jesus Archives - The Jose Vilson


Where Monuments Stand Still

by Jose Vilson on April 5, 2010

in Jose

Martin Luther King Statue, National Mall, Washington DC

A few weeks ago, The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Committee sent me a mailing about the new memorial off the Tidal Basin in the national mall near the Jefferson Memorial, across from the FDR Memorial, and a little walk from the Lincoln Memorial. They asked me, and I assume plenty others, if I would donate some amount of my funds to this dedication. I read the letter and felt awesome that I’d be part of some historical moment in a time when historical moments seem to come a dime a dozen.

Yet, something told me to do a little research, and surely enough, Google returned a list of issues I didn’t feel comfortable with. First, the King family wanted some percentage of the funds from the donations since the Memorial’s using the father’s name. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that the memorial doesn’t really “make” any money, so it’s rather questionable ethically. Secondly, the model of the statue, a rather lovely dedication, came from an Asian sculptor, who some advocated immediately criticized since they felt the committee should have chosen a Black sculptor instead. Plus, looking at the donations list, it’s intimidating for a man who barely makes a liveable wage would not have an equal share in making history with donors who can chip in 5-to-6-digit donations. And all this dedicated to a practical socialist and avid follower of Christ, the most famous socialist we know.

This makes sense when we think about King and Christ as a whole, never mind the serendipity of Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection a little less than 2000 years ago, and the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination 42 years ago falling on the same day.

We can argue day and night about the merits of either men and whether to remember their deaths so passionately. For many, the mention of Jesus Christ evokes controversy from folks who either still the degree to follow his teachings or even his very existence. Similar controversies come from reading and watching King’s work. From his college plagiarism to his ungracious adultery, King’s contradictions make even the ardent disciples wince. I can’t get over the fact that the people in charge of interpreting their teachings and works often dilute them in order to pacify the masses.

One thing we can’t dispute is that these contradictions also give their students ready models for how to lead their lives in spite of their own humanity. In the pursuit of happiness, they had quite a few missteps and life got in the way of their perfect plans.

It’s also the way I feel about the national memorial. I still don’t know whether I’ll donate, even if I know how important the monument is for this country to acknowledge its most racially underrepresented citizens. It’s crazy how legacies can be represented by monuments that stand so still.

Jose, who actually went to Mass this weekend …


Walk On Water

by Jose Vilson on September 6, 2007

in Jose

robbie_williams_escapology_cover.jpgWhen it comes to my principles, I didn’t tell them who I quoted from, but I had a discussion around them. What’s great about these principles is that I get to discuss them while secretly learning more about who they are as people and as students. I tested their ability to follow procedures and respect others’ opinions.

Of the few passages I’ve taken with me from the 6 years of Catholic school and the extra 4 dedicated to Communion and Confirmation, it’s the miracle of Jesus walking on water. For those who aren’t Christian, the story goes that, after Jesus died and resurrected on the 3rd day, he started appearing to the disciples randomly wherever they went. One of those appearances was Jesus, walking to them on water, as the disciples were on a boat. Jesus calls out to Peter, the head disciple, and says, “Walk with me.” He starts walking to Jesus a little bit, looks down, and realizes how deep it is, and so begins to drown.

The story in itself is nuts, and I love it. Even in allegorical form, it transcends its religious tone into something that I feel everyone can learn from. It was even more ludicrous when Jay-Z, who often describes himself as Jay-Hova, said in one of his lyrics,

“How could you falter when you’re the Rock of Gibraltar?
I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water.”

I’ve never heard anything like that; not only did he just compare himself to Peter the Apostle, but describe his situation in the controversial breakup of Roc-A-Fella Records, a record label that at the time was dominating rap music, but he had to leave to get greater opportunities. In other words, he put one of Jesus’ miracles in terms that, while blasphemous in some circles, let people who don’t even follow Christianity could understand.

I interpret walking on water as not just taking a risk, but taking such a huge risk that it takes a lot of faith as much as it takes planning. While it’s not prudent to just jump at everything that comes your way, sometimes when the timing’s right, that leap of faith can earn big returns.

Personally, I use it with the kids because it’s too often that kids are afraid to take a risk. I took a risk with the kids I have, as many teachers this week told me how intrigued and confused they were by my selection as a 6th grade teacher, preferring that I stayed in the 8th grade with the “tough” kids. I countered that maybe I didn’t choose the kids, but certainly these kids were chosen for me.

I’ve never taught the grade, and now we’re both going through this journey together. While hopefully raising them up a couple of grade levels, I also hope to inspire them to become better people. That’s something I lost last year in some ways. My first year I did a much better job of inspiring young children to become better students, and even if I just planted the seed, that seed blossomed well into their 8th grade year. Oftentimes, I’d look down at my feet, and sink gradually, wondering if those piranhas were going to nip at my toes in the process.

With this new year, I’ve got the fantastic opportunity to get my kids into the right mentality for the rest of their lives. With an optimistic and positive attitude mixed with a little focus and management, I continually increase the odds of that.

“What does it mean when I say, ‘walk on water’?”[silence]

“Well think about this, has anyone ever been on a boat?”

[some hands rise]

“What do you feel when you’re on a boat? How do you feel?”

“Scared,” “sick,” “nice,” “safe …”

“SAFE! When we’re in a boat or a plane, sometimes, it’s really easy to just stay on it, and maybe even go back home. But if you never step off into that new land, you’ll never try something new. Some of you have never left this street, or even Washington Heights. Now is that time. Don’t be afraid to try something new. When my parents came here, they took a risk and never looked back. When it comes to this math class, I want you to take a risk and go into it headfirst. Try your best. I want everyone to get 100% on their grades, but if you don’t, all I’m asking you is to try your hardest. Walk on water.”

mr. v, who feels comfortable going into any desk formation with his kids now that he has his procedures and rituals down