“Get your mouth off that balloon, you might get AIDS,” my grandmother warned as I tried to resuscitate a deflating balloon I found at Chuck E. Cheese.

I’m not sure why I remember this randomly specific exchange I had with my grandmother as a child, but I have no doubt that it happened. My grandmother had a knack for lovingly scaring the shit out of her grandkids by pointing out all the ways the world could harm us.

She was the pre-internet incarnation of WebMD. If you had a headache, she would ask countless diagnostic questions to determine if you…

Just over seven weeks ago I was feeling the full weight of test-prep season as a 4th grade literacy and math teacher in the NYC public school system. Every Monday, I met with my principal for data check-ins.

He began each of these meetings with a casual yet ominous mention of the days remaining until the state test:
“With only 28 days until the test…”
“With only 21 days until the test…”
“With only 14 days until the test…”

Point taken. This is the most important thing I should focus on.

Until it wasn’t.

Fresh out of grad school, I…

Perfectionism Is Slowing Your Reading Rate

I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had read more books than I thought as I reflected on a busy year. It wasn’t because I set a goal to read x number of books per month. Quite the contrary — I had low expectations for how much I might read so I avoided goal setting altogether. Nor did I reserve untouchable time during the week to read. Between work travel and grad school, I never had a “typical” week to plan. I should also say I’m not a natural born reader.

In 1808, black congregants at my church would be ushered to a segregated section of our sanctuary, the “slave loft.” One Sunday, a group of traders from Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) came to worship at The First Baptist Church in the City of New York. The Abyssinians walked out in protest of the segregated seating, and eighteen of our black congregants joined forming the core members of what would become Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.

I wonder if the white members thought the Abyssinians were being divisive? That their cry against injustice distracted from the gospel? …

Why Doing What Doesn’t Matter Matters

Evensong in Westminster Abbey in London
Where “daily prayer has been offered for over a thousand years”
Brings an unwelcome feeling of insignificance

The choir sings: “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season.”

A millennium’s worth of kings, commoners, poets, and priests —
Of people, waiting for that due season

Sitting where I now sit
Praying where I now pray
Wondering what I wonder

Will I be remembered?
A millennium from now will anything I do matter?

A millennium’s worth of statues stare at us, taunting
Only a fortunate few…

Why Guilt is a Terrible Motivator for Social Justice

Imagine a country where abortion is illegal, where the church has a prominent role in shaping the culture’s sexual behavior, and where “government” and “handouts” are two words rarely used together. While that might sound like some future GOP utopia, it’s not.

It’s present day Honduras.

Virtually any type of abortion is illegal in Honduras. Catholicism is the country’s dominant religion, and many parishioners find the church’s prohibition of contraception easier to follow than the church’s prohibition of sex outside of marriage. …

How Embracing the Rationale of an 8 Year Old Frees Us to Enjoy Our Talents, Career, & Calling

Eight years have passed and I still sometimes wake up in a cold sweat. Another dream.

It’s always the same nightmare. Someone mentions to me that they’re planning to attend my college piano recital that night, and terror strikes. Somehow I’ve completely forgotten to prepare. I hadn’t practiced a single piece of music. Sightreading frantically, I attempt to learn and memorize an hour’s worth of music in one afternoon. Maybe I’ll be able to fake my way through this. Three hours til showtime. Plenty of time to learn an entire Beethoven sonata, right?

For months leading up to my recital…

Poets, artists, and philosophers have been trying to capture the essence of love for centuries, so it’s up to Millennials to finally figure it out. These handcrafted valentines will help you give that special someone, or someone other than yourself, a fuller understanding of love in a way that no previous generation has ever been able to grasp.

And other realizations upon turning 30.

“We’re trying to downsize, what do you want to do with all your trophies?” my mom asked.

The trophies she spoke of spanned my entire high school career of fine arts competitions. Years ago they were proudly displayed by the piano where I spent hours honing my skill. Now the piano was gone and the trophies were packed up in plastic bins in the storage room that also housed the cat’s litter box.

***

I’m turning 30. Deep down I know it’s probably time to get rid of the trophies I won when I was a teenager. The fact that…

Steven Michael Mann

4th Grade Math & Literacy Teacher: NYC Public Schools | Curious about how faith, social justice, education, and the arts all combine.

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