The history of liberty may be different than what we grew up believing. As adults, we need to learn to fact-check, listen, and ask questions. If we don’t use our liberty, we could lose it.
Self-care means taking care of our moral compass. As the elections in the United States start heating up the airwaves and polarizing the population, maybe it’s time to remagnetize our moral compass. When we align ourselves with Jesus, we find it easier to wade through the rhetoric and continue moving in the right direction.
A Heritage of Liberty
“I had no idea Paul Revere had so many children,” I said to our girls as we stood outside his Boston, MA house.
“Sixteen kids?” Laura said. “Imagine all the diapers!”
“I can’t imagine. Having the two of you in diapers at once about drove me crazy!”
“Which one of his children are we related to?” Laura asked as she ran her finger down the list of names on the bronze plaque.
“I’d have to check my papers,” I said, “my Grandma Bonlie had it all mapped out.”
I took in the humble home, awed by all my ancestors had gone through to gain liberty. Liberty to conduct business as they pleased, to make laws that suited their circumstances and economy, and freedom to worship as they pleased.
Guilt plucked at my musings, though. For the first three decades of my voting life, I had remained largely apolitical. Had I squandered my heritage in some way?
I grew up in a church that preached and protected the separation of church and state. The idea of involving myself in politics in any way—whether working for a campaign or posting a political sign in my front yard seemed to go against this upbringing. Or maybe I just suffered from laziness.
I can only remember my parents discussing politics twice. Once when we went to a rally in West Virginia to see presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, and once shortly after Barak Obama took office. We never discussed political candidates (local or national), nor do I even know for sure what political party my parents follow. I have a vague inkling that my paternal grandfather voted Republican.
Because I had the religious liberty I wanted, I saw no need to sully myself with politics. All of that changed eight years ago.
The End of My Christian Complacency
“The Grand Canyon formed through erosion over millions of years,” the park ranger told our students.
“Ha! That’s what you think,” one of my students quietly scoffed under his breath. Later on, I asked him why he said that.
“Mrs. Ojeda, our people have lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for over 800 years. Our ancestors tell us the canyon formed from a big flood. I hate it when the rangers just tell one side of the story.”
“Why doesn’t your tribe do something to protest?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t do any good. The government just does what it wants.”
“Don’t you believe in the power of voting and making changes?”
He laughed outright. “Our tiny tribe can’t change anything through voting. We didn’t even get to vote until 1968.”
His words shocked me. When we returned from our trip to the Grand Canyon, I searched the Internet and discovered that, indeed, the Havasupai hadn’t voted until 1968 Even today, the tribe members struggle to vote.
Even more troubling, I discovered that Native Americans still get excluded from the voting system. Things that would never occur to us prevent thousands of Native Americans from exercising their liberty and voting.
Reservations don’t have standardized physical addresses (many residents use PO boxes)—no physical address, no vote. Many of our students experience a high level of homelessness. Not only do they live off the grid (many don’t have running water or reliable electricity at home), but they live on the fringes. Lost birth certificates mean they can’t get ID, apply for scholarships, or get a job.
Finding Myself in Fantasyland
I grew up in a lily-white fantasy where everyone got the same deal I did: a two-parent home, economic stability sprinkled with economic hardship, education, transportation, freedom of religion, freedom from censure based on my skin color, and freedom to make my own choices. It has taken me decades to understand I lived in a fantasy world.
What I experienced does not line up with what my students experience. They feel as if they have no agency in their lives, and the lack of agency is enhanced by government bureaucracy.
As a case in point, it took 600 miles of travel, $250 in fees, and over 10 hours of phone calls and sitting in lines to help three of my students get copies of their birth certificates and replacement Social Security cards.
Leaving fantasyland has taken a lot of hard work on my part. My reading list expanded from books that made me feel comfortable about my place in the world to books that made me question everything I thought I knew.
I read books like—The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Massacre at Sand Creek, Navajos Wear Nikes, Jacksonland, The Indigenous People’s History of the United States, and Killers of the Flower Moon.
What I read and what I saw caused me to rethink the narratives I’d listened to my entire life about Native Americans, poverty, and my Christian duty. Especially when I started teaching U.S. Government and History.
I discovered that my students feel they had no agency to change things. Even though I stayed apolitical most of my adult life, I knew my votes mattered. I knew I could discuss ideas and try to influence others. But my students? They knew none of this nor did they believe me when I told them.
The Burden of Liberty
I found it easy to armchair quarterback the problems of other races and socioeconomic groups. But I have discovered I know just about as much about breaking the cycle of poverty as I do about quarterbacking.
The problems have more nuance than a simple, ‘get an education, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and quit whining,’ bandage will ever cover. I have also learned how Christians have made the problem of poverty worse through their efforts to “kill the Indian and save the man.”
Paul Revere and other founding fathers had an inkling of real liberty when they rebelled against England. But equality and liberty in our country remain an ideal.
As a Christian, I now understand the payment for my liberty involves making sure I secure liberty for others. Not just the liberty to worship in freedom, but the liberty to walk down any street without the fear that someone will call the police because I look different.
The burden of Liberty in the United States is simple. Those of us who experience the luxuries of its benefits have a burden to make sure others have the opportunity to experience them as well. I, for one, can no longer fail to do my homework or ignore the polls altogether. My vote speaks volumes about who I want to include in the American Dream.
If I truly want my country to embrace ‘liberty and justice for all,’ I need to get to work to make sure the ideal becomes a reality. Exercising my right to vote ensures my own liberty, and I can use it as a powerful tool to secure the liberty of others.
Steps You Can Take to Ensure Liberty for All
1. Listen more, talk less. I’m learning to ask my students what they think matters and what they think might work. Their ideas surprise me each and every time.
2. Withhold your likes, loves, and angry faces. When I browse through social media, I have to deny my impulse to immediately like, love, or leave an angry face on status updates of the sensational variety. If I don’t have time to read the article, research its veracity, find the other side, and come to a thoughtful conclusion, I probably shouldn’t respond to the teaser on social media. Response without thoughtful consideration leads to further polarization.
3. Acknowledge the fact that history was written by people with agendas. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shaped the facts I believed about my august relative, Paul Revere. But he took poetic license with the facts.
Writers fill our history textbooks with information that will further their agenda. If you don’t believe me, read Lies My Teacher Told Me. We believe history books as if they contain the gospel truth. Instead, we need to know they contain both fact, fiction, and fantasy.
4. Speak up in love (and in private). If you see someone perpetuating the narrative that everyone living in the United States enjoys the same amount of freedom, pull on your big girl panties, and have a conversation.
Speak in love, and never attack the person. Instead, question the ideas or ‘facts’ the person seems to believe. If at all possible, do this in private. No one likes looking like a fool in public.
5. Prayers, not politicians. Prayer will help us understand the issues better than a politician ever could. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your blindness to you, and to change attitudes within you that need changing.
Do your homework, though. Make sure you study all sides of the issues. Those who don’t exercise lose their muscle conditioning. The same goes for people who don’t vote—they will eventually lose their ability to weigh in on the big moral questions. If we don’t exercise our liberty to vote, we may just one day lose it.If we don't exercise our liberty to vote, we may just lose it one day. #votingrights #decision2020 #liberty Click To Tweet
Come back next week when we address the question of WWJVF (Who Would Jesus Vote For)?