Archive for the ‘religion’ Category:

Finding Old Poems I

It’s funny how a poem can capture a particular moment, so that when you read it years later that whole period of life comes back. Here’s one I wrote when my kids (now grown or nearly grown) were little. I’ve never shared it, since I didn’t consider it a “real” poem and probably intended to revise it. Here it is:


I should be
rewriting a children’s story.
It’s due today
and my son has set a buzzer on the stove
for when I have to leave for an afternoon meeting.
Today the yard is bursting rhododendrons
like buttered popcorn.
Bees lift and hover in the pollen cups.
Instead of writing for my deadline
I am thinking about theology
of how God could infuse the yellow azaleas
outside the picture window
and my sleeping dog here on the carpet
and where the telephone pole across the street
fits into all this.
The story
is about bullies and playground power
and I’m wondering how senators cling
to a Jesus I don’t know and quote Ghengis Khan
and call it holy.
I don’t understand much beyond the asphalt
of the schoolyard
and the bees and the azaleas
and my dog.

This morning I heard the Nobel laureate who
discovered the DNA helix. He was talking
about women who may abort their babies
for frivolous reasons like eye color
but said we must use common sense and that most
people weren’t that silly and that we have to allow
silliness in some people.
Maybe he’s right and I’m ridiculous to let the bees outside
when they are trapped behind the picture window
and to call a fetus holy.
I was thinking that I won’t win the Nobel, ever
and, that being the case, what is
my purpose in the world?
I don’t play violin
like Itzhak Perlman and I don’t write
like Annie Dillard and I’m not writing now,
only observing bees and forgetting about
the buzzer on the stove
and the telephone pole
and now my dog is waking.
He looks at me
and winks.

Banned Again

I don’t know why I’m so bummed about it this time. Maybe I relished the challenge of approaching a controversial topic in a way that builds bridges rather than walls. And no, I won’t name the school, so don’t ask. I’m not mad at them. I understand the pressure they are under and they stood to lose a lot more than I would if some lawsuit-happy parent got their knickers in a knot.

But I’m still bummed.

Legend of the Valentine has religion in it. And not just any religion. Legend of the Valentine has Christianity in it. It also has the Civil Rights Movement, school integration, handling bullies, Valentine’s Day and a wise grandmother. Because of that, I’m sometimes invited to speak by people who don’t know about the Christianity part. So I make sure I tell them it’s there and discuss how I might present the book in a context appropriate for a public school setting.

What I was hoping for this time, was to bring up the topic of bullying on the basis of religion. I wanted to brainstorm various ways we divide ourselves up: race, language, nationality, money, gender… and religion. Inside the book is a story of religious persecution. And while I don’t know if anyone is being fed to the lions anymore (at least in this country), kids in school routinely experience bullying aimed at their religion–be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Sikh, or something else. But religion has become the Great Unspeakable in the public square–most especially in public school.

Do I think it’s acceptable for an author to waltz into a public school and proselytize a captive audience of children for her particular religion? No. But the squeamishness that places religious references in a category of obscenity previously reserved for… well, obscenity, does a disservice to our kids–and to the culture as a whole.

I remember my daughter coming home from Kindergarten and telling me it was “against the rules” to talk about God at school. Of course, her school had no such rule, but the anxiety and discomfort of her teachers any time a child made a religious reference was evident to her. How many children begin to see their innocent faith, and the religions of their families as something shameful? Our kids are taught to speak openly about all manner of sensitive topics–most of which would have curled my grandmother’s hair (had it not already been curly.) But the topic of spirituality and faith elicits a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” superciliousness among policymakers.

What this does is further isolate children of faith (and nonreligious children) from one another. And those children grow into adults who build fortresses around their belief communities because they have never been exposed to any other belief. From within these fortresses, the adults shoot arrows at the other fortresses. Fortress A must be defended against the alien “others” from Fortress B. The beliefs attributed to Fortress B are a caricature, created by Fortress A. Why? Because they never got around to talking openly with each other and trying to understand their common ground.

Do I blame teachers for this? Absolutely not! I am a teacher in a public school. And I am guarded about religious discussion in my own classroom. I know what the climate is in these times, and I can’t put my own school at risk.
So maybe I was a Pollyanna not to decline the invitation to speak in the first place, knowing how loaded it would be to read a book with the name “Jesus” in it.

But I wish that we would talk about this. There has to be another way.


Book Banning or "You Can’t Come to My Party" and other Awkward Moments

With the rescinding of Ellen Hopkins’ key to the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, Texas, some lively writer-chat has been taking place. Deemed too controversial AFTER she was asked to keynote, Ellen received an “Oops! Disregard that invite,” when a district librarian brought a handful of parental complaints to the superintendent. Following Ellen’s dis-invitation, authors Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Matt de la Peña, and Tera Lynn Childs dis-invited themselves from the event in a show of solidarity.

Because I like Ellen (and her books), it’s been good to see her respond with strength and confidence. And it got me thinking about the time I was uninvited to a school visit. I told a writer friend about it during Banned Books Week one year. She was outraged for me. “You should tell everyone!” she said. “What was so offensive in your book that they didn’t want you there?”

I told her that the book, LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE, had religious content. And my friend said, “Katherine! Why are you trying to bring religion into the schools?”

It seems a fair question. I’d been invited by a teacher who loved my book. I wanted to go, but I was hesitant. What if they thought I was a “stealth” author determined to evangelize the children for my particular flavor of religion? So I wrote a letter to the coordinator of the event, explaining that there was this aspect of the book (It’s about the Civil Rights Movement, and also has the story of early Christian martyr St. Valentine, along with prayerful talk about loving one’s enemies). I planned to address religion as broadly as possible, given the diverse setting, and assured her it wouldn’t be a Sunday school lesson.

Nevertheless, she was uneasy and she asked me not to come. I suggested some other authors for her, and that was that.

Personally, I think we need to be less afraid about religion in the public arena than we are. If we can allow children to learn about and discuss spirituality and religions in a heterogenous environment, as if it is a normal part of life, we can go a long way towards diminishing the fearmongering that takes place — both among the religious and the non-religious.

But ideologies go crashing against each other when we bring up censorship and religion–specifically, Christianity–at the same time.In some quarters, censoring Christianity is okay censorship. And yes, I know that censoring and belittling other religions has been standard in this culture. I’m not for that, either.

And it’s never fun to be kicked out of the party.