How to Support Your Sick and Disabled Friends Beyond Prayers for Healing: An Open Letter to My Christian Friends.

 I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue for almost a year and a half. I deal with widespread chronic pain, perpetual exhaustion, executive dysfunction, and a handful of other delightful symptoms. I have good days where I can function reasonably well and present as able-bodied and healthy, and I have bad days where I can’t get out of bed and my symptoms render me thoroughly disabled. Usually, I fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. My physical and mental functioning is limited, unpredictable, and impacted by stress, emotions, weather, and my immediate environment. It’s frustrating to deal with, but I am trying to embrace the slow process of learning to live more slowly, disregard American societal expectations of productivity and self sufficiency, and focus my energy on what really matters to me.

At least once or twice a week, a well-meaning friend or relative tells me that they are praying for my body to be healed of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I fully appreciate that these assurances come from a very real desire to encourage, and to see a loved one relieved from pain and limitations. However, while I’m living with pain, fatigue, limitations, and grief, constantly being told that my loved ones are hoping for a miracle to befall me can feel like a lot of pressure, and even a denial of or a detachment from my reality. The truth is, I am very likely to deal with my illness in some way, shape, or form for the rest of my life. Some people with chronic illnesses are eventually able to find medications, diets, routines, exercise, or supplements that help them manage their symptoms, sometimes well enough that they can do the same things non-ill, able-bodied people can do most of the time. Some people with chronic illnesses find that they develop new conditions and disabilities as they age, or they have progressive illnesses that shift and gain or change symptoms as time goes on. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, we learn to manage our symptoms, which can be a long process, and we will likely have to keep managing them throughout our lives. That said, it is rare for people to make complete recoveries, so knowing that people I love are praying that I will be one of those few doesn’t necessarily feel good for several reasons:

  1. I feel pressured to seem more healthy because you’ve put faith in my healing. I’m still working out what I believe about God and suffering in light of all of this, so I don’t always feel equipped to help you understand my lack of healing or to comfort you about the chronic nature of my illness.
  2. I feel isolated by your choice to focus on my hypothetical future healing instead of choosing to be present to my pain and my life as it is now. It can feel like people are waiting for me to get well so we can have fun again, or so they can feel satisfied that I’m doing well and they don’t have to worry about me.
  3. It feels like you’re in denial about the chronic part of my chronic illness. It’s a lot of ongoing emotional work for me to make peace with the fact that I will be managing symptoms for the rest of my life (even though I do have hope it will get better than it is now). I am still grieving the loss of the life I hoped I’d have, and I welcome support and company in that process, but it only makes it harder when other people are so focused on their desire to see me ‘fixed’ that they can’t come alongside me and love me in my grief.
  4. These prayers for healing are often accompanied by the assertion that once healed I will be able to live out my purpose. This makes me uncomfortable for two main reasons. First, because implies that my life will not have purpose and meaning while I am disabled, which just isn’t true. Second, it makes me feel like you believe I deserve healing more than any of the other millions of people with illnesses and disabilities on the planet. Most people don’t become miraculously healed, so why should I be the exception? I have a great deal of privilege in other areas of my life, I have a supportive family, I am reasonably financially stable for a recent college graduate, I have enough education that I don’t have to find work that demands painful physical labor, etc. Yes, it’s still really difficult being chronically ill. But if someone gets a miracle, it shouldn’t be me.  
  5. It upholds cultural standards of productivity and health as determinants of worth. While I am often frustrated by my chronic pain and fatigue, I do believe I can have a rich, fulfilling life while being disabled. So, it can feel like your wish for me to be healed denies the potential value of my future with my illness, like my life would be worth more if I was healthy, which is an incredibly harmful narrative that is unfortunately pervasive in American culture.

Of course, people who don’t pray or believe in miracles do other things that evoke similar emotions: like suggesting expensive (medically dubious) miracle cures, or assuming that treatments are one size fits all. However, I have found it especially challenging to communicate with my religious friends about how they can love me through this, while still respecting their earnest faith and desire for my well-being. Now that I’ve communicated about how prayers for healing don’t comfort or support me, here are some ways that Christian anyone who wants to can love me and their other disabled/chronically ill friends, family, and neighbors:

  1. If praying is important to you, pray for me to have more good days than bad days this week, or pray for my community, family, and doctors to know how to support and care for me, whether or not I can be cured. I’d also suggest asking what I (or your neighbor/friend/family member) would like prayer for.
  2. Educate yourself a little about my illness/disability if you can, and do any emotional processing about it that you need to do with someone besides me. Having to teach and then comfort someone else about my illness is something that happens more often than you might expect. I don’t mind teaching people about my illness too much, but sometimes I don’t have the energy. It’s really hard for me to comfort someone else about my pain and fatigue. Please don’t make me do that. I know you want to show sympathy, but don’t make me reassure you that I’m okay, I’m dealing with a lot and it makes me feel like I can’t be honest with you about how I’m doing. (For more on this idea look up Circle of Grief/Ring Theory.)
  3. Take a little time to think about how you can come alongside me in my process and in my life as it is now. For many ill and disabled folks isolation and loneliness are huge frustrations, you can help with that by setting aside time for us, asking how we’re doing or if we want to process how we’re feeling, and do the work to sit with us wherever we’re at emotionally and physically without trying to fix us. Sometimes you can’t help, but you can always love.
  4. Remember that while my illness/disability impacts my whole life, I’m still a full person with inner and outer lives, who has valuable thoughts and ideas. Ask me what I’ve been thinking about, listening to, reading, etc. Sometimes your disabled friends’ outer lives are limited and we can’t work or get out much, so asking about our inner lives can be a good way to reassure us that that our lives are valuable, even when they aren’t materially productive.
  5. Think of us when you vote on issues that impact us. A major reason that life for people with illnesses and disabilities is so challenging is that American society largely isn’t inclusive or accessible to people who are not able-bodied. Advocating for inclusion and accessibility in our infrastructure, institutions, and cultural values is a huge way to support your disabled friends, family, and neighbors in living fulfilling lives with our disabilities (not in spite of them).
  6. Help us come up with fun ways to spend time with you within our limitations. Personally, I often worry that I’m not fun anymore, especially in particularly bad seasons of pain and fatigue. So I appreciate it anytime someone comes alongside me in the process of finding new ways to have fun together!
  7. Ask people what they need and how you can best support them. This list is obviously not exhaustive, everyone’s experiences of illness and disability are unique to them, so ask your loved ones how you can support them or what they need. It can be hard for me to ask people to do things for or with me that support me in my illness because I often worry about being a burden, but when people ask what I need and then offer support that meets those needs, I feel cared for and understood.

Dealing with grief and suffering, whether our own or someone else’s, isn’t something we’re very comfortable with in American culture. Many people have trouble connecting with others in grief, and don’t know what to say or do to offer support. So, well-meaning people fall back on generic platitudes, which aren’t necessarily wrong, but which can feel deeply isolating and simplistic when I’m living with the difficult reality of constant pain. Instead of relying only on hope, or prayer, or waiting-and-seeing to take care of your sick and disabled loved-ones, consider how you might couple your hopes and prayers for us with substantial action to make our lives a little better, easier, or brighter. Sometimes this action is as simple as being present and reminding your ill/disabled neighbors that the pain we deal with doesn’t detract from our personality, dignity, and value.

More writing I’ve done about illness, pain, and grief can be found here, here, and here.

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Tattoos and the Art of Process

This February and March mark the first anniversary of my chronic illness diagnosis (the anniversary spans a couple months because as some of you might know the diagnosis process for many chronic illnesses is long and weird–arguably I haven’t actually completed it yet). The onset of my illness and the many subsequent life adjustments that I’ve undergone, necessarily made 2016 a long, difficult, seminal chapter of my life. As the year drew to a close I began to reflect on what I had learned from it, how it had shaped me, and what I wanted to be different going forward. These reflections lead me to getting my second tattoo this January.

Chronic illness has challenged me to let go of my perfectionism in new ways. It’s difficult for me to accept that I am worthy of love whether or not I’m perfect, but as I struggled to process what being chronically ill meant about my abilities and my belovedness I was struck by the realization that nothing on earth that I love is perfect. The people who I love and think are amazing and beautiful are not perfect. The natural things I love–flowers, trees, the ocean–aren’t aesthetically or symmetrically, but I still think they’re stunning evidence that God is an artist and that earthly things contain the divine. So, why would the logic be any different in reference to myself? Maybe this line of thinking is obvious to many of you, but for me it was a new framework for gently addressing the flawed logic of my perfectionism. I wanted to give myself a reminder of this framework, and extend a symbolic peace offering to my body, so I settled on a tattoo that I felt would accomplish both.

Both of my tattoos have been symbols of process and reminders of the truest things about me. I find that having physical reminders of these truths can help me to embrace them, assisting me in the process of embracing myself, my purpose, and the world around me. The roses I got on my hip this January are a reminder to include myself and my body when I think about the beautiful divine imperfection of creation. The stars on my arm that I got three years ago serve to remind me that when life is dark there is light inside of me, in my relationship with my family members, and in my relationship with God. Art is amazing because of how it not only reminds us of what is true and visceral in life, but also because of how it changes our perspectives and our processes of transition and grief and creates space for the divine to manifest in our lives. For me, tattoos have allowed me to carry a little of that power with me.

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New Project!!

Hi everyone, obviously I haven’t been very active on this blog in the last 3 months, this is mainly because I have been working on a new project that launched just yesterday! A friend of mine and I have started Ignited magazine, an online magazine by and for people ages 18-26 who are seeking to follow Jesus in our every day lives through art, social justice, and personal development. You can check it out at ignitedmag.com.

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Franny and Zooey, and Jesus, and Me.

“But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew–knew–that we’re carrying the kingdom of heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look?” –J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey.

When I was seventeen, my family took our yearly summer vacation down to the hot, dry, almost completely vacant haven that is Palm Springs in August. It is a tradition in our family that on long car rides, my dad will read books, articles, or scripture out loud to us for a few hours along the way. On this particular trip he brought a small, paperback book that I had never heard of, and frankly had little interest on. It was called Franny and Zooey. Despite my lack of interest, I was hooked within pages. There was something so honest and true about the dialogue-heavy story that made me listen attentively and want more long after the book had ended.

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That fall I convinced my mom to let me read a selection of Salinger’s other works as part of my schoolwork. I read Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters. There are portions of Nine Stories that I now have almost memorized because I often carry it with me in my purse and reread it when I am bored. However, I never reread Franny and Zooey. Until this weekend, when, in an effort to center myself and direct my thoughts in a purposeful way, I reached for the nearest Salinger book, which happened to be none other than Franny and Zooey.

After a few minutes I came across a line that made me get up and find a highlighter. One of the main characters, Franny Glass, is trying to explain to her boyfriend the meaning of this book that she just can’t get off of her mind. The book in question is The Way of a Pilgrim and what Franny is stuck on is the concept of praying without ceasing which the main character in the book masters and shares with people he meets on his travels.

“–you only have to just do it with your lips at first–then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don’t know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person’s heartbeats, and then you’re actually praying without ceasing.”

Like Franny, I am very attracted to the idea of this centering heartbeat. The idea of having a sense of peace and belovedness that is so deep that you are constantly connected with the greater power of the universe, is something that I feel pulls at the very core of my being. However, I often struggle, like Franny does, to balance how I feel about my real life with how I feel about this otherworldly pull on my heart. The belief that it is because I am defective that I cannot attain this level of centeredness and clarity, is one that I often find myself fighting. I’ll think that if I was really good, and committed, and if I just worked hard enough, I could live in a constant state of peace, unconditional love, and a ceaseless sense of connection to God and the world around me. Alas, as both Franny and I seem to forget, that isn’t really how being a human works. You can strive for all the right things and deny your own desires, but still fall short of perfection. And to be honest, I think that a great deal of my and Franny’s shortsightedness comes from an inability to accept what is right in front of us–the truth about ourselves.

In the book, Franny puts her life on hold, allowing herself to become obsessed with the idea that if she prays this prayer she will find peace. She fears that, by doing anything else, she will fall prey to the egotism and materialism that she feels is consuming her peers. While remaining humble and unattached to possessions are worthy goals, Franny uses the prayer to distance herself from not only her own passions, but also her fellow human beings. Here the parallels between Franny and I breakdown somewhat. My criticism is more likely exercised on myself than on others, but the effects of my fears and unbalanced thought-patterns are often similar. They lead me to feel isolated, disconnected, unfocused, and un-accepting of myself. Pretty much the exact opposite of a centering heartbeat.

In Salinger’s novel, the counterargument to Franny’s desperate self denial and feelings of isolation is presented in the form of her debatably insufferable, but somehow also wise older brother, Zooey. Although a complete mess himself, Zooey is able to speak a jarring amount of truth into Franny’s predicament. In a conversation that had me reaching for my highlighter every three of four lines, he forces Franny to examine her beliefs and thought process more close, specifically pointing out that if she is praying the Jesus prayer in hopes of finding peace and to isolate herself from the difficulties and evils of life, then she doesn’t really understand Jesus. Zooey argues that a Jesus who flipped over tables and loves even the most egotistical and frustrating of humankind, isn’t a Jesus that is looking for detachment. He argues that what sets Jesus apart from other profits and philosophers was that he didn’t need to “keep in touch” with God, that he simply knew that there is no separation from God, whether we recognize it or not. Which brings us to the quote at the beginning of this post–a quote that has been running through my mind incessantly for the past couple of days.

“But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew–knew–that we’re carrying the kingdom of heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look?”

Is it just me, or is that a stunningly poignant statement to find in a book that consists entirely of conversations between rich, dysfunctional New Yorkers in the 1950s? (I could go on and on about the literary genius of Salinger for hours, but that is not the point of this blogpost, so I’ll refrain.)

My best self (that is, who I am when I feel confident and connected to something bigger than myself) understands Zooey’s argument completely. My best self is excited and moved by the prospect of discovering how to bring the kingdom of heaven that I carry inside of myself out into the world. But the line between that life-giving excitement and an irrational belief that I should be something beyond the realms of humanity can be dangerously thin. Franny too, seems to struggle with reconciling even her most noble human desires with her compulsion to detach herself wholly from worldly things. I often feel that I shouldn’t want anything. Even things that are good and make me a better person. I shouldn’t want to work a fulfilling job, I shouldn’t want to find a life partner, I shouldn’t want to feel loved and wanted by people in my life. But, as Zooey seems to argue (I say “seems” because Zooey is not the most straight-forward of talkers), it is our desires that make us human. We can’t get rid of them. We can decide how much we allow them to rule us, we can decide how we use them, but whether we acknowledge them or not, they are part of us. Living out our desires for love, fulfillment, and connection in a healthy, God-conscious way, is one of the most important things we can do to honor our Creator. (Note: when Zooey makes this point he speaks very metaphorically, so this is more interpretation than paraphrase on my part.)

The fact that I will never be more than human, may seem really obvious to most of you. But accepting all of the imperfections of humanity, while still appreciating the incredible beauty and responsibility of carrying the kingdom of heaven, is seriously challenging for me, to say the least. Sometimes I can feel it all at once and it’s completely overwhelming. However, every so often I catch glimpses of what balance might look like, and I am driven to learn to internalize and believe the truth that as flawed as humans are, we are infinitely more loved.

*if you have never read Franny and Zooey, please go do so and enjoy it for yourself instead of relying on my crummy (and highly selective) summarization.

The Irritation of Inspiration

Something I have become increasingly aware of over the past few years is that inspiration and passion are often accompanied by a great deal of frustration. Late last night I arrived home after spending the weekend at Wild Goose festival in North Carolina. Wild Goose, as I have mentioned before, is a yearly faith, arts and justice gathering; for me it is a hotbed of inspiration filled with incredibly passionate people from diverse walks of life all in differing points on their journeys. It’s fantastic. As you may know, it’s been difficult for me to find faith-oriented spaces that feel authentic and comfortable for me, so once a year Wild Goose gives me the opportunity to bask in a sense of community and shared values with all kinds of amazing people! Then I come home to find a surprising number of emotions and reflections waiting to be unpacked. So, here is this year’s bout of reflection-induced word vomit.

This year I was given the opportunity to speak, alongside my dad, twice at the festival. Although I have years of stage experience, speaking in a context where I admire so many of the other speakers was exciting, but also made me pretty nervous. I was surprised when, after our first talk, people came up to talk to me (something I have watched happen to my dad for years) to ask my advice on the topics we’d addressed in our interview-style presentation lead by the amazing Mickey ScottBey Jones. We had discussed intentional living in the context of engaging with issues of race, poverty, and injustice in our neighborhood as people with great privilege. Specifically, we shared our journeys in becoming awakened to issues that primarily affect our neighbors of color in ways we hadn’t even realized. Figuring out how to engage with and love my neighborhood is something I have thought about and grappled with extensively. I wrestle a lot with questions like, “How do I do this while I am busy with the commitments of being a college student?” and “How do I find ways to engage with those around me that feel safe? How do I take into consideration that I am a young woman and can’t necessarily interact with everyone the same way my dad does, while still trying to live into a sense of overall safety and provision?” It’s hard to admit, when asked for advice by people who have just spent an hour listening to me and my dad talk, that I haven’t really found the answers yet.

This is where the frustration of inspiration and passion comes into play. I was excited to speak. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity. I hope that I was able to provide some insight or encouragement that was helpful to the people who heard me… But when it’s all over I almost feel a bit fraudulent. Being fairly idealistic and very verbal I am great at talking the talk. I can discuss matters of justice for hours and feel passionate and engaged with the subject and the people I am talking with. However, at this point in my life, the walk that I am trying to walk to live out my convictions isn’t very exciting and doesn’t involve grand actions or ongoing integral involvement with certain movements or organizations. My actions are personal–a series of individual choices I am making about how I live that may not even be perceivable from the outside. It doesn’t feel like enough, but from what I know of myself, nothing will ever feel like enough until I am able to shift my understanding of what “enough” is. This will likely involve me learning not to compare myself with others, as well as convincing myself that it’s okay to be a work in progress and not have it all figured out yet (oof, that’s gonna be a lot of work).

I want to encourage others who may be in a similar position as I feel myself to be, especially students and young adults that it’s okay if you’re not in the position to become a professional activist (or the whatever equivalent for your passions is) in your 20s. If you are, that’s fantastic, good for you, keep fighting the good fight! However, caring deeply about issues of justice, but not being able to drop everything and become an activist or community organizer or movement leader doesn’t make you a hypocrite. That is probably really obvious to some of you, but I have to constantly remind myself that there are lots of ways in which I am making personal decisions that reflect my values and that are setting me up to do the thing that I believe are most important.

A quick (but not that quick, let’s be real, brevity is not one of my strengths) example of where I am currently feeling this tension most acutely is in the job I recently got working at Peet’s coffee. As someone who has only ever worked for nonprofit organizations until now, and who is passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing, working at a large, corporate coffee shop (that only sells one fair trade blend) isn’t ideal and is something I struggle to feel okay about. However, I am also very committed to be able to pay my share of my college tuition and graduate without debt so that I have the freedom to do work that is meaningful to me without the impending doom of college loans. Not to mention, being able to take courses on topics like the history of race relations in the US and getting to study inspiring activists from history has been incredible formative and valuable in shaping my views and understanding on lots of issues I am passionate about.

So, does the value of my education and the ways in which I believe my education will allow me to engage with the world and help others balance out the questions I have about working for a company I don’t wholly agree with? I am not actually sure. I am trying to remember that it matters that I am putting time and thought and energy into living in a way that resonates with my values and sense of purpose. I am trying to remember that I am working hard in school, in my relationships, in my daily practices  , to become the kind of person who will do the right thing and take the big leaps of faith for what is true and what is right when the times comes. And no, that doesn’t feel like I am doing enough. But maybe that’s okay? Maybe that’s what will keep me striving for better. IMG_6783

When Loving Your Neighbors Means Marching

On Friday night I had the honor of participating in a vigil and march in memory of our neighbor Amilcar Lopez-Perez. It being only my third march, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To be completely honest I was a little nervous because I knew that the autopsy report released earlier yesterday had rightly angered many people. However, I was humbled by how beautiful and powerful the evening was.

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We started at the place of the killing, right around the corner from my house and marched to the local police station where we had a die-in and left candles along with the names of our brothers and sisters lost to police violence written in chalk. At both locations we had interfaith memorial and prayer time, including moving rituals performed by a local first nations group, Danzantes Xitlali, and prayers lead by local clergy. The legal team also revealed the autopsy report which went public earlier friday proving that Amilcar  was shot six times in the back as he fled for his life from the plain-clothes officers who accosted him. After our stop at the police station we continued our march to a local church where we were offered free dinner and spent some time talking and eating in community.

The wonderful community leaders and clergy who organized the vigil and march did an amazing job setting the tone for a peaceful, sincere, passionate protest and I am so grateful to them for their hard work. I am proud of my dad who has gotten really involved in this and has earnestly sought to support our black and brown neighbors in protesting this issue that so disproportionately affects them.

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photo by Lydia Chávez via missionlocal.org

I also had the incredible honor of meeting and listening to the powerful words of pastor Michael McBride who eloquently encouraged and prayed beautifully over our protest in front of the police station. I admire pastor McBride very much both as an activist and a Christian, so getting to shake his hand and exchange a few words meant a lot to me. More importantly his presence at the protest was very powerful.

I don’t go to church. I rarely find myself engaged in shared spiritual experiences outside of my family, the majority of my God moments are things I experience and reflect upon within myself, even when those moments are a reaction to something outside of myself. However, I felt so many God moments at the protest last night. Listening to the words of pastor McBride and local priest, father Richard Smith, standing in unity with people of all creeds and backgrounds who are passionately seeking justice, truth, and love, and trying to understand the pain felt by the families of those who have been lost to police violence, some of whom were with us. All of these experiences (and others, I am sure, that I can’t describe) felt so real, so much bigger than all of us standing in front of the police station, and so connected to a larger story.

photo by Lydia Chávez via missionlocal.org
photo by Lydia Chávez via missionlocal.org

It was a powerful and spiritually moving evening and I am so thankful to have gotten to be a part of it, yet so sad that such protests are necessary. May we, through our actions and with our voices, help to bring about a world in which our children won’t have to march to protest the unnecessary killing of their brothers and sisters by those employed to protect them. May we one day see evidence that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend towards justice.

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.