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My parents have always taught me that equality matters that I should judge someone by the content of their character, but I admit that I do not do that. I am a racist. Let me repeat, I AM A RACIST.

I don’t want to be, my parents never taught me to be, but I have learned it through my existence in this world and living all over this country. It’s baffling to me to admit that when I see a black face it causes a myriad of negative reactions. It shouldn’t be this way. My friends in elementary school were of Indian, Peruvian, African, Greek, and European descent. The first people I hung out with in Dallas when I moved at the end of sixth grade were the dudes on the basketball court; they were all black; my neighbor who I spend a lot of time with is black. Yet, my thoughts persist.
I remember the first time I was more athletic than a black guy on my team. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people superior athletes? It’s what I saw when I watched sports, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Lawrence Taylor, and on and on. It was the white guys that were the smart athletes, but not the most athletic, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, John Stockton. I mean, I remember in 1990 Rex Chapman from the Charlotte Hornets, who is white, was in the Dunk Contest. “I thought that’s for black guys.”

I remember the first time a black kid was smarter than me. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people silly, loud, and ignorant? That’s what I saw on TV and in the news. I will say now, looking back, I did not understand the social commentary of In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or the glimpse I got into black culture by staying up late and watching “It’s Showtime at the Apollo”.

In high school, I thought I was being enlightened, by making a differentiation between black people and the “N” word; I even had a Confederate Flag sticker on my truck. I was, no, I am still nervous when I walk in a city and I see a group of black people. I try to play it cool, I try to act like I’m not hyper aware, but the truth is, I am.

I’m not telling you all of this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not telling you this because I want to take some kind of moral high ground. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where the treatment of people is more often than not based on the color of their skin. If you don’t know what I’m talking about there are plenty of places you can read about the struggles of people of color in this country who are just trying to live their life, have some freedom, and pursue happiness just like the rest of us.

It pains me that my next door neighbor has to have conversations with his two sons that I don’t have to have with mine about the realities of dealing with people in authority. It pains me that talking about race is labeled as part of the problem. It pains me that even though, I read about, pray for an end to, and learn about the history of racism in this country there are still deep, deep learnings that I can’t seem to let go of regardless of the number of people of color who I interact with, who are shining examples, who are role models, who are more faithful, and who are more loving than me.

I will continue to listen to the voices that are different than my own. I will continue to do my best to teach my kids differently than I was taught by society. I will continue to recognize when I am being racist, I will continue to call out racism when I see it. I will not let this continue. It can’t continue.

There was a movie that I saw my senior year of high school by John Singleton called Higher Learning. It deals with race, racism, and what can happen if we don’t acknowledge our fears and the let those fears grow into hatred, which leads to violence. The last scene of the movie is one word of text. It says, “UNLEARN”.

I will continue to try and unlearn the racial constructs and narratives that I have been taught and I will pray my kids never learn them.

While at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last week in Portland, Oregon, I was asked to contribute a blog post to the Presbyterian Outlook regarding dependent care at General Assembly. This has been a long conversation for my wife and I, if you want to know the whole saga you can follow this link.

Here is the text of my post:

“I am so thankful for the new Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy that the Office of the General Assembly made available for the 222nd General Assembly. This solution has been a blessing to our family and is a beautiful third way that helps alleviate some of the stress of parents and caregivers who are called to service as commissioners and advisory delegates to the assembly. This, for us was a giant step forward.

I’m also thankful for the work of the Committee on Local Arrangements who has provided a family room to change diapers, nurse babies, and give kids and parents a place to be while here at the assembly, complete with live streams of the plenary sessions. I am so thankful for all those that helped make it possible for more people with dependents to be a part of this, the signature gathering of our denomination.

In 2012, my wife and I, both Teaching Elders, decided that we would meet my family in Pittsburgh for the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA as observers, a chance to have a family reunion of sorts. It was a great opportunity for us to see family and connect with colleagues from around the nation, as well as, be a part of the beautiful connectional nature of our church. It was a reunion that Co-Moderator Jan Edmiston described as, “by blood and by baptism.”

We inquired with the Office of General Assembly about the options for childcare, family rooms, etc. as my son was stilling nursing at the time and my daughter was only two years old. The response from the OGA was suboptimal. At the assembly after talking to several people, including COLA, PCCCA, and OGA we were told that the office would take it under consideration.

Two years later, at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, I was elected as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery and my wife, again, planned to attend as an observer with our children. My father was volunteering in the newsroom and my mom was an observer. Once again, there were no options for parents or those with dependents; no quiet space to nurse babies, no dedicated space for children to be children, no place for them to be welcome in worship, no place to tend to the needs of people in our charge. Needless to say I was disappointed. 

That’s when Joseph Morrow of Chicago Presbytery and I submitted a commissioner’s resolution regarding, specifically, childcare at General Assembly meetings. Moments before I was to speak on the floor of the plenary I walked to the back of the hall, where I saw a woman huddled next to a stack of chairs nursing her young child. It further strengthened my belief that we could do better as particular churches, as mid councils, and as a denomination. The vote did not go our way, it was referred to the OGA in committee, after a heartfelt debate on the resolution on the floor of plenary, the assembly approved the recommendation to the committee. Our resolution had lost, we were sad and angry, but we are people of the resurrection.

I was so ecstatic to hear the news that the OGA was implementing the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy. I think that the OGA and COLA have worked together to help those of us with children and dependents to have an opportunity to be here.

There is still some work to do. An overture (05-05) that would amend the Book of Order to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy was disapproved by a close vote in committee. I would urge this assembly to disagree with the committee when if comes before you and vote to amend G-3.0106. As Overture Advocate, Kathy Stoner-Lasala, Teaching Elder from Great Rivers Presbytery said, “There are many in the cloud of witnesses who are not here. These are excluded disciples.” 

In my own presbytery, there are a significant number of teaching elders with young children, ruling elders with spouses who are sick or in need of care, there are people who have the energy, the passion, and the calling, but they can not answer the call to serve because we have not opened our hearts, minds, and souls to the needs of those with dependents. We have not listened to their struggles; we have not worked together to do better.

I believe the OGA and COLA have done their part, they have answered the call of welcome. I want to thank Joann Lee and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for carrying this mantle for so long, I want to thank the OGA and COLA for their work, I want to thank Great Rivers Presbytery , New Castle Presbytery, and Santa Fe Presbytery for picking up the mantle and taking it on. The question, now, is will our sessions, will our presbyteries, will our synods provide a policy that meets the needs of those in their communities?

May it be so.”

My mom is amazing, there’s really no two ways about it.
 
A few years ago, I was going to host a bowl watching party to watch West Virginia University play University of Maryland, College Park in the Gator Bowl. You will note that I was hosting this party at in my parent’s basement (if you know when that game was, you’ll know how old I was living with my parents, still) anywho…I thought I’d get some beers, maybe some chips. Margaret Bolt went with me to the grocery store, when we got back, we had sub sandwiches, ingredients for dip, chips, an assortment of drinks, cookies, and some flowers for the table.
 
WVU got killed by Maryland that day, but man did we eat well. My mom is the best host, helper, organizer, creator, designer I know.
 
She also has been and continues to be the best mom I could ask for. She has been my most voracious cheerleader in sports and in life. Another story. When I was 8, I was playing little league baseball. My season wasn’t going well. I couldn’t hit a lick. My mom was also about 8 months pregnant with my little sister, Julia Bolt (who’s birthday is today.) during that particular game I made the first solid contact of the season and hit a ground rule double (my mom says it was a home run, but that’s a testament to her always seeing the best in her kids) She was jumping up and down and cheering so much that all the other parents were worried because they were afraid she was going to give birth right there.
 
I could regale you with stories about her being there, about her staying up late to help with projects, about her holding my hand through my diabetes diagnosis, about her being there when I called to give me a reassuring word.
 
My mom is the best.
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This is a copy of the text of my column that appeared in the Nebraska City News-Press last week regarding the issue of bullying in our schools.

As you may know I, and eleven of my fellow community members, are running for a seat on the Nebraska City Public School Board. A few weeks ago, one of those candidates, Matt Watkins, asked a question, “What is the one issue you would like to see the school board address?

The overwhelming response was the issue of bullying. Matt has said that one of the main reasons his kids are now attending Lourdes Central Catholic was because of bullying and the response to that bullying. I know bullying happens everywhere, and it doesn’t stop with kids. I’ve seen church members be bullies, I’ve seen board members be bullies, there are presidential candidates who are bullies, there are state senators who are bullies. I’ve seen bullying at every level of human from 5-80 year olds, I’ve seen in corporations, small businesses, non-profits, you name it. Bullying is a problem.

It’s a problem because the bully, for the most part, feels inadequate. All they know how to do is harass, belittle, and intimidate. There are as many reasons that people become bullies, as there are bullies. I would also venture a guess that if we took a long look and were honest with ourselves that each and every one of us has been a bully in someway at sometime in our lives.

According to StopBullying.gov:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

I would disagree with this definition but only because I would not limit bullying to “behavior among school aged children”. Other than that I think it’s spot on.

I will admit that I have been a bully in the past, I will also admit to having been bullied in the past. I’m not proud of any of it, but it is part of my story (and I’m not just talking about when I was a kid). I’m also sure that they are related. After being bullied, when I got the upper hand I became a bully, because I felt like I had to take control or assert my dominance or show how important I was. Luckily, I had people in my life that would tell me to cut it out.

Now, as a parent, I want to know if you see my kid bullying other kids or your kid. If my child is exhibiting any of these bullying behaviors I want to know about it. I want their teachers, staff, and administrators to tell me, I want their Sunday School teachers to tell me, I want other parents to tell me.

Don’t demonize my kid, do let me know that there is something I need to address at the home. It’s hard enough as a parent to raise kids, it takes a community to raise positive and well adjusted kids. Some kids (and some adults) in our town have a good support system that will help them learn and grow. (Sometimes that support system makes the problem worse, but that’s another column). A lot of kids (and some adults) don’t have the support they need to grow. It’s up to us do better, as a community.

We can do better by speaking up, we can do better by teaching rather than punishing, we can do better by engaging rather than gossiping. We can do better to stop bullying in our schools and in our community.

 

 

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Over the past couple of weeks several people have asked me why I was running for School Board in Nebraska City. Here is my answer:

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve never done before; I filed to run for an elected office. I am running for a position on the Nebraska City Public School Board. There are a lot of reasons that I choose to put my name in the hat, but they all boil down to a sentiment that I heard growing up. “You may lose your friends, you may lose your money, you may lose your home…but the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education.”

In the past couple of years the school board and the administration of Nebraska City Public Schools have be working hard, not only to provide the best education possible, but also provide as many options for learning as possible. With the announcement of the purchase of the old clinic building on 14th and the old Food Pride building on Central I’m looking forward to see what’s next for our students. My hope is to do my best to clear the way for our students, all our students, to have an opportunity for success. An opportunity to pursue education after they graduate from high school, if they want, at a four year school, a two year school, a trade school, or in the military. I also hope to help set the stage for our students to be successful in the classroom, on the athletic field, the performing stage, and, ultimately, in our community.

We are blessed with many caring teachers, administrators, and staff. I have done my best in the short time that I have lived here to get to know them. Whether that’s been serving as a chaperone for After-School programs for Hayward and the Middle School, working with United Against Violence to host a Kids Day Out, or meeting with teachers, principals, and even folks in the Central Office to find out what they need. I have tried my best to listen and to learn. My hope is to help lift those great, skilled, and caring educators up so they can do their job. My role on the School Board will be to insure they have the infrastructure they need to succeed. It’s all part of the puzzle and we have to work together in order to insure that our students, and our community, have something that no change in the stock or agricultural markets will take away, a solid well-rounded education.

My children are just starting out in the education system here in Nebraska City and we have been very excited with their teachers, the paraprofessionals, and the support staff at Northside. I hope that having young children in the system I will be able to give voice to parents, who make up a key piece in the education of their children. I also want to show my children that it is far more important to get involved than it is to sit on the sidelines and hope for someone to listen to you.

When I was in seminary, I found myself complaining about some of the administrative decisions of the faculty and staff. Someone said, “What are you going to do about it?” I decided right then and there that I would no longer sit on the sidelines and complain or judge the actions of the decision makers. I would become a decision maker. I ran for student government and served as vice-moderator and moderator of the Student Government Assembly. I meet monthly with faculty, twice yearly with trustees, and almost daily with other students. I think we were able to get a lot done and make some positive change.

Now, I know that being the student body president of a small school is very different from serving in an elected position here, but that started my commitment to be a positive influence in my community and I think this is the next step.

I would really appreciate your vote in the upcoming election.

If you have any questions or want to share your thoughts I love to connect on social media. You can see more of my writing and thoughts on my wife’s and my blog (nebraskabolt.wordpress.com) or follow me on twitter (@ggbolt16) or show your support by liking my Greg Bolt for Nebraska City School Board facebook page.

In his book Rewilding the Way – Break Free to Follow an Untamed God, Todd Wynward asks many questions about the state of Western Christianity and the state of our planet.  One of the most intriguing for me was: How can Christians who have a spouse and children that they want to care for and support also radically follow the call from God through Jesus in the times in which we live? This is a question that I often ponder as a Christian who loves God deeply and who also loves my spouse and children deeply.

The book offers biblical background, historical examples and modern day prophets that point to these questions.  I think I was hoping for a more prescriptive approach vs. a descriptive vision because I tend to like lists and steps vs. dreams and stories but that is a difference of style than a critique of the content.  My only wish is that the examples had been a little more broad.  If I’m unable to move to New Mexico or the East or West Coast and not interested in becoming a Mennonite, the stories that relate to my circumstances become thin.

Overall, the book offered me glimpses of what the way forward could be, introduced me to people and movements I knew little about and provided another perspective on what Christianity in the future could look like.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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This is a spoken word piece that I wrote a few years ago that I revisited recently, it’s entitled “You Said Don’t Be Afraid”

You can listen to the audio by following this link

You said don’t be afraid

It is finished?

It can’t be finished…It can’t be over

You said follow me and I did,

You said pray with me and I tried,

You said trust me and…well that one was hard.

How can I trust you now?

You were the one; you were the Christ, the Messiah, the one who fed us, who healed us, who challenged us
All that you said seems a lie,
You’re dead, just like the criminals next to you,

Just like all that have come before you,

You were executed just like your cousin John. He even said you were the one.

You were supposed to be different,

You were supposed to change everything

You were supposed to fix it.

You said don’t be afraid.

How can it be finished?

Do you know how hard it has been to stand with you?

Do you know all the trouble you’ve caused me?

I had to watch you on trial

I had to watch you be humiliated

I had to watch you take it

You didn’t even fight back

You didn’t even stand up for yourself

I had to run for my own safety

I had to hide who I was

I had to watch you be whipped and beaten

If you were who you said you were why didn’t you do anything?

And now you’re dead

What now?

I can’t go back

I can’t start over

You spoke of freedom but everywhere I look there are chains

You said don’t be afraid

I was supposed to have an easier life

I was supposed to have a seat at the table

I was supposed to be part of something.

I was supposed to be a part of the change

I was going to be special

I was going to be safe

It was going to be easy

I was going to be able to be open about who I was

It was going to be different

You said don’t be afraid

But how can I not be afraid?

You’re dead

They won

And now they are coming for me.

I guess you’re right

It is finished.

(image by Pabak Sarkar)

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