Have you noticed all the half-priced candied hearts and discounted chocolates? Ahha. It must be February. February: Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and Dental Health Month! I wonder. Did America’s dentists choose this month because we eat so much chocolate, or because George Washington’s teeth were notoriously unhealthy? The world may never know.

In any case, I’m thinking more about truffles and petit fours than toothbrushes and presidents, how about you? Chocolate. It’s everywhere. No longer content to be confined to the candy shelf, in February, Chocolate struts its stuff on every aisle in every store. It sprawls out over office desks, offering free pleasure to all who will take and eat. Shameless!

So what’s a sweets-freak like me supposed to do when Chocolate starts putting on the moves? Tell you what I want to do. I want to jump headlong into the waiting arms of the tempter: gorgeous, luscious, sweet-talking Chocolate. Chocolate accepts me just the way I am. It doesn’t care if I add a Hershey bar to each hip every hour. It never asks me to limit my portions. Never. Instead, Chocolate says, “Have just a little bit more. It’s okay.” Who could resist?

Meanwhile, there stands Healthy Choices. HC says, “I love you just the way you are too. And I love you too much to let you abuse yourself.”

I don’t want to hear it.

HC persists. “I’ll take long walks with you. I’ll keep you company when you plan your meals and when you do your grocery shopping.”

Chocolate’s melting, looking a little weepy.

HC stands taller. “Come on, let’s grow young together.”

And so we live happily ever after. Occasionally we even enjoy the company of our friend Chocolate, a real sweetie who I like to visit, as long as Healthy Choices comes with me.

Hi Friends!

Welcome friends!

I've been wanting to start a blog for a long time and finally figured out how to do it. Yay me. I got busy getting this done so that I could blog while I'm in Israel--May 12-24, 2008.

So stay tuned! More to come.

Blessings and all that,

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