Big Band Dinner Dance, Mitford Series, Pappy, Public Schools—What is the connection?

I was doing a checklist item for our Big Band Dinner Dance today. I went to one of the establishments that handles our request and was again honored to listen to someone’s amazing story in the store. We should not take the gift of receiving a person’s sacred story lightly. They want to be seen and known. They also want to know they matter as they are working through some things that do not add up for them anymore. What a gift to be there as an understanding presence to help them work through some of it, even if it is just skimming the surface. Maybe skimming the surface is something I need to learn! Ha. Because I am always in the deep. These conversations are more than your average surface-level convos, though. These dialogues are awakening me to the reality of what so many people have been through or are going through, and they are making me a more compassionate presence too.

When I first moved to Texas, I found a book series I loved called The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. I have no idea how I would respond to this series if I read it for the first time today, given how many Lindsays that was ago. But I do know that I still have lasting memories from it, and these memories still make me feel warm inside.

The main character is a 60-year-old minister (Episcopal priest) who lives and serves in a town called Mitford. He is quirky, sweet, sometimes irritable, and downright lovable. I still say phrases I learned from this book like, “there’s the rub.” He reminded me so much of my SIL’s father, Father Joe Ted Miller, aka Pappy (also an Episcipal priest). I loved how he made house visits and was so present in the lives of the community. He was also a beloved community member and was treated as such. Joe Ted Miller was a similar presence in Norman. I fell in love with the town of Mitford and the minister. Norman is making me feel like I am a part of town like that right now–and I am working on being a minister in this capacity, following in the steps of Joe Ted Miller and the fictional character Timothy Kavanagh. We, Joe Ted and I, had so many deep theological conversations right here in Oklahoma, and we had no idea these convos would eventually send me to seminary. I was having a conversation with my friend–no agenda. Instead of serving as an Episcopalian, I am doing it as a Baptist. You know, a female Baptist pastor is a lot more familiar. LOL!

I think about public school teachers a lot these days. I am married to one. So there is that. But I have been married to him for 21 years and have never thought about school teachers as much as I do at this moment. These people get built up in public narratives as beloved people in the community but are treated as anything but that. It is like they are supposed to be superhuman, and when they can fix or do not respond to situations in a way the public feels is acceptable, the forces of hell go after them. Yesterday I heard some stories that made recent trauma memories resurface.

Oklahoma and Texas are giving it their all to destroy public schools. Public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy and what brings us together with our local communities–more than the church. People spread out all over to go to church, and I kind of like that. I like the going in of public schools and the going out to faith-based institutions. Both/and. But unfortunately, the church seems to be one of the biggest obstacles to public schools’ ability to thrive and grow.

Texas and Oklahoma both want to take money away from public schools and give it to private schools–and the amount given would just be a crumb of what a private school requires. (And private schools think this money will not come with public opinion?!) Also, private school teachers are paid shitty. Going private is not helping there either. And many of them have to sign agreements to agree to a certain theology and will be reprimanded, if not fired, if they go off script. For all the drama about rethinking how we teach history and what books kids can or cannot read, can you imagine if we challenged Christian schools to look at their history and what books are being read?!

But beyond just those facts, public schools desperately need MORE resources. They cannot afford to lose a thing, and what they have is insufficient! Teachers are not trained and cannot be trained to handle the massive amount of trauma these kids are carrying. The teachers are also carrying trauma, and no one seems to be looking out for them. When I hear what some teachers are saying as they walk out the door–even if I think what they did was not okay–I can see and hear they are breaking. That is not who they are. The pressure the public, politicians, administration, and students place on them breaks people. Even we, my family, are carrying trauma from public school life, and we have a high pain tolerance. But this is beginning to be too much for us too.

But I won’t give up. I have a solution.

Public schools need presence. A loving, kind, and gentle presence to hear and receive stories. Therapists cannot even handle all of this, either. And sometimes, it is not a therapist that we need. Sometimes what we need is a friend. That is who I am. That is the movement I want to help foster in our community.

I have been inspired by good people–real and fictional (fictional is real too–it is how real the imagination can be). I still believe.

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