Thursday, January 22, 2009

Teaching History to Children

Here are a couple of snippets from my week with my students:

(After reading a biography on Martin Luther King, Jr. with my fourth graders)

Amanda: I have a question, Mrs. McCullohs.
Me: Sure, Amanda.
Amanda: Was Dr. King the President?
Me: No, Amanda, he was a very influential leader, but not ever president.
Vanessa: Did the black people have their own president?
Me: No, they were and are American citizens, like everyone else. We all have the same president.
Amanda: So, the U.S. only had white presidents?
Me: Yep.
Me: Soo...
(I give them a probing look...but am only greeted with more silence)
Me: So, Barack Obama is our first black president.
Vanessa and Amanda: Whoa!
Me: Where have you guys been these past 3 months??

(Later in the week with another 4th grade group)

Text: Although Dr. King believed in nonviolence his enemies did not. Crosses were burned on his lawn and his house was bombed. Still, he did not give up.

Ahmed: (frantically covering the paragraph with his hands) Uh, oh, Mrs. McCullohs! I'm not allowed to read about this!
Me: What do you mean? No one was hurt.
Ahmed: No, it's against my religion. I can't talk about crosses and stuff.
Me: Ahmed, the book isn't talking about Jesus or telling you what you should believe. I'm not trying to convert you. It's history, Ahmed.
Ahmed: (with a look of relief) Oh...
Me (desired response): According to your own Koran, Ahmed, Jesus was a prophet and is no threat to Islam. Let's get it straight before you start trying to separate religion from culture and culture from history. I'm supposed to read you guys books with Native American spirit quests, African healing rituals, Mohammad's fast of Ramadan and Lon Po's dead ancestors. Don't tell me I can't tell you why a cross was burned on Dr. King's front lawn.
Me (actual response): Let's keep reading.

(Again, with my brilliant fourth graders)

Text: Martin found inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, a leader from India who believed in nonviolence. Even after Martin was arrested, he still preached "love your enemies."

Me: Brief discourse on the history of violence throughout the ages and how radical it was to try to change things without force. I'm getting emotional here, and passionate. Once again, I'm personally awed by Gandhi and Dr. King's respective feats.
Once I'm finished, there's a pause for effect.
Gia: If someone arrested me, they'd wake up the next day unconscious in Cuba.
Me (actual response): Seriously, Gia?
Me (desired response): That's not cute. That's not funny. That doesn't even make sense. I can't wait to take you back to class.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I heard a first yesterday.

While driving home and listening to NPR, I heard an interview of Bishop V. Gene Robinson. Robinson is the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal church. He advised Barack Obama on gay-rights issues during the primaries and has recently been invited to say the opening prayer at the inaugural kick-off. You can listen to the interview (5 minutes) here:

The interviewer asked Robinson if he was able to glean any inspiration by reading through inaugural prayers of the past. Robinson stated that the effect was exactly the opposite. He was dismayed at how "aggressively Christian" the prayers had been. Robinson said that he would strive to be more inclusive of all religions in his prayer, that he would not invoke the name of Jesus, and, in fact, that he would be addressing his prayer to "the-god-of-many-understandings."


While the interviewer was impressed with this new term, I was not. On a political level, I would prefer that Obama recruit representatives of all different faiths to pray to their respective gods. Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Yahweh--let's give them each their proper address. This invented, edgy term, Mr. Robinson, is simply bound to get the wires of communication crossed in the heavens/Sheol/nirvana/afterlife other-worlds.

Without indulging too much into the apologetic argument against pluralism, this term simply doesn't work. The beauty of Christ is that He is God-Revealed-To-Us. John rightly said that no one could see or understand God, so God-the-Son explained Him to us. My conviction is that my religion is different than all others and everything in between because it is not my self's brilliant concoction of "what works for me." The beliefs I own, the worldview I hold to, are not self-invented. To a more accurate end, they are not even man-invented. The little light that I have has been revealed.

I have within me a deep rejection of this idea of this god-of-many-understandings because I know I am prone to worship him. The-god-of-my-understanding and I have a familiar history. He presents himself as an attractive alternate to God-Revealed-to-Us (Christ) whenever I come across scripture with which I struggle.

I am tempted to partake in a "buffet-bible"- I like this over here, so I'll put it on my plate of convictions, not so sure about that stuff, so I'll just pass on it. There exist serious stumbling blocks in the Bible that I have made a career of trying to jump over. My toes are now bandaged, but every now and then the wounds feel fresh. And yet I persist in receiving God's word unedited, in spite of my biases, personal life experiences and impaired understanding.

Instead me requiring that God accommodate himself to my comprehension and my lifestyle, He has required that I accommodate myself and my worldview to Him and His. He gave the command, "be holy, for I am holy." We are the ones who are to apply ourselves to his truth which has already been revealed.

Come January 20, let's pray to God-Revealed-To-Us. Let's ask Him to guide this nation and bring attention to Himself. Let's also ask Him to guard our hearts against the seductive inclination to imagine Him as we would like, and not as He Is.

The-god-of-many-understandings is alive and well today, but we bow to One who will receive all glory and praise. May our knees be worn and our minds be changed in this present as we look to that day.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My Resolutions for Someone Else

There's so much talk right now of New Year's resolutions. It's a beautiful idea-- we take time every year to reflect on the past and to resolve to become our better selves. On our recent trip to visit my family in West Palm Beach, Neal and I talked about resolutions and goals for 2009. He told me his and I silently praised God for the hope for change (I'm feeling sarcastic and curt right now, so brace yourself). Then, he proceeded to tell me his ideas for what should be my resolutions. Under normal circumstances, I would receive these suggestions because he genuinely desires for me to succeed in life. However, in this post and with my current sour attitude, I will simply thank my dear husband for the pristine inspiration to write what follows.

My Resolutions for Someone Else:

Obama--I will hire the world's best PR consultant to manage my wife's seething bitterness.

Jen Moore--This year, I will painstakingly let my natural color grow back in to save money and make April feel better about her brunette status. Then, I will blog about how much more seriously people take me because I am no longer blonde.

Stephen Colbert--I will dro the consanan at the end of every wor to really prov I speak Fren.

Brad Saab--This year, I will write my own personality test, proving that I am a pack of timber wolves.

Rick Warren--I'm gonna hold a non-partisan debate between Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. I will charge for tickets to raise money for our struggling congregation.

Britney Spears--I will hire Michelle Obama's PR consultant to manage my image.

Meghan Stewart-- I am going to have a storybook wedding, honeymoon and happily ever after.

China --We have no resolutions. Number 1, it's not yet our new year. Number 2, we had glaring human rights violations, censorship and underage athletes during the summer Olympics. The world praised our opening ceremonies. What is there to change?

Angelina Jolie--I'm going to continue to purge my sins through procreation. And, I'm going to piss April McCullohs off with my gorgeous lips. Muwah.

Fidel Castro--Viva la Revolucion! I am going to live through another 40 years of Cuban communism.

Keifer Sutherland--I will speak in a whisper at all times so people will take me seriously. Um, a quieter whisper.

So, that's it! Next New Year's, when the world around you is sincerely vowing to lose that weight, to get up earlier and to be kinder, fight the urge to enlighten yourself and write a list for others. Come February, they'll be feeling guilty, you won't and you'll still have your list.