Why “God is Sovereign” Is Not Enough (And What You Can Do Instead)

I’m in an interesting place right now. Things are going really well for me personally, and for my immediate family, in most areas. It’s the outside world I’m worried about. It seems like it’s going to hell in the proverbial handbasket, literally being dismantled before my eyes, and that I have no power to help or do anything to prevent the collapse.

I’m speaking, of course, about the catastrophe that begins with the inauguration this Friday, and also about a work situation that I can’t be too specific about. Both of these situations are out of my control, and both are hurting people I care about. And that hurts me, very much.

I have had some iteration of the phrase, “Don’t worry, God is sovereign,” thrown at me twice in the last 24 hours, by two different people, in response to each of these issues.

Situation 1: Yesterday, in a conversation about the work issue, a person in a position of power who is not directly affected by the situation told a group that basically all we could do was pray and have faith that God has “got this.”

Situation 2: Today at school, one of my fifth graders, who has been continuously worried since November 8th about his parents being deported, was literally crying so hard he couldn’t breathe or speak. I knew that he had had trouble sleeping as we got closer and closer to the inauguration, and he said that he had been having terrible nightmares about what would happen once DJT became president. I am powerless to do anything to help beyond say how sorry I am, that I care about him, and that we would get through it together.

I posted about this on Facebook, because I feel that the least I can do at this moment is make people aware about the real children who are being affected by this incoming administration. An acquaintance commented that she wasn’t a Trump supporter but 1) my student’s fear wasn’t caused by Trump, but by his/her parents being irresponsible and sharing too much about their fear of Trump, and 2) that we shouldn’t worry because “God is sovereign and we are under his protection, not the government.”

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image via pixabay.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s easy to say that God is in control if a situation doesn’t affect you.

It’s easy to say that God is sovereign if you’re not worried.

It’s easy to say that God has “got this” if you have nothing to fear.

If you feel the need to make this comment to me, I will clap back pretty hard. I am OVER IT. This statement is true, but useless. If someone is a Christian, they already know it, and if they aren’t a Christian, it’s meaningless.

As I see it, it is this kind of thing that makes Christians seem so out of touch with the rest of the world. This does not make people want to be like you. It makes them run away from you. This statement, unaccompanied by any concrete action or a sincere apology for their pain, is judgmental, unhelpful and unkind.

So, I’ve been thinking about some things that people can do and say that are more helpful, even if they don’t share the same concerns. If you feel like telling someone worried about Trump (or really anything) that God is in control, try one of these things instead:

    1. Tell them you’re really sorry they’re upset. You don’t have to agree with them to do this. (To be fair, my acquaintance did eventually say this in our conversation this afternoon.)
    2. Ask: “How can I help?” Then do what they say. If they would like prayers, pray for them, but don’t say “I’ll pray for you” in a judgmental way to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.
    3. Tell them you hope their fears will prove unfounded. (Don’t say their fears aren’t valid.)
    4. About Trump specifically: Write or call your representative and ask them to hold Trump accountable to the norms of the U.S. government. You can do this even if you are not personally worried about a Trump presidency.

How do you feel about the “God is sovereign” comment? And how are you feeling about Friday?

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U.S. History, the Arc of the Universe and a Trump Presidency

One of my favorite parts of this school year has been teaching social studies to my third grade ESL kids. I have this class first thing every morning. This instructional delivery method of English is what is called sheltered content instruction, meaning that I teach the grade-level content that all third grade students learn, while providing language support and extra vocabulary instruction to make the content comprehensible. (This is a little teacher-y but hang with me for a moment.) I love history, and I’ve never gotten the chance to teach it before. It’s a great way to start the day.

The third grade curriculum focuses most units of study on a historical figure. Students learn about each person in depth while learning about the surrounding historical context. It goes in chronological order, so we’ve done Paul Revere, ancient Greece and the foundations of U.S. democracy, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and next Mary McCleod Bethune. By the end of the year we will also learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez, among others.

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image via Pixabay.com

It’s so interesting to trace the story of our country for children. One thing that I’ve been reminded of this year is how much of the story is about people’s triumph over systems of oppression. My spiel at the beginning of each new unit of study goes something like this, to tie everything we’ve learned together:

“So we started the year talking about Paul Revere. Remember that Paul Revere and the American colonists wanted to be free from England because they wanted a democracy, where people could choose their leaders and everyone would be treated equally. But we’ve learned that America wasn’t free and fair for everyone. Who wasn’t treated equally? (Black people, women, etc.) The next person we’re going to learn about helped to make America a more fair country for everyone, and that person’s name is ________.”

(I’m not injecting my personal opinion here, by the way. This is literally what the standard says to teach: “Students will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.”)

Children are so clear-eyed about what’s right and what’s wrong. These kids don’t have  much background knowledge about U.S. history, so they’re hearing everything basically for the first time. When I taught them about the institution of slavery in the United States they were a) horrified and b) surprised that it had been allowed to happen. The same for women not being allowed to vote.

History is speaking to me a lot right now as we are going into the Trump presidency. In many ways it feels like we are taking a big step backward. Unprompted by me, my students have made this connection as well. “Mrs. Love, Donald Trump doesn’t think that black people and people who speak Spanish are as good as white people like him. It’s just like it was a long time ago.”

A Trump presidency hurts partly because it disrupts the narrative that so many of us have always believed; that our current president up until now has seemed to believe. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” U.S. history seemed, until now, to show this. Gradually, painfully, slowly, our country really has become a more free and fair place for everyone. Not perfect, certainly, but better. Does that “bending toward justice” stop now? And what should our response be? As citizens? As thinking people? For me, as a teacher? A white person?

I think the big, unsettling question right now is about whether DJT is a four-year aberration or a signal of fundamental change in the arc of the universe. I don’t think anyone can know the answer yet.

How I’m Hitting My Stride As A Teacher

What determines a person’s workplace happiness, or lack thereof?

Is it your supervisor’s personality? Their management style? Your coworkers? The task you’re there to do? The amount of freedom you’re given? Or some combination of all of these?

I ask because I am happier at work than I’ve ever been. I’ve been reflecting on the reasons why.

I am teaching at such a sweet little school this year. Our school is small; only 320 students. I know just about everyone there, at least by sight, and by now they know me, too. Kids who aren’t even my students say hi and wave to me in the hallway. A kindergartner who I don’t know kissed my hand this morning.

 

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image via Pexels.com

Even though my school is 100% free/reduced lunch, we don’t have a lot of behavior problems, which are two things that unfortunately tend to go together. This leads to most teachers feeling pretty happy to be at work, which makes for a cheerful environment to go to every day. Any experienced teacher can tell you that a school’s environment makes a huge difference in what it is like to work there. You can feel it and see it in subtle ways as soon as you walk in a building.

I’m also happy because I’m being given a lot of freedom to teach what I want to teach, how I want to teach it. If I decide to pull a group, I can pull a group; if I decide to push in, I can push in.

I don’t have someone breathing down my neck telling me I have to do guided reading at a table in the homeroom class all day. I think once my administrators saw that I knew what I was doing they pretty much left me alone to do it. Which I appreciate! Because by now I do know what I’m doing most of the time.

So I’m getting to teach ESL through really fun, rich content that’s the same things students are learning in their homeroom classes: 3rd grade social studies and 4th grade english/language arts concepts and 5th grade reading remediation (which doesn’t sound fun but is, in this case).

I love my students, and they love me back. Most are eager and want to learn. They are also needy. I am buying clothes and books and making social work referrals. But don’t count them out! I have a feeling our progress this year is going to be something to see.

Years ago I once said that I loved teaching ESL so much that I would do it for free. Over the last few years I lost that. I got bogged down with school politics and who was talking about whom and whose parents didn’t care and which teachers weren’t any good. In some ways I lost sight of why I became a teacher. I still knew why, intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart anymore. I needed a year away doing something else to come back to it refreshed.

But now when I am teaching about Frederick Douglass or the three branches of government, elements of poetry or phonetic vs. non-phonetic words, I am thinking: This is what I was born to do.

I know no one asked me, but if I have any advice to give new and/or pre-service teachers, it would be the following:

  1. Pay very close attention to the vibe you get from administrators. That will set the tone of the school. Ask them about their management and evaluation style.
  2. A school with a negative environment will kill your soul, and it’s almost impossible for one person to change it despite their good intentions. Visit the school before agreeing to work there, during a school day if you can. What do you see when you walk through the halls? How are adults talking to children? Do kids and adults look happy? This is important.
  3. No matter what the school environment is like, make a work friend! You need someone to talk to about all of the craziness that happens on a daily basis.

I’m feeling grateful and blessed.

What do you think is the main thing that leads to happiness at work, and why? And if any young teachers would like advice from me about work, I’d be happy to give it!

For Those Who Are Not Ok

This post was also featured on Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

Well.

Donald Trump has been elected the next president of the United States.

How is that sitting with you today?

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image via pixabay.com

As regular readers know, I teach ESL to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at an “inner city” elementary school in Atlanta. My 45 students are all Latino but one, primarily 2nd generation Mexican-Americans. And this week has been, by far, the worst since I began teaching seven years ago.

I’m not sure which was the worst moment this week:

  1. On Wednesday, when 2nd graders who can barely speak English asked me why Donald Trump and other white people in America don’t like them, and one boy said brightly, “Mrs. Love, I’m white too, look!” as he held his arm up next to mine to compare our skin colors.
  2. On Wednesday, when my 5th graders asked me very detailed questions about when and how their parents (and possibly they themselves) would be deported. “How do we get papers for our parents? Is it too late now?” “What do we do when the police come to our house? Do we try to hide or…?”
  3. When I tried to offer reassurance that everything would be ok, these same students said, “You keep saying it’s going to be ok but it won’t be. It will be ok for you, but not for us.” And they are right.
  4. On Thursday, when multiple 4th graders told me their families were planning to preemptively move back to Mexico or Honduras before January 2oth. These are places these children have never known except through brief visits, if that.

As a reminder if you’ve been living under a rock, Donald Trump has promised to deport anywhere from 2 to 11 million illegal immigrants, and has said that citizen children of illegal immigrants could also be deported. Don’t believe he said this? Look here and here.

Every single one of my students is a U.S. citizen. Though I do not know the details, I suspect that some/many/most of their parents may not be. (Do you see how the upcoming Trump presidency is already making me scared to be definitive in writing?)

What I am hearing from my children is twofold: 1) We are scared of Donald Trump and what he wants to do to our families and 2) We are shocked that people in America, the only home we have ever known, are ok with this happening to us.

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image via pixabay.com

It is worth noting that I suspect my students haven’t encountered much racism in their lives up to this point. This part of Atlanta is overwhelming inhabited by people of color, and I had already guessed that that I was one of the only white people these children have known in real life. (Read more about that here.) Our school has two white students in it and three white teachers, including me. So this feeling of being an outsider in the place that is their home is entirely new for these children, and strange.

I watched the election returns in horror on Tuesday night. I will never forget the feeling of what a horrible, awful shock that night was – like a punch to the gut. I thought about *Maria, my 3rd grader who was so excited at the prospect of a woman president. I teach sheltered content 3rd grade Social Studies to Maria’s group, and our current unit happens to be on democracy and the three branches of government. Maria always draws a woman when asked to draw a picture of the Executive Branch. I thought about how disappointed she would be.

The nausea stayed with me for the rest of the week until about Friday afternoon. I had a hard time eating and sleeping. Wednesday was particularly bad. I cried off and on throughout the day.

And why was that? I know not everyone gets it. I’m seeing a lot of complaining on Facebook from conservative friends about “whiny safe-space liberals” and people being overdramatic. Even my husband, who is basically apolitical, bless him, encouraged me to try to relax and not tear myself up prematurely over something that hasn’t happened yet. I appreciate that.

But this is my response to those who can’t or choose not to understand why people are upset: If you have nothing to fear you don’t get to say that everything will be ok. Like my student said, we know everything will be ok for YOU. That’s not the point.

As a side note, I continue to be embarrassed by many of my fellow evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly supported Trump. I just don’t get it. If a presidential candidate’s racism, sexism, misogyny and xenophobia are minor character flaws that you are able to look past, you are a) very privileged indeed and b) not at all looking out for the least of these as we are called in the Bible.

(Feel free to rail at me about how abortion is the worst evil our country has ever known. I am pro-life, for what it’s worth.)

So now what? That’s what I’ve been pondering since Tuesday night. I will be an ally. I will advocate for my students, their families, and the millions of others like them across this country. I will speak for them. I will write for them, starting with writing to my Senators and Congressmen this week. I will get more politically involved. I will be all in.

I will also hope and pray that everything will be ok, because I have this luxury. But I will work on behalf of those who fear things won’t ever be ok again.

*Name has been changed.

 

What I’ve Learned from Being White in a Black World

I am a white woman. All my life, I have been surrounded by people who looked just like me. Though I have lived in many different places, starting when I was a child the one constant I could be sure of was that when I walked in to a space, I would find many people who looked and talked like I did. This affected how I carried myself, my comfort level and my confidence. No matter where I went, I felt like I belonged and like I had a right to be there. This was true of my schools, churches, workplaces, stores, etc. You name it.

I have never been the minority. Until now.

In my new life in Atlanta, it is common for me to walk into places (especially in and around where I work) and be one of only a few white people there. At first I felt uncomfortable to stand out so much. I felt like I was being watched or judged for being different when I just wanted to blend in. My own voice sounded strange and awkward to my ears. At work, kids had lots of questions about my eyes and hair, because most of them had never had a white teacher before.

And then it hit me…this is how life is for people of color EVERY. DAY. Times about 100.

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Atlanta. image via pixabay.com

When we first moved, I felt some trepidation when I entered a space as the only white person in the room. Now I’m more used to it. I’m making friends and fitting in. I have been treated with respect and kindness everywhere I have gone, but it has taken some getting used to, this feeling like maybe you don’t quite belong. Even if no one says anything.

So what I’m realizing in a whole new way is how much harder it is for a person of color in a white environment, when unfortunately white people often DO say something. When white people often perform microaggressions upon people of color on a daily basis and think nothing of it.

I’ve also seen how, as a white minority, I still benefit from white privilege everywhere I go. I can go into a sketchy-looking gas station with bullet-proof glass around the cash register and not have to worry about anyone bothering me, or about the cashier staring at me to make sure my hands are visible at all times. Instead, people tell me I look like a teacher and thank me for what I do. True story. (More than once.)

When I see a cop, I don’t have to worry too much about being stopped by him or her, and about what might happen if I did get stopped. Even though I have a tendency to speed and my car tag is out of date. (Oops.) I don’t have to be scared of an interaction with the police.

So I am thankful. I’m thankful for this experience of life as a minority, and I wish I could have had it earlier. I lived in a comfortable, sheltered suburban white Christian bubble for far too long, and one of the reasons I’m happy we moved to Atlanta is that my son’s experience is going to be different.

Jonah will learn early that there are lots of different kinds of people in the world and that white is not the “right” way to look and act. He will have classmates and friends of different races from an early age. He will learn that diversity is beautiful, that the world does not look like an evangelical church on Sundays. He will learn that as a white, privileged person he can be a voice against society’s subjugation of black Americans and other minority groups.

If you as a white person have never been in the minority anywhere, I suggest you try it. White people can never truly understand the daily experiences of people of color, but flipping the script and engaging in an environment that’s not all about you is a good place to start.

Rainy day reflections

I’m sitting here at Barnes and Noble, drinking an iced coffee and eating a pumpkin muffin. Today it’s raining all day, but it feels like fall, and that is something to be celebrated. Jonathan encouraged me to steal a couple of hours away this afternoon (sweet man!). I should be working on guided reading lesson plans, which is purportedly what I came here to do, but instead I want to return to my long-neglected blog.

I haven’t been writing for a couple of reasons: 1) I forgot how much creativity good teaching requires. I also forgot how tired I am by the end of the day. After Jonah is asleep and I have time to myself I haven’t been able to muster the energy or creativity to write anything. 2) I have been deliberating on what to write publicly about my job. More on that below.

We’ve been in Atlanta as a family for a little over a month now. For the most part, the transition has been a dream. For example:

  1. We absolutely love our new home. We are settled in and about 97% of the way unpacked. The house is such a blessing for our family and so much more than we could ever have afforded or expected to have on our own without family support.
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    Our backyard view
  2. Jonah has transitioned amazingly well to my mom watching him during the week. He didn’t seem to really be phased by the change. He absolutely loves his Nonni and looks forward to going to her house. At the same time, he talks often (every day or two) about all of the family we left behind in NC. When Jonathan’s parents visited over Labor Day, Jonah picked back up with them as though we had never been apart. I like to think that his heart is big enough to hold love for the multitude of people who inhabit his world.14262843_1607457612887825_1594653374_n
  3. Jonathan quickly and easily got a job working from home that he will likely be able to continue once he starts school in the spring.
  4. We think we have found a new church home here.
  5. I’m loving my job. If you remember, during my job search I got a very, very strong sense that this job was the one that was right for me, though the others seemed to make more sense practically. I haven’t been disappointed.

As I mentioned above, I’ve made the decision that the wisest course of action is not to talk about my job in detail on the blog. This may seem like CYA (cover your …), but my school system tends to get a fair amount of attention, and I’m just trying to be smart. Here are the important points:

  • I feel more effective than I ever have as an ESL teacher. The time away from the classroom in an administrative role made me a better teacher.
  • I feel respected. I’m not a novice teacher anymore. It’s nice to have people come to me for help instead of it always being the other way around.
  • I like working with almost all older students. Upper elementary, baby!
  • Many days I am home at 3:30. That is something I never would have predicted when we decided to move to Atlanta.

6. I feel a great sense of balance in my life since we moved. Jonathan and I are getting         more date nights out and quality time together than we have since Jonah was born. Being home earlier in the afternoon means more time with Jonah. Even though I’m now commuting 25 minutes to work, I’m actually spending less time in the car than I did this previous year between taking Jonah to and from daycare, going to and from tutoring, my in-laws house, etc.

This will have to be all for now. Thanks to everyone who hung around and waited for a new post from me! I promise it won’t be this long until the next time I write. In the meantime…enjoy fall!

We Did It!

Well, we did it! The whole family is here in Atlanta and we are spending our first night in the new house. In the past two weeks, I have:

  1. Driven from Greensboro to Atlanta with Jonah by myself
  2. Gone on vacation with my family 
  3. Started a new job
  4. Driven all over Atlanta to accomplish various tasks related to starting my job 
  5. Gone back to Greensboro to help Jonathan get the rest of our stuff and the dogs

I am worn out! More to come…