What History Would Jesus Teach?

Earlier this week my mom forwarded me this link about a resolution that has been brought forth in the Oklahoma Senate. To summarize, the resolution would ban the United States History AP test due to its failure to promote American Exceptionalism and its greater focus on the experience of minorities, who have often been treated badly in US history. A similar resolution was introduced in Georgia recently, as well, in response to a new version of the AP test, which lawmakers feel presents a “radically revisionist view of American history.” An additional 3 or 4 states have experienced controversy about this test in the last year.

The articles about the resolution sent me into full rant mode. There’s so much I could say about the dangers of only teaching a version of history that promotes patriotism and a view of America as a superior, Godly country. In efforts to narrow my ranting, I want to discuss this issue in terms of my faith as a Christian, my passion about the importance of history, and why (perhaps ironically) I think that pushing the idea of an exceptional, Christian America is significantly un-Jesus-like.

The reason I chose this image is because it actively shows the erasure of certain people from our history. The artist has intentionally left that empty seat in the corner to represent a woman who you have probably never heard of, but who was an important, though unofficial member of Lincoln's cabinet. Anna Ella Carroll was a master war strategist and one of Lincoln's battle advisors during the Civil War.
The reason I chose this image is because it actively shows the erasure of certain people from our history. The artist has intentionally left that empty seat in the corner to represent a woman who you have probably never heard of, but who was an important, though unofficial member of Lincoln’s cabinet. Anna Ella Carroll was a master war strategist and one of Lincoln’s battle advisors during the Civil War.

The very basis of American Exceptionalism goes against Jesus’ teachings. Part of the revolutionary aspect of the gospel was that God’s love was unbiased and not limited to a chosen people. By stating that Americans are consistently in the moral right because of our religious traditions acts as if to say that ours is a chosen nation and therefore we can do whatever we want. This is incredibly dangerous thinking; thinking that has led to a vast number of atrocities committed in the name of Democracy and Christianity, despite the fact that Christ himself preached non-violence, self-sacrifice, and taught us to love our enemies.

The lawmakers’ concern about the “radically revisionist view of American history” being presented in the AP course material problematically privileges one view of American history over all others and promotes it as “true.” My first thought was that clearly none of these lawmakers could have studied history any time in the last 40 years. One of the first things I learned about history in college is that there is no single “true” version. There are facts, there are events, and no matter what your source, these facts and events will always be presented through the lens of someone’s bias. “Revisionism,” until recently used as a dirty word, is the process of going back and looking at the facts and events we have long been taught through a different lens. This lens is often that of women, minorities and the poor– people who could not control how their history was preserved at the time. One of the Oklahoma lawmakers, Representative Dan Fisher, is part of a group that further objects to the AP History test on the basis that it embodies a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective” (Source).  In Proverbs 31:8-9, we are told to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” How then, is an inclusion of the stories of women and minorities an exclusion of the Christian perspective? By seeking to bring silenced voices and their stories into mainstream historical consciousness, revisionism promotes compassion and a deeper understanding of the complex nature of history.

However, complexity is scary for many of us. It leaves room for questions to which there is no right answer and stories in which no one is really the hero. It’s simpler to believe that things are black and white, and if we believe that then the impulse to write ourselves in as the heroes is incredibly strong–because the only other option is that we’re the villains. This, I believe, causes incredible amounts of anxiety about teaching “the right” history (that’s a pun, by the way, think about it). Here is another way in which, I believe, Jesus’ teachings play into this question of simplifying and censoring our history. I believe that Jesus calls us to something so much bigger than what we can perceive, that there is no room for fear to drive our actions. Attempts to restrict what is taught so that only what we believe will make  “patriots” out of our students is a fear driven action and doesn’t promote the understanding or reconciliation that Jesus taught us to pursue.

Finally, if we teach our children that America is a wonderful, Christian nation that always does the right thing in the end and erase the histories of hundreds of thousands of people in doing so, we do not build for ourselves a future in which we can live in harmony with members of our own communities, let alone with people all over the world. Stories are one of the most powerful tools we have to effect change, if we silence the stories of those who experience injustice at our hands, we give up the opportunity to do the right thing and embrace change. If we only tell ourselves what we want to hear then we never grow. This is not what Jesus calls us to. We are called to compassion and growth, to be free from fear and able to embrace the complexity of life on Earth.

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An Imperfect Explanation

Once again I have gone far longer than I intended without posting. I would say without writing, but I actually have written several posts that never made their way onto my blog. “Why is that, Hailey? Are there backlogged posts that you’re saving for a rainy day?” No, unfortunately this hasn’t been an intentional decision, but it also hasn’t been for lack of attempts. There are quite a few drafts sitting on my computer, but they will likely never see the light of day. “Okay, Hailey, cut to the chase, what are you trying to say?” I am saying that over the past few months the little ultra-perfectionistic voice in the back of my head has gotten the better of me.

“Hailey”, the voice will say, “why are you writing about this? Everyone else who has ever been 20 years old has thought these exact thoughts. You’re contributing nothing.” Or, “Hailey, you can’t even communicate effectively what you’re trying to say, you sound both arrogant and completely inarticulate. I say just hang it up for tonight.” And I do… and I tell myself that I’ll come back to it and rewrite, but the longer I look at it the less it feels worthy of sharing with the world. Obviously, I am trying to combat this. As part of an experiment I am doing for the next few weeks I am requiring myself to write something to share at least once a week.

“Wait, you’re doing an experiment to address your lack of blogposts?” No, my overly self-critical approach to writing is part of a deeper issue; perfectionism and the insecurity that it spawns have become increasingly intrusive temptations in my life over the passed few years (although I have had perfectionistic tendencies for as long as I can remember *cue flashback to 6-year-old Hailey freaking out because she couldn’t draw a photo-realistic portrait of her favorite doll*). Weekly blog posts are only one part of my experiment to address my overly perfectionistic tendencies, the other steps I am taking include:
a) Making space in my day to be creative on a regular basis (an hour at a time at least five days out of the week).
b) Taking time to moisturize my skin at least five days a week (this sounds like a really tiny, mundane thing, but it’s a good step towards self-care and body positivity. Oddly, it’s been the hardest one to stay on top of).
c) Monitoring my negative self-talk, specifically self-deprecating comments in my conversations with others.
“Wow, Hailey, that was a startling display of vulnerability.” You bet it was, thanks for recognizing that, dear reader, have a pretty picture of a sunset.

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Like most personality traits perfectionism has its pros as well as its cons. I like it when high expectations encourage me to work hard and do my best, I like it that I have a very clear vision for how things could be improved, and I like it that I don’t settle for things that don’t satisfy or push me. However, what I really want to be addressing right now is finding the balance where I am still a hard worker and a bit of an idealist and reformer (because I think those are integral parts of who I am) but where I can also be gentle with myself when I need to and where my perfectionism doesn’t keep me from doing the things I want to do or living more wholly into who I’m meant to be. I love to write, but nothing I write is ever going to be perfect, and once I accept that I am convinced that writing will be a far more enjoyable and life-affirming process for me. The same could be said for any number aspects of my life and personal view of myself.

It’s been a while since I have actively taken on an experiment like this to help me form new thought patterns, but in the past it has been incredibly helpful. We often assume that we should be able to think ourselves into new behaviors, when it often seems far more effective participate in new behaviors as a method of changing our thought patterns. I highly recommend trying something similar to address an area of your life or your person where you’d like to see growth. Even changing really little things can make a real difference in your outlook and self-perception. A couple of years ago I was struggling with some depression-related low self-esteem, so I decided that I was no longer allowed to negate people’s compliments to me. Obviously this small action didn’t entirely “fix” my issues, but it did force me to actually listen to the kind things people said to me, which made me feel loved and cared for, and eventually, I kicked the habit of negating their compliments.

I am excited (and slightly trepidatious) to share writing with you all on a more regular basis over the next few weeks!