My Case for Christ and our Superiority to Animals

One day the summer before last, an animal died in our yard, and my mom noticed some birds, which we later learned were turkey buzzards, had gathered around it for a feast. That afternoon, my parents, and even a family friend who dropped by, watched in morbid fascination as the birds feasted, even marveling at the clear presence of a pecking order as one bird pushed others out of the way to get the best morsels for himself. I too felt a sense of morbid fascination as they described what was going on. Of course, our slight pity for the way this poor dead animal was being treated is a human projection: the buzzards were merely obeying an innate instinct to serve as nature’s cleanup crew. They do not possess free will and the human concept of morality is incomprehensible to them. This memory came back to me as Holy Week dawned, and with it an inspiration to make my case for Christ. Stick with me. I promise I will connect the dots.

One day when I was working at the Social Security disability law firm, a coworker saw Gilbert sleeping contentedly at my feet and said, “You know, if I am reincarnated, I want to come back as a pampered dog.” I laughed and may have even said something like “I hear you.” It was meant as lighthearted banter. But in all seriousness, we should all consider it an incredible privilege to be human. When I was in college, I read part of a book written by the Dalai Lama for an intercultural communication course, and while much of his philosophies were over my head, one basic principle he stated that stuck with me is that humans are the highest form of life, and as such, even humans born into the most disadvantaged circumstances have already hit the cosmic jackpot simply for getting to be human.

Although Gilbert lived, and my cat Aslan continues to live a pampered life, by human standards their lives are actually quite bleak. Sure, it is tempting for humans to envy their lives of leisure, inhaling food they didn’t have to hunt for, playing fetch in the yard or chasing a cat toy, activating their innate hunting instinct just for fun rather than survival, spending long winter afternoons sleeping in front of a sunny window while us humans have to work. But they also will never know, cannot even comprehend the pleasure of reading an inspiring or thought-provoking book, gathering to make or listen to beautiful music, engaging in complex discussions with family or friends about politics, philosophy, our hopes and dreams for the future. In fact, they don’t even understand concepts like past or future. Research on animal behavior has shown that if you come home from work and observe that your dog, at some point earlier that day had gotten into the trash and made a huge mess but is now sleeping contentedly in the sun, it is actually cruel to yell at them because they have no long-term memory, and thus don’t understand why you are mad at them. You have to catch them in the act. When I was in high school, my oldest brother moved back home for a couple years to save money, which also meant his incredibly intelligent dog Mojo lived with us. Even when my brother came home from work, Mojo bonded with us, so when my brother moved away, we were dismayed, although in retrospect we should not have been, about how eagerly he jumped into my brother’s car, tail wagging when it was time to say goodbye. He didn’t realize that this was not just another car ride, that he was moving far away and that my parents wouldn’t see him for years, and I would never see him again. If animals have no conception of past or future, they also most likely do not contemplate their eventual death, let alone an afterlife.

Our closest evolutionary cousins, monkeys, are certainly worthy of our admiration and respect. One of my favorite books I read as a child was The Chimpanzees I Love, written by Jane Goodall, who used her observation of chimpanzees to raise awareness of their intelligence and emotional complexity in hopes of ending their abuse and exploitation by zookeepers and researchers. But many aspects of their behavior, from their aggression toward chimpanzees from other herds, to courtship rituals based on displays of dominance rather than genuine love and connection, and the fact that mother chimpanzees have to protect their babies from other male chimpanzees even within their own pack demonstrates that at their heart chimpanzees are still firmly within the “animal” category. All this is to say you don’t even have to touch a religious text to see that there is something unique, something special about humans that even our closest evolutionary cousins don’t even come close to. The seeds of this line of thought were planted at the beginning of the pandemic when I reflected on how we should fully lean into our uniqueness as humans, demonstrate compassion for the vulnerable, as opposed to the animal realm where instinct dictates that the weak be eaten by the strong, as illustrated by the one-legged duck who sat on eggs in our garden for awhile but was eaten by a fox. But my seminary education clarified these thoughts. The reason I believe in Christ, and especially the Easter story is that Christianity, far better than any other religion or philosophy solves the puzzle. It explains what makes us unique, and far superior to all other animals, and if more of us actually obeyed the teachings of Christ, and believed in his future promises, I think the argument raised by Atheists like Richard Dawkins that God most likely does not exist, and humans are nothing more than highly evolved animals would collapse, and our reverence and appreciation of the incredible cosmic jackpot we have won would be so intense that it wouldn’t even cross our mind to dream of reincarnation as a pampered pet.

To inform my thinking for this blog, I decided last week that it was time to be brave and read something from Richard Dawkins. The teacher for Tough Questions, an apologetics class I took at my church talked about him a lot, and even encouraged us to prayerfully read what he has to say. After all, if you never allow your convictions to be questioned, how can you be sure that you are confident, secure in your faith? I started the book Wednesday of Holy Week (April 5), and am only on chapter 3. His arguments are very hard to follow in my opinion, and it was difficult to concentrate long because I felt as though my mind was being tied up in knots. So far, I concur with the assessment of my Tough Questions teacher who liked to say that more mental gymnastics is required to defend the belief that God does not exist, than is required to believe that he does. I will write a final assessment here once I finish the book. But two themes that Dawkins frequently likes to return to are the idea that the God of the major judeo-Christian religions is a jealous, vengeful God who champions slavery, war and genocide, and that the world would be far better off without religion and all of the violence it has caused throughout human history and even still to this day. These are both tired arguments that I have heard from other Atheists as well. It did come as a shock the first time I attempted to read the Bible in high school and only got as far as Exodus partly because I was shocked by the level of violence, deceit, polygamy, incest and general family dysfunction even among God’s chosen people which he did not condemn, not to mention the brutal for our time laws requiring that those who commit adultery be stoned and such. But Atheists fail to study Scripture in an open-minded nuanced way. I don’t want to distract from the train of thought for this post, but I will elaborate more on this in my final assessment. As for the second theme, Dawkins again paints all religion with a broad brush, failing to appreciate for example that the evil committed by Christians from the Crusades to today’s epidemic of Christian Nationalism is not a reflection of Christianity itself, but the failure of people who claim to be Christians to actually live by the teachings of Christ.

From ancient times long before Christ, I suspect humans have always had a vague awareness that we are unique, superior to all other animals. Long before Moses wrote the book of Genesis, humans instinctively set about establishing dominion over the earth and subduing it. We figured out how to harness fire for cooking food, keeping warm and managing forests. We built cities with elaborate architecture, and boats to traverse bodies of water. We even figured out how to domesticate and train animals to assist us. We had a vague sense of the existence of higher powers, but we lost sight of the one true God and in the ancient near east, we created our own myths of gods who were powerful but not loving. They were jealous, capricious and petty, and when they fought amongst themselves, humans would be caught in the middle. Furthermore, they created humans to be their slaves, performing the menial labor on earth that they didn’t want to do. So when misfortune came, people feared it was because they had displeased the gods and they would offer sacrifices, sometimes even child sacrifices, to appease them. Though religions were very localized among tribes, all of them shared a universal sense of an afterlife in which we would somehow be held accountable for our conduct in this life, although ancient Near East concept of the afterlife I read about were pretty depressing too. We also had a universal sense that human life, at least for people in our tribe was sacred, and thus all tribes had customs that honored the dead, burying them in tombs or at sea in a respectful manner rather than just leaving them out for the turkey buzzards.

In one sense, people should have known right from wrong, especially when it came to the practice of child sacrifices because of God’s general revelation to all of humanity through our conscience which animals do not possess, at least not to the same degree. But I can kind of understand how their conscience could have been drowned out by hopelessness. If the gods they created didn’t value them or love them, I can understand why they may not know how to value one another. If the afterlife, even for the righteous meant eternity in a dark underworld, what incentive was there to live righteously?

And then came Judaism, when the true God revealed himself to Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob. He declared that the day he created humanity was “very good”, and that he did not create humans to be slaves, but to be co-rulers with Him on earth. He did not choose Abraham and his descendants because they were any more righteous than anyone else, but he showed grace to them and set them apart in the hope that they would learn to live righteously and be a blessing to all nations. In this way, God would eventually reveal himself to all nations on earth, and restore the good creation he intended before the Fall.

But the Israelites failed to obey the righteous commandments God had given them, and in fact were largely indistinguishable from the wicked Pagan culture that surrounded them, so God had to discipline them by banishing them from the Promise Land. The prophets spoke of a coming messiah who would bring peace and restoration, and who would transform their hearts, but they didn’t fully understand this prophecy, and by the time Christ came, they had assimilated with the Roman empire, which one could fairly describe as animalistic in conduct. Men ruled over their households, and could beat or kill their own wives, slaves or children for any reason. Babies born with deformities were commonly “exposed” (abandoned to die), and for entertainment, they gathered in stadiums to watch men, who were typically escaped slaves or political prisoners, fight to the death with wild animals. Wealth was inherited, with virtually no path to upward mobility, and there were no safety nets for orphans, widows, people with disabilities or the poor. Even worse, Roman citizens (men) of high status felt free to sexually exploit those of lower status. Religious leaders still enforced God’s laws, but they added so much legalism that the spirit of these laws was drowned out. Into this wicked empire, Christ came.

If Christ hadn’t come, Atheists would have a valid point in arguing that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was just another god imagined by a backwater ancient tribe. But I believe Christ’s arrival proved once and for all that this God is the one true God because while all of the other ancient Pagan gods are remembered only by artifacts like ancient tablets excavated by archeologists and preserved in museums, the three religions that can be traced back to the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) still endure today, and the one that has transformed the world the most is Christianity.

This is a good time for a disclaimer: antisemitism and islamophobia are despicable, especially when perpetrated by supposed Christians. We should not condemn the oppression of Palestinians by right-wing Israelis, or Islamic extremism without also acknowledging the planks in our own eyes, extreme Christian nationalism. As my mom used to sing in Sunday school, they should “know that we are Christians by our love, by our love,” and by showing them love, we may even be able to lead some to Christ. But I believe that belief in Christ (the true Christ, not the Christ of Christian nationalism) is what allows us to fully understand and lean into the privilege and responsibility we have as humans.

Christ treated all people–women, children, the poor, and especially people with disabilities–with radical dignity, and even explicitly stated that while he provides for the sparrow, we are far more valuable and he will provide all the more for us. Before Christ, hospitals and orphanages weren’t even concepts in the imagination. All these institutions were started by Christians whose consciences were awakened by the teachings of Christ. It was a Christian from a province in Asia who visited Rome, witnessed a gladiator match and woke the conscience of Roman citizens by yelling out, “In Christ’s name, stop!” My Tough Questions teacher also pointed out that to this day, you won’t see people who follow religions based on good and bad karma coming to the rescue after natural disasters, or even ministering to their own vulnerable people because they believe such vulnerable people are suffering because they need to atone for conduct in a past life and it is not their place to interfere with this. But with all due respect, such a view is illogical because we have no memories of past lives. As such, when Christians minister to the physical needs of these people, and also share the gospel with them, which includes God’s teaching that we only live once (in this world) and then face judgment, that in this Fallen world, suffering comes to both the righteous and the unrighteous, and thus we should leave judgment to God, many are comforted by the love and logic of these teachings and eagerly accept Christ. Is the love and compassion of even well-intentioned Christians what it should be? Absolutely not! I will be the first to admit that I revert to selfish, animalistic behavior sometimes. But if Christ hadn’t come, this world would be a whole lot worse.

But Christ didn’t just transform this world. With his resurrection, we now understand that our fear of death and hope for an afterlife isn’t just the wishful thinking of highly evolved animals, but that we really were meant to enjoy eternal life. Because of our sin, we will all die a physical death, but Christ’s resurrection conquered death so that those who accept Him will also one day be resurrected to eternal life. And by the way, I do believe we can have confidence that Christ’s resurrection is real because as the pastor pointed out last Sunday for Easter, why would the apostles stick with this story for forty years under brutal persecution if it was a lie?

I cannot say which book of the Bible is my favorite. As I once heard a pastor quip, being asked your favorite book of the Bible is akin to a parent being asked which child is their favorite? They are all beautiful in their own way. But lately, the book of Ecclesiastes has really resonated with me. I will be reflecting a lot more about this book in the future as I still grapple with the allure of a Rumspringa. I thought I had made peace with this temptation and come to a mature perspective, but then literally two days after publishing that post, I was tempted into another unproductive train of thought. Reading Ecclesiastes has helped me find proper perspective again. More on that later. But Ecclesiastes is also incredibly relevant to the theme of this post.

If read without proper context, Ecclesiastes is incredibly depressing. The message, translated into modern language is basically, everything is meaningless, life sucks and then you die. The writer makes allusions to the idea that we will all be held accountable for our actions even if we may not see it in this life, and the idea that we should view life as a gift from God, but the book offers little comfort for this world and uncertainty with regard to what comes next. The passage I found most depressing is Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, where after speculating that God tests us so that we may see that we are like the animals, that death awaits us both, he states, “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the animal spirit goes down into the earth?”

But the amazing thing about Ecclesiastes, which Andrew Hill and John Walton point out in their survey of the Old Testament, is that this book points to the need for Christ and his resurrection. Though the writer revered God, since he lived in the time before Christ came and fully revealed his plan to redeem humanity, the writer did not fully comprehend what makes us superior to all other animals. He understood that in some ways, we are like the animals. We have the propensity to behave like animals, we are made of the same biological stuff as animals, and we will both die a physical death. He understood that as humans made in God’s image, we are held to a higher moral standard than the animals. Yet he did not have the final piece of the puzzle, the piece that fully articulates our superiority to all other animals. It wasn’t until Christ’s resurrection that we were assured that our souls do indeed rise, and that we have the chance to enjoy eternal life in a restored creation, while the souls of animals go down into the earth. Knowing this, our hearts should break for people who reject Christ and view themselves as nothing more than highly evolved animals. They don’t know what richness of life they are missing, now and in the future.

Uniformity Diabolical, Diversity Divine

Hello readers, I hope you are doing well as we approach the end of winter and the start of Spring. Overall, I am doing well, although I have been feeling a little out of sorts, not in a severe sense, but in a way that has felt too complicated to write about. But I have felt compelled to listen to memoirs on Audible, and actually reading memoirs has been quite therapeutic for me. Despite writing a memoir a couple years ago, which I published here last summer, I hadn’t actually read very many memoirs, partly due to the busyness of life, and partly due to my cynicism. The memoirs you hear about written by famous people are often written with an agenda–publicity for someone interested in running for president for example–and what worse is these memoirs are often written by ghost writers, which in my mind is cheating.


But maybe the Lord works in funny ways because Prince Harry’s memoir Spare, was released shortly before my sister’s birthday. It so happened that Queen Elizabeth passed away while we were on our family vacation in Hilton Head, where I was surprised and amused by my sister’s interest in all of the royal family intrigue, so when Spare was released, I decided to text her and ask if she would like me to buy her a copy for her birthday. She indicated she was interested, but also asked if I had read it, to which I ribbed her light-heartedly, responding that I didn’t intend to read it because life is too short to waste on tabloid gossip. But then I told her I would have an open mind and read it for purposes of sister bonding. So in honor of this commitment to my sister, I found the book on Audible, read by Prince Harry himself. Yes, Prince Harry had an agenda writing this book. Having been banished from the royal family which meant losing their financial support, and having grown up so privileged that taking a job at a grocery store or something like an ordinary person banished from a dysfunctional family would was unthinkable, he most likely wrote this memoir to generate income, although he would be $20 million richer if he hadn’t cheated and paid a ghost writer. But motives aside, it occurred to me after listening to this memoir that it was not the waste of 15 hours and 39 minutes of my life that I thought it would be. In fact it provided just the sense of perspective I needed in this season of my life, perspective further reenforced as I subsequently felt compelled to read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, Fiona Hill’s memoir There is Nothing for You Here, and Barack Obama’s first memoir Dreams from my Father, which by the way was not written by a ghost writer. I am pretty confident of this because Michelle mentioned in her memoir that shortly after they were married, Barack flew to Bali and spent five weeks in solitude drafting this memoir.


I will comment more on these memoirs, as well as some science fiction classics I decided to read, in subsequent posts as appropriate. But the common thread of perspective woven through all these memoirs, perspective which I sorely needed in this season, is that no one is living a fairy tale. Sure, being part of the royal family meant Prince Harry had opportunities to meet famous people and visit exotic destinations at British taxpayer expense. But this privilege was ultimately overshadowed by the turmoil of living in a family where the reputation of the institution took precedence over unconditional, authentic love. Sure, Michelle Obama was a top student and landed a job in a prestigious law firm, and then had the opportunity to make history as the first black First Lady, serving alongside the first black president of the United States. But once she had “made it” to the prestigious law firm, she realized she had spent her whole life checking boxes, desperate to prove that a black girl raised on the south side of Chicago could succeed, but never really thought about what she really wanted out of life, and ultimately accepted a dramatic pay cut to work in the government and nonprofit sectors where she could make a difference in the lives of people disadvantaged by the system. And then as First Lady, though she had unique opportunities to shape history, she also had to contend with anxiety, self-doubt, petty partisanship, racism, sexism and unfair press coverage. Though Barack Obama had an interesting upbringing, born to a father from Kenya and a white mother, living for a time in Malaysia and then Hawaii with white grandparents, he also struggled with questions of racial identity, and complex emotions regarding his father. When Fiona Hill testified at Donald Trump’s first impeachment hearing, I was mesmerized by her courage, but hadn’t fully appreciated until reading her memoir just how much courage it took for her to do what she did. Her father encouraged her to leave the small town in Northeast Britain, where she grew up because the classist culture of Britain, combined with Margaret Thatcher’s de-industrialization policies in the 1980s meant she had no future in Britain. But when she got to this country, her academic brilliance and expertise on Russia was often not taken seriously because of sexism.


Of course, I ought to know that no one is living a fairy tale. First and foremost, Jesus himself guarantees this when he says not “In this world you might have trouble.” Rather, he says, “in this world you will have trouble.” And although Jesus led an exciting life traveling from village to village preaching the good news and healing people, he was despised by the Roman empire and religious leaders, betrayed, and ultimately crucified. I have also found it interesting that although in my imagination, I imagine that if I was out for a walk one day and God appeared in a burning bush to give me a special mission, I would be thrilled beyond words, Moses was not thrilled, even begged God to send someone else. Neither were the other prophets, especially Jonah who tried to run away from God.


You may recall that last summer, I wrote about longing for a sort of Rumspringa, the chance to live on my own, to (temporarily) disconnect from family a little, just as my older siblings all did for a couple years, to know what life is like “out there.” I mentioned how I was about to embark on my Rumspringa with Gilbert at eighteen, but when unexpected curve balls came my way, I gave up, moving back home when I should have persevered through the struggles as my siblings did, letting them mature and refine me. In other words, I gave up on the unpleasant crawling stage, and now I am paying for it in that I never learned to fully walk as an adult. But then in a subsequent post, I spoke of how anxiety was behind many of my thoughts, and I needed to trust God, realize that he puts us all where we are for a reason, and I should let him drive my boat on this river called life because he is a far wiser driver than I am. And yet the sin of envy is a difficult one to overcome, and my resolve to trust God is easily forgotten when I hear of another peer who got married, had a child, landed an interesting job, even as intellectually I know that what you glean from social media or casual conversation at the grocery store is filtered, an accentuation of the positive, minimizing of the negative. This same filtering applies to press coverage of famous people, such that we aren’t fully aware that these famous people are human like the rest of us, that their success isn’t as thrilling as you imagine it would be, and most importantly that their achievements are most often not the result of anything they did right and you did wrong, but that their lives are also rivers that took them in directions they often never expected themselves.


Shortly after the trip to Appleton and the “I’m glad to see she’s getting out” comment, I decided it was time to get serious and start making plans to pull off the logistics of a Rumspringa, which I realized meant finding a job again, so I would have the money to pay for housing and school tuition. Overwhelmed and discouraged in the past by intimidating job postings with descriptions like “oversee the entire operation of the department” I decided to start with a company I had heard of in passing but knew very little about. I had heard that it had a social mission of prioritizing employment for people who were blind, so figured that even if the job descriptions seemed intimidating, accessibility would be built into the company culture, so it would be easier to persevere through any challenges than with the typical company. To my delight, there was a position available for a Contact Center Agent, and as an additional bonus, it could be done remotely so long as I resided in Wisconsin, Illinois or Minnesota. Thus, the job could go with me to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois! Thinking this was perfect divine providence, I quickly attached an updated resume and composed a cover letter, but when I clicked to the next section of the application, self-doubt reared its head. Was I really qualified for this job, or would I regret this when the virus was dormant and I was thinking clearly again? So I closed the tab for the application without fully finishing or submitting it. But to my dismay, the next day I received an email from the hiring manager expressing interest in my application, so somehow my resume was viewable after all. But not wanting to burn any bridges, and also realizing that it wouldn’t hurt to be back in the workforce again, reconnecting with people and earning income whether or not I followed through with a Rumspringa, I wrote back and a phone interview was arranged. At the time, there was no work available yet, but the company was in the process of opening a new facility and the hiring manager indicated she would get back with me in a month or two.


The callback came on Friday September 9, toward the end of our Hilton Head trip. It took awhile to get some paperwork filled out and processed, but on October 5, I joined the workforce again! The job was challenging at first, but in a good way. Mostly the challenges were a result of my anxiety. Given that my previous job at the Social Security law firm involved spending as much as an hour on the phone with clients filling out forms that asked for sensitive medical information, you would think making a credit card transaction with a client would have been no big deal, but I think because of the social isolation of the pandemic, my confidence was rusty and the first few transactions were absolutely terrifying! My confidence with the JAWS screen reader was also rusty. But my fellow blind coworkers were, and still are, an incredible source of support and encouragement. I even reconnected with a boy who remembered me from the preschool program for the blind we both attended! Currently, I earn less per hour than I did at my previous job, but the job itself is also easier, which after being away from work for two years, isn’t such a bad thing.


Depending on the level of business, I work between 24 and 30 hours per week. Right now most of our business comes from a Jewish company that contracts with us to make outbound calls soliciting donations for nonprofit organizations. This is actually the exact kind of job I longed for in the thick of my anxiety in the dark days of 2016 at the Social Security job, when I would find myself crying at my desk or unable to sleep at night because software wasn’t as accessible as I thought it would be, and mistakes I made months ago could come back to bite me at any moment. With this new job, I largely read from a script, and every day is a fresh start, no case management required. And although I had one week of low grades in my theology class as I adjusted to the job, by the following week I had found my footing and realized that I would be able to hold down a job and still have enough bandwidth left to pursue a Chaplaincy degree if I chose. It was looking like all the pieces might be falling in place to embark on a Rumspringa in Fall 2023!


Despite another flare-up of my irritability at Christmas, something kept me from moving full-speed ahead with Rumspringa planning in January. And then came February 17.


Friday February 17, 2017 will always occupy a special place in my heart. As I wrote about in 2018, this was the day the dark cloud fully lifted from my soul. In 2016, though I wouldn’t say I had a plan to harm myself, my mind went to places that frightened me. Despite the anxiety that job was causing, my pride kept me from asking my manager for help, and I feared being perceived as a quitter by potential future employers if I resigned without having another job lined up. And unlike a couple rough school years, made more bearable by eagerly anticipating a firm end date–summer vacation–I realized bitterly that now that I was in the adult world, I wasn’t sure if or when a respite would ever come. Starting in January, I tried desperately to land a job in state government. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as an intern at the Milwaukee office of Governor Scott Walker in 2011, not only because it was an interesting experience learning about the politics of state government, but also because I was impressed with how on-the-ball the staff was with providing the accommodations I needed from day one. In 2016, I was invited to interview for three state government positions, but all three decided to “go forward with another candidate.” Then in December 2016, my manager offered me a new position where my sole responsibility would be filing appeals for clients whose initial application for Social Security disability was denied (which is pretty much everybody), and I think after only the second day in this position, I realized that my anxiety had melted away. At first, going through the form online with clients was draining, but soon, I found my flow. The form was entirely accessible with my screen reader, and while I was tired at the end of each day, I could sleep peacefully at night again. The only thing I still longed for was better work-life balance.


That Friday was a particularly slow day as two of the clients I called did not answer the phone for their scheduled appointments with me, and looking ahead at my Google schedule, on which I think I had created timeslots going out a month, I noticed that although some appeals had been scheduled, there were several empty slots, even in the upcoming week, and so the thought occurred to me that I could go part-time! It wouldn’t cause the company any hardship: in fact working less days would better ensure that all timeslots were filled, improving productivity and thus doing the company a favor. As a full-time employee, the company reimbursed half of my insurance premium, the only expense my parents asked me to cover, but I realized if I worked three days a week, I would still earn enough to cover the full premium. I cannot really profess in good conscience that the Holy Spirit directed me because I didn’t pray about it, nor did I go home and discuss this idea with family and risk being talked out of it. But something, some intuition, a sensation of inner peace just came over me. So at around 3:00 that Friday afternoon, I turned around and made this proposal to my boss, who worked at a desk right behind me, and to my delight, she agreed!


I know that good writers aren’t supposed to employ cliches, but I really cannot think of a better way to describe my mood that afternoon than the feeling that a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I like to think that God was smiling down on me too because the weather that weekend was unusually warm and Spring-like. That Sunday, the sermon in church reflected on the moment when Joshua took the helm of leadership after Moses died and had to lead the Israelites across the fearsome Jordan River into the Promise Land and take new ground. The pastor reflected that in our lives, we often have to muster the courage to do something risky in order to take the new ground God may want us to take in our own lives. I smiled to myself, realizing that is exactly what I had done Friday. The decision would have consequences: I would earn less money, and potential future employers might question my work ethic when my resume shows that I switched from full-time to part-time. But I was confident that ultimately the reward would outweigh the risk. I would still have the dignity of earning my own income and contributing to society, and yet I would have the time and mental bandwidth to sing in choir again, smile again, dream again. On Friday February 17, 2023 as I sat down to a bowl of the yummy bean soup I make every week–which I started preparing in the crock-pot as one of my first new hobbies after going part-time, and which I perfected even further during the pandemic–I gasped internally as I realized it was six years to the very day of that born-again sort of moment. This made the soup even more comforting and delicious as I realized just how blessed I am, and fully appreciated the truth and insight of a Trinity classmate who told me God has us exactly where he wants us to be. I had experienced pangs of longing to try a Rumspringa again in 2015 and 2016 as well, but had I been on my own then, my heart would have sank that Friday afternoon in 2017 and I would not have been able to turn to my boss and make this request as it would not have been financially feasible.


But then, lying in bed that night, I checked my Trinity school e-mail, where a broadcast had been sent by the president of Trinity indicating that out of financial necessity, the university would be moving all undergraduate programs entirely online. He also pointed out that financial strain, and declining interest in residential programs was the trend nationwide, affecting all but the largest, most elite universities. I was aware that Trinity, like all nondenominational, evangelical seminaries were facing financial challenges, and last year during a Zoom session of my American Church History class, we discussed this article, published in Christianity Today. I knew abstractly that Trinity would be implementing plans to cut costs and adapt to the future. But reading this official, concrete decision saddened me in a personal way that surprised me. I was sad in the general sense for future undergraduate students nationwide who would never experience the lively class discussions and college social life that online education just cannot replicate. But selfishly, I was also sad on an individual level. Due to various circumstances, I was not ready to fully experience college social life and live on my own at 18, but now that I was older and wiser, and now that advancements in technology have dramatically increased the availability of college textbooks in e-book form, I was ready for a do-over. But this e-mail from Trinity forced me to reexamine this dream. The e-mail did not indicate any changes to the graduate level Chaplaincy program, but the Christianity Today article from the previous year did indicate declining graduate enrollment, and my dream centered on being part of a dynamic, thriving community where social opportunities, and opportunities to engage in interesting theological discussion were within walking distance. But with undergraduate students gone and graduate students sparse, would I be even lonelier there than I am in our suburb with no sidewalks, but where I have my parents to laugh with over a TV show and share meals with? With a wry smile, I sighed, put my phone on my nightstand, rolled over and went to sleep grumbling to God, “why do I have a knack for choosing paths that are about to be obsolete: newspaper Journalism as an undergraduate, and now this?


For a couple weeks following this news, I was in a “blah” kind of mood, going through the motions of work, passing the time reading memoirs after work, all the while feeling discouraged and uncertain. As I said before, I didn’t mind, in fact I relished the tedium of my job, but I also imagined that it would be temporary, the equivalent of the sighted young adult taking a job as a waitress to pay her way through school, and then spreading her wings and moving on to new horizons. But now, I wasn’t sure how to proceed.


But gradually through prayer and reflection over the past month, God has led me to some insight that has lifted my spirits. For one thing, I think God used this news to slow me down, to force me to examine my true motives. Regarding the Rumspringa part of my dream, the realization even on the afternoon before reading that e-mail that going part-time would not have been possible if I had been on my own later led to the realization that if I moved to Trinity, I might need to work full-time again, perhaps leaving little time or energy for the very social and intellectual opportunities I craved. I have some savings, but my dad, who is more money-wise than I am, told me that given the high costs of living, my savings would be gone in a flash, and he is most likely right. And if I am being fully honest, some of my longing may not even be a true desire in my heart of hearts, but the result of cultural conditioning, and also a desire to win the esteem of my parents and siblings. Though they have reassured me this isn’t the case, sometimes I cannot shake the feeling that they perceive me as the special needs child/handicapped little sister, and I imagine that the Rumspringa would once and for all shatter this feeling. But then the week after reading this e-mail, I read the book Rethinking Life, by Shane Claiborne, a co-founder of Red Letter Christians, an organization whose philosophies I agree with, especially their stance against Christian Nationalism. In the first chapter, Shane quoted a friend and wildlife expert, and the quote struck me. “Uniformity is diabolical. Diversity is divine!” The context of this quote was that we should cherish the diversity of God’s creation, as well as the beautiful diversity of languages, cultures and abilities that God intended for humanity, but this could also apply to life paths. Human history is full of stories of people pressured to conform to the culture around them, get married or pursue an inappropriate career path, and the results have all too often been diabolical, as they missed out on a better path God may have had in store for them. By contrast, those who found the courage to resist pressure to conform sometimes suffered consequences such as being marginalized by society, even shunned by their own families, but when they reflect on their lives, they often realize those consequences were worth the divine joy they ultimately experienced by listening to the Holy Spirit. It is hard to take this insight to heart when something triggers the virus of irritability, but I am trying to pray for the calmness and maturity to respond in a constructive, spiritually mature manner the next time it flares up, and also to realize that these hardships are trivial compared to the opportunities I would have missed out on, the academic achievement that may have been unattainable, had I conformed to traditional ideas of what it means to be a young adult, just to prove something. And to be honest, before choosing Carroll University for my undergraduate education, and before choosing to work part-time, I experienced a deep, spiritual calmness, a certainty that I was making the right decision, and while having a Rumspringa seems like an exciting idea, I have yet to experience that spiritual calmness when I actually seriously contemplate sitting down and filling out a student housing application. Perhaps, God used this e-mail to slow me down, help me realize that I should not go forward with such a momentous, life-altering decision unless or until He gives me that deep spiritual calmness, the peace that comes from knowing for certain that I am letting Him drive the boat on this river of life rather than insisting on my own route which could ultimately lead to destruction or at least an unnecessary detour into rough waters.


As for Chaplaincy itself, I could still study to become a Chaplain. Dallas Theological Seminary offers the chaplaincy coursework entirely online, and there are plenty of local hospitals and churches where I could meet the Clinical Pastoral Education requirements and still live with my parents. But once again when visiting Granny in the nursing home over Christmas this year, I found that I was deeply uncomfortable, unsure what to say or how to minister to her. Mom asked me to sing a couple songs, which I reluctantly did: I am more comfortable singing in choir than singing solo. But she was in pain, that day, softly moaning it seemed while I was singing, such that I couldn’t tell if she was really enjoying my singing or if, had she the strength to speak, she would have asked me to shut up and leave her alone. Mom assured me that Granny was smiling. I was sad, even a little angry that in the 21st century and the wealthiest country on earth, the best we can do for elderly people like my Granny is warehouse them in a place that smells like poo, with few enrichment activities and feed them a gross, pureed diet of food that is not meant to be pureed, like fried chicken which comes out dry and difficult to swallow. Spiritual care for the patients is sorely needed in places like this, but given my uncertainty in knowing how to minister to Granny, am I really the person God is calling to provide such care? Furthermore, the idea of pursuing Chaplaincy arose from how much I enjoyed talking to cancer patients in my previous job because I could relate to them as a brain tumor survivor but also because they were so gracious and had their lives in beautiful perspective. But the true spiritual maturity required of Chaplains would also require loving those who are difficult to love, including the people whose only disability was back pain who sometimes cussed at me because their cases weren’t progressing fast enough. Am I truly the person God is calling to a ministry that would demand such mentally exhausting, self-sacrificial love, day in and day out? I still haven’t ruled out chaplaincy, and Mom reminded me that if I am uncomfortable in hospital/nursing home settings, chaplains also serve in colleges, even corporations. But what I am realizing about the Rumspringa idea, and the contemplation of Chaplaincy as a career path is that I need to be patient, to pray more about my true motivations and not rush ahead of God. If I have learned anything these past six years, it is that life is full of uncertainty and perhaps to keep us from being overwhelmed by this, God often only shows us the path ahead a little at a time. In those dark days of 2016, I feared they would last forever–or at least until retirement age–because I couldn’t get into state government, but then my manager offered me a more suitable position and I felt prompted to go part-time, a path I hadn’t expected but one which turned out for the best. It still wasn’t a dream job, but I think I could have tolerated it until retirement age. But then of course came the pandemic which took the whole world by surprise, and again I felt a spiritual calmness when I decided to resign and take seminary classes, and then I was offered my current job. This job doesn’t utilize my undergraduate nor my seminary education, but time and time again, pastors have cited Scripture in their sermons which has reassured me that God does not waste any experiences. It is hard not to feel as though I have gone backwards in my progression through life, to wonder if I will ever find my true purpose in life, especially as I approach my 33rd birthday and the cusp of transitioning from young to middle-age. Then again, Moses must have felt the same way when he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, and then had to flee and ended up working as a shepherd for forty years, before God’s purpose was revealed to him at 80 years old! Age really is just a number. I don’t know what the future holds, but I should know well by now given my emergence from the dark days of 2016 and the unexpected way God used the pandemic in my life that God knows what He is doing. I have resolved to continue to pray and trust in this, taking one day at a time. If or when God calls me to a new vocation or living arrangement, He will let me know.

Reflecting on Christmas: A Foretaste of Eternal Life

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year readers! Don’t worry, I am alive and well. It has just been a crazy Fall semester and I either haven’t had the time or haven’t been in the right frame of mind to write. I have so much to update you on, from the family vacation to Hilton Head (I survived!) to the start of a new job. But first, I wanted to share the final research paper I wrote for Part 2 of Systematic Theology, which as I think I mentioned, I wouldn’t have had to take as I already had enough credits for the certificate in Christian Studies with just the first class which I took last Spring. But the professor kept teasing topics that would be covered further in Part 2, so I knew I would regret not taking it. The new job was a somewhat unexpected development, and my grades for a couple weeks weren’t great as learning the new job in addition to all of the reading Systematic Theology requires was quite an adjustment. But I soon found my footing, and I am still glad I took this course when I did. As long-time readers might recall, I have felt compelled to write my own reflections on how Christmas is a foretaste of eternity, especially in light of the pandemic. It just so happened that for the final research paper, this subject, which is known in scholar speak as “eschatology” (a Greek term meaning “last things”), was a topic option. But unfortunately, this Christmas Day was humbling for me when, in light of selfish behavior on my part, God forced me to examine whether I truly believe what I preach. More specifics to come in a follow-up post. My professor hasn’t graded this paper yet, but I feel compelled to go ahead and share it anyway because it was written from the heart, and since I discovered I need the perspective preached in this paper as much as anyone, I think it might help others as well.



At the time of this writing, Christmas is approaching. I believe the Christmas season is the perfect occasion to reflect on Oscar Cullmann’s inaugurated eschatology as we celebrate the fact that the Son of God who one day “shall reign forever and ever” humbled himself and became fully human to dwell among us, teach us how to live, and ultimately rescue us from sin and eternal death. Of course, the true significance of Christmas is all-too-often corrupted in our fallen state, even by professed Christians who do not view the Christmas season as a time of comfort and joy, but instead as a time of frenetic busyness, credit card debt, and family conflict as they define Christmas by secular standards, the deepest longings of their hearts tragically misplaced. But I believe it is no coincidence that this time of year, Christians and unbelievers alike sing longingly of “peace on earth, good will to men.” I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Christmas season. Though many of our Christmas traditions have pagan origins, if we embrace them with proper perspective, God can use the fellowship and joy at the root of them to give us a foretaste of eternal life when peace, fellowship, comfort and joy will not be just a dream but our reality.


In this paper, I will first discuss the diversity of viewpoints related to eschatology from ancient Judaism and the early Christian church through to the present. Then, I will discuss biblical teaching related to eschatology from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Finally, I will show that Oscar Cullmann’s inaugurated eschatology, with its tension between the “already” and the “not yet” is the eschatological view best supported by Scripture, and the profound implications this view has for our present lives, and for eternity.

History of Eschatological Thought

Today, the eschatological debate among theologians is characterized by three different views. Premillennialists believe that the present world will grow increasingly wicked until Christ returns and establishes a literal thousand year reign of peace and righteousness on earth. This view is based on a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:4-6.1 Postmillennialists believe that the preaching of the gospel will be successful, and gradually but surely, the world will be converted and evil will be virtually eliminated.2 Once the gospel has reached the ends of the earth in the biblical sense of both knowledge and obedience, Christ will return, but the millennium Scripture speaks of is not a future period when Christ returns in bodily form to reign on earth, but a spiritual, invisible reign of Christ here and now. Postmillennialists cite Matthew 24:14 to support this view. Similar to postmillennialists, amillennialists reject the idea of a literal reign of Christ on earth, asserting instead that the millennium is symbolic of the period between the first and second advents of Christ, and the final judgment will occur immediately upon Christ’s return.3 But according to Michael Horton, these three views only came about during the late 19th century. For most of church history, the debate was simply between millenarianism (a literal thousand year reign of Christ) and amillennialism.4


Apocalyptic fervor can be traced back to Second Temple Jerusalem. The most commonly held view, and a view that would persist through Jesus’s earthly ministry and the destruction of the second temple in AD 70 was that the personal arrival of the Messiah, David’s heir, would usher in a golden age at the end of history, defined by the restoration of Mosaic theocracy which would be centered in Jerusalem, but would extend to the ends of the earth, and the banishment of Gentile oppressors from the land.5 This view was so entrenched that even Jesus’s disciples, who followed him during his earthly ministry, witnessed his death and touched him after his resurrection still did not fully comprehend that Christ’s mission was never intended to be the mere geopolitical or temporary restoration of Israel (Acts 1:6-8 TNIV).


In general, the early church took the amillennial view that Christ’s kingdom had been inaugurated with the first advent of Christ but awaited its full consummation.6 But as the church transitioned from a persecuted church to one that enjoyed favor from the emperor with the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in the fourth century, the amillennial view also transitioned from a view that recognized the precariousness of the church in the clash between the present age and the age to come, to a more optimistic outlook in which it became plausible to believe that Christ could be reigning on earth through his earthly representative, the emperor.7 Thus in a sense, the amillennialist view following the conversion of Constantine closely resembles the postmillennialism of today. In fact, this optimism was so central to early Christendom that the common assumption was that Christ’s kingdom was not only already present in the world, but fully realized in the Holy Roman empire.8 In the fifth century, Augustine would write City of God, in which he sought to revive the already-not yet tension of the early church, distinguishing between the “two cities” of this present age, “each with its own commission, purpose, destiny and means.”9 But after Augustine, the fusion of church and empire was so thorough that this nuanced view was all but forgotten.


The Reformers, especially John Calvin and Martin Luther, articulated the distinction between the two cities of the present age even more clearly than Augustine, and revived the precarious, already-not yet reality of the church in the present age.10 But unlike anabaptists, who advocated for radical criticism of the status quo, the Reformers believed that Christians must live as citizens of two worlds.11


The defining eschatological view at the dawn of the modern age was postmillennialism. Romantics, rationists, idealists and revolutionaries drew inspiration from the writings of Secilian monk Joachim of Fiore. Based on a literal interpretation of prophecy in the book of Revelation, he divided human history into three ages. The age of the Father, spanning from Adam to the time of Christ, was the era of law. The age of the Son, spanning from Christ to Joachim’s day, was the era of grace. The age of the Spirit, Joachim predicted would begin in 1260 and would be defined by the end of the church, and with it, the end of any need for preaching or sacraments because all would know God.12 Rationalists would secularize Joachim’s age of the Spirit, referring to it as the age of enlightenment.13


Postmillennialism was the predominant view from the 17th century through the 19th century, especially in the United States and Great Britain. This view explains John Winthrop’s declaration of puritan New England as a “shining city upon a hill” as well as in the enthusiasm for foreign missions, the establishment of church-sponsored voluntary societies and service agencies, and the implementation of moral reforms.14 But by the 20th century, the failure of World War I (the war to end all wars) to bring about lasting peace caused postmillennial optimism to largely fade, and premillennial pessimism to experience a revival. Over the course of D. L. Moody’s life, he became increasingly pessimistic about the capability of earthly empires to become the kingdom of God.15 While the consensus is not universal, premillennial pessimism seems to be the predominant view among orthodox evangelical theologians today.

Biblical Teaching on Eschatology

Although God chose not to fully reveal his redemptive plan to the Old Testament writers, the psalms and prophetic books are full of allusions to the return of Christ. Although Psalm 2:8-9 is addressed to David, New Testament writers have applied these verses to Christ, as they “attest to Christ’s enthronement and rulership over the nations.”16 Similarly, although at surface level Psalm 110 celebrates the coronation of the Davidic king, it ultimately finds fulfillment in Jesus, the “triumphant high priest.”17 While Psalm 72 is not directly quoted by New Testament writers, it is a prayer for the Davidic king that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ and his kingdom.18


Though the prophetic books were written in the context of the fall of Jerusalem and Babylon, these prophecies often merged with visions that clearly speak of future worldwide wrath and judgment of the unrighteous, but also a time of redemption and peace for the righteous.19 Perhaps the most vivid descriptions of this future come from Isaiah. Isaiah 13:11 states, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.” Isaiah 11:4-5 prophesies the judgment of the wicked, but for the righteous, Isaiah 11:6-9 offers beautiful imagery of future restoration, peace and safety. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isa. 11:6). Furthermore, references to “the earth, “peoples” and nations” in this passage clearly implies that this kingdom is not merely heavenly or spiritual.20


The future judgment of the unrighteous and the kingdom of Heaven were central to Jesus’s teaching. The four gospels record many parables Jesus used to describe the kingdom of heaven. Particularly noteworthy are Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the wheat and the weeds, and Matthew 13:47-48, the parable of the net that caught all kinds of fish. Regarding these parables, Anthony Thiselton remarks, “there can be no doubt that the central teaching of Jesus looks to a time of vindication and sovereign intervention of God in the future.”21

In addition according to D. A. Carson, the strongest affirmation of the already-not yet tension of inaugurated eschatology is summed up in John 5:24-29. In John 5:24, Jesus indicates that believers do not face the final judgment but “leave the court already acquitted.”22 Not only that, but the believer does not have to wait until the future resurrection to experience eternal life because the believer in this life has already crossed over from death into life, a teaching which Paul reiterates in Colossians 1:13. In the following verse (John 5:25), Jesus says “a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” an indication that “the resurrection life of the physically dead in the end time is already being manifest as life for the spiritually dead.”23 Yet it is clear from 5:28-29 that John anticipates a final resurrection in the future.


Following Jesus’s ascension back to heaven, the earliest teaching on eschatology is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. While Anthony Thiselton agrees with the assessment of theologians including George Caird and Tom Wright that Paul’s language in these verses is metaphorical, Thiselton argues it does not change the ultimate message of these verses, which is that Christians will meet the Lord “clothed in their postresurrection bodies.”24 The apocalyptic language of these verses also would have called to mind the Old Testament, which was the extent of the Bible for the early church, especially Daniel 7:13-14.


The word Paul uses to refer to the coming of Christ is Parousia, a greek noun that means “the state of being present” and is related to the verb Pareimi, meaning “I am here.”25 In the Roman and Helenistic context in which Paul lived, parousia was sometimes used with reference to ordinary people, but was especially used to indicate the coming of the emperor or someone of high rank.”26 All of Paul’s letters reference inaugurated eschatology. In Philippians 3:12 for example, Paul simultaneously recognizes that he has already attained resurrection from the dead, and yet remarks, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold for me.” Some theologians, most notably R. H. Charles, have written off Paul’s language choice as mere survivals of Jewish apocalyptic thought which he eventually planned to eliminate or reinterpret.”27 But John Lowe refutes this, remarking that all of Paul’s letters originate from a time in his life when he had time for careful reflection, and the maturity of an older man. Furthermore, Galatians 1:4 (an early letter) and Colossians 1:13 (a late letter) both contain almost identical apocalyptic language regarding Christ’s rescue of believers from this evil age.28


The writer of Hebrews references inaugurated eschatology in 4:1-11, where he likens the future kingdom of God to God’s sabbath rest on the seventh day, and views the ministry of Jesus as the true fulfillment of God’s Promise Land. Jesus “won for us the Sabbath rest which Joshua (another Greek rendering of Jesus) could not provide for us when he led Israel into the Promise Land.”29


The entire book of Revelation centers on apocalyptic language, but the only passage that explicitly indicates a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth is 20:1-10. Although Craig Keener acknowledges that this is the most debated passage in Revelation and there is far from universal consensus, he sites four factors in favor of a literal millennial reign of Christ following the tribulation. First, the binding of Satan during the thousand year reign seems far more plausible than the postmillennial or amillennial view given Satan’s “deceptive and murderous activity during the present age.”30 Second, this passage indicates that the saints have already been martyred, which suggests that the tribulation preceeds the millennial reign of Christ.31 Third, Revelation 20:4-6 indicates that the righteous, those who did not worship the beast, would be resurrected first and reign with Christ for a thousand years, but the unrighteous would not be resurrected until the thousand years were complete. According to Craig Keener, this suggests a bodily, rather than a merely spiritual resurrection.32 Finally, Revelation 20 presupposes all that has occurred in Chapter 12-19, meaning that the beasts and false prophets have already been thrown into the lake of fire, and Satan can no longer deceive.33

Implications Now and For Eternity

Anthony Thiselton remarks that in Paul’s letters, he “acknowledges the faith and love of the church, but also recognizes that inadequate confidence and certainty in the Parousia will lead to declining hope.”34 I believe that inadequate confidence and certainty in the Parousia is at the root of the depression, anxiety, and misplaced longing of so many hearts, even among professed Christians. But given the teaching from Scripture cited above, I believe we can have complete confidence and certainty in the Parousia and recover a sense of hope, peace and eternal joy every day of the year. This is because the already-not yet tension of Oscar Cullmann’s inaugurated eschatology has profound implications for life now and in the future. First and foremost, Christians should not waste precious time engaging in futile speculation about exactly when Christ will return because according to Anthony Hoekema, the “signs of the times” described throughout Scripture (most notably in Matthew 24), are events that must occur before Christ returns, but should not be thought of as events that occur exclusively in the end-time, but instead as events that occur throughout the era between Christ’s first and second advent.35 Furthermore, Jesus explicitly states that neither the angels nor the Son knows the hour when he will return, but only the Father (Mark 13:32). Therefore, we must be content with the “not yet” but keep watch as the parables teach. Second, the church must embrace the already-not yet tension by viewing one another as forgiven sinners, gently restoring those who fall into sin while being careful of their own temptation as Paul teaches in Galatians 6:1.


Third, this tension should provide incentive for living a virtuous life because as Paul writes in Galatians 6:8, if we “sow to please the flesh” in this life, we will reap destruction in the next life, but if we “sow to please the spirit” we will reap eternal life. Of course, we will struggle with sin in this life, but if we have accepted Christ, we can engage in this struggle “not with the expectation of defeat, but in the confidence of victory.”36 This tension should also be reflected in our self-image. Christians should think of ourselves as imperfect new people. According to Oscar Cullmann, for Christians today, the “already” outweighs the “not yet.”37


Finally, for Christians this tension should put suffering in proper perspective, and abolish the fear of our physical death. In this life, even believers will suffer because suffering is the “concrete manifestation of the not yet.”38 But the already of our new life in Christ allows us to embrace our suffering because suffering yields perseverance, perseverance yields character, and character yields hope (Romans 5:4). Another concrete manifestation of the “net yet” is the reality of our physical death. But even this death, Christians have no reason to fear because we will enter immediately into the presence of the Lord. Though our bodies will be buried by loved ones, our consciousness, our personality will continue in an intermediate state. According to Erwin Lutzer, theologians disagree on how to interpret 2 Corinthians 5:1. The disagreement centers on whether the “building from God” refers to a temporary body the departed receive immediately when they get to heaven, or if this building refers to our resurrection bodies. On the one hand, the fact that the rich man could experience physical torment and see Lazarus in heaven, and the fact that departed believers can sing the praises of God and communicate with one another suggests the possibility of a temporary body. On the other hand, the fact that Paul puts so much emphasis on our future resurrection suggests that departed souls are in an incomplete, unnatural disembodied state, but there is not universal consensus on this matter.39 But whether or not we have bodies in heaven, just being in the presence of the Lord will bring “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) and thus believers should not fear death. Of course, we will grieve when loved ones go through physical death. Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died because physical death is a consequence of sin and was never intended in God’s good creation. But because of the confident hope we can have knowing we will see our loved ones again, and be in the presence of the Lord ourselves one day, believers should not allow grief to turn to despair.


Yet as wonderful as even this intermediate state will be, it is only temporary. The best is yet to come, the moment when we receive our resurrection bodies. Erwin Lutzer reminds us that these resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s resurrected body, which has profound implications. In 1 Corinthians 15:44, Paul says that our earthly body is a natural body, but our resurrected body will be a spiritual body. But this does not mean we will be disembodied spirits. It means that while only God can be omnipresent, like Christ, we will be free from the limitations of terrestrial travel, able to travel effortlessly from place to place. We will eat, “not because we are hungry, but because we delight in the fellowship it affords.”40 Even in the intermediate state, but especially in our resurrected states, the highest moments of our life now in the already, will continue eternally, only perfected and glorified.41 Artists will still create art, musicians will still make music, scientists will continue to make discoveries about God’s creation. Only our desire to sin will be lost. Therefore, whatever suffering this life may throw our way, whether it is the physical suffering of illness or poverty, or the emotional anguish of navigating broken relationships, or even a demanding or unsatisfying job, we can embrace and persevere through this suffering with the perspective of a spiritual sense of joy, as we eagerly anticipate the “not yet” of knowing this life is not all there is.


1. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 1110.

2. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1107.

3. Erickson, Christian Theology 1112.

4. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2011), 920.

5. Horton, The Christian Faith, 921.

6. Horton, The Christian Faith, 923.

7. Horton, The Christian Faith, 923.

8. Horton, The Christian Faith, 924.

9. Horton, The Christian Faith, 924.

10. Horton, The Christian Faith, 926.

11. Horton, The Christian Faith, 926.

12. Horton, The Christian Faith, 925.

13. Horton, The Christian Faith, 927.

14. Horton, The Christian Faith, 927.

15. Horton, The Christian Faith, 928.

16. Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis, Integrative Theology, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Academie Books, 1987), 386.

17. Demarest and Lewis, Integrative Theology, 386.

18. Demarest and Lewis, Integrative Theology, 386.

19. Demarest and Lewis, Integrative Theology, 387.

20. Demarest and Lewis, Integrative Theology, 388.

21. Anthony Thiselton, Life after Death: A New Approach to the Last Things, (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. 2012), 100.

22. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 256.

23. Carson, The Gospel, 256.

24. Thiselton, Life After Death, 90.

25. Thiselton, Life After Death, 91.

26. Thiselton, Life After Death, 91.

27. Thiselton, Life After Death, 92.

28. Thiselton, Life After Death, 93.

29. Thiselton, Life After Death, 105.

30. Craig Keener, Revelation: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2000), 464.

31. Keener, Revelation, 464.

32. Keener, Revelation, 464.

33. Keener, Revelation, 465.

34. Thiselton, Life After Death, 91.

35. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1952), 70.

36. Hoekema, The Bible, 71.

37. Hoekema, The Bible, 71.

38. Hoekema, The Bible, 72.

39. Erwin Lutzer, One Minute After You Die: A Preview of your Final Destination, (Chicago, Ill: Moody Press, 1997), 66.

40. Lutzer, One Minute, 70.

41. Lutzer, One Minute, 61.

On Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life: Part 2

As promised, here is the research paper I wrote last semester on the sanctity of life. It addresses mostly the abortion debate, but also physician-assisted suicide. If you are just joining us, I encourage you to scroll down to yesterday’s post for clarification and context. I also want to add one more clarification. My last post focused exclusively on abortion as that is the issue dominating news and politics right now, but I believe there should be legislation banning physician-assisted suicide because as my paper explains, there are so many ethical problems with this practice unrelated to religion.


The biblical perspective of human dignity is a subject of personal significance for me. When my mother was pregnant with me in 1989, a routine blood test revealed abnormal protein levels which she was told indicated an increased risk that I would be born with Down syndrome. Her doctor offered the option of undergoing an amniocentesis, the results of which would be more conclusive. She declined this test because it is a very delicate procedure that carries the small, but in my mother’s view unnecessary risk of causing miscarriage. My parents were both raised with a Christian worldview, so they were going to bring me into the world and love me either way. It turned out that I did not have Down syndrome, but seven months later, I would be diagnosed with a brain tumor which would damage my optic nerve rendering me totally blind.

In the ancient pre-Christian Greek and Roman empires, it was common practice to kill or abandon infants born with deformities, but unfortunately, failure to recognize the sanctity of every human life cannot be dismissed as ancient history. In the early decades of the 20th century, a eugenics movement inspired passage of compulsory sterilization laws in 32 states targeting people deemed “inferior or dangerous” including the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, criminals, even people of color.1 These laws resulted in the compulsory sterilization of 60,000 people and persisted in some states until the 1970s. The eugenics laws in the United States inspired Hitler to implement the National Socialist compulsory sterilization program in Germany where between 1934 and 1945, 350,000 people were sterilized, and this program would prove to be a “stepping stone to the Holocaust.”2

In 2004, Denmark became one of the first countries in the world to offer all pregnant women prenatal screening for Down syndrome. Since then, 95 percent of women who test positive choose to terminate the pregnancy, and in 2019, only 18 babies were born with Down syndrome in Denmark.3 And of course, the abortion debate is center stage once again in this country following the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion last week signaling the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade. The sanctity of every human life is not universally recognized at the end of life either. Physician-assisted suicide (which ironically, proponents prefer to be called “death with dignity”) is currently legal in 10 states as well as the District of Columbia.4

Admittedly, secular criticism of the biblical worldview is not entirely unfounded. Some pro-life advocates that garner media attention may speak the truth, but they fail to do so with love and humility and in some cases, I think their motives center more on a desire for power or political influence than a genuine concern for the sanctity of life. But in this paper, I will argue that we cannot let the lack of love and humility, or disingenuous motives on the part of some overshadow the truth, which is that a biblical worldview is essential for a healthy society, and the drift of society away from the biblical worldview will ultimately have devastating implications for everyone. I will first briefly examine personhood theory, and the related philosophy of materialism, emphasizing how these ideas fall short. Then I will zoom in and closely examine the biblical perspective regarding human dignity. I will conclude with an examination of the devastating implications of abandoning the biblical worldview.

Western Philosophy

In her book Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey explains that most ancient civilizations believed that reality was based on a “unified system of truth” with an overall unity between the natural order and the moral order.5 But modern Western thought gave rise to a split system of truth. American theologian Francis Schaeffer illustrates this split system with the analogy of a two-story building. The lower story consists of objective, empirically testable facts that everyone must accept regardless of their personal beliefs. The upper story consists of morality and theology which are considered subjective and relative. Therefore, the prevailing view for modern enlightenment philosophy was that reliable knowledge of reality could only be found in the lower story, that which could be empirically tested. Personhood theory is an outworking of this dualistic understanding of reality, and it is the theory often used to justify abortion. Personhood theory argues that human dignity requires “the ability to exercise conscious, deliberate control over our lives,” the equivalent of the upper story.6 Since it is thought that fetuses have not yet acquired this capacity, they are not considered a person, but merely a lower story biological organism.

Robert Wennberg’s even starker explanation of the actuality principle shows it is synonymous with personhood theory. According to the actuality principle, “only beings with a developed capacity for conscious self-reflective intelligence have a right to life.”7 Proponents of this theory argue that rights, by definition are a means for protecting interests. They are invoked by their possessor to “avoid sacrifice of those interests.”8 But anything that lacks a capacity for conscious self-reflective intelligence has no interests to protect, and therefore no rights. By this definition, a fetus, even a newborn infant is no different than a rock. The actuality principle also denies personhood to the irreversibly comatose and the severely retarded. Some animal rights activists even invoke personhood theory arguing that “not all people are persons, but some animals are persons.”9 In other words, some animal rights activists would prefer that medical experiments be done with fetuses, infants, severely retarded or irreversibly comatose people rather than dogs because dogs have a higher cognitive capacity than these people.

Animal rights activists are not wrong in their belief that we should treat animals with respect. Indeed, Proverbs 12:10 says that “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animals.” But the secular perspective is misguided in its reasoning. The biblical perspective is superior to the secular perspective in revealing that respect isn’t contingent on cognitive capacity. All living beings should be treated with respect because they were created by God and have intrinsic value. At the same time, as Kevin Vanhoozer points out, while all other creatures were created according to a generic pattern (after their kind), humans were made according to a divine pattern (in our likeness).10 So although God provides for the birds, Jesus affirms in Matthew 6:26 that humans are more valuable in God’s view than birds simply by virtue of being created according to a divine pattern. Furthermore, Jesus’s example of compassion for women, children, the sick, and people with disabilities, groups deemed inferior in Roman society clearly demonstrates that all people are valuable to God.

Admittedly, Scripture does not comment explicitly on whether fetuses are fully human, but there is enough evidence from Scripture to argue it is highly likely they are. For example, in Exodus 21:22-25, God says that if two men get into a fight and hit a pregnant woman causing her to give birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must only pay the husband a fine. But if there is serious injury, the community must “take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (lex talionis). What is noteworthy about this passage is that it does not specify who must be harmed for lex talionis to be applied, leaving open the possibility that it would apply if either the woman or the premature baby were harmed. In the New Testament, Hebrews 7:10 states that “when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” This verse offers compelling evidence that the soul is not infused into a child after birth. The entire human nature (both body and soul) of the child is transmitted directly by the parents. While these verses do not conclusively prove that a fetus is fully human, I agree with Millard Erickson that given how severely Scripture condemns the destruction of human life, “prudence dictates that a conservative course be followed.”11

Another influential worldview in society that derives from personhood theory is the philosophy of materialism which grew out of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The basic premise of materialism is that humans are nothing more than biological organisms motivated only by physical pain and pleasure. This philosophy relies on the same Western split system of truth to argue that since morality is not something that can be seen or empirically tested, it is an illusion, “window dressing to disguise what is really nothing but the human organism’s drive to avoid pain and enhance pleasure.”12 Even from a secular perspective, this view is problematic because even ardent materialists are logically forced to acknowledge the necessity of drawing a line beyond which a person is no longer a lower story biologically human organism, but an upper story person with rights. Without such a line, it would be justifiable to kill anyone. The problem is, apart from the Christian worldview, there is no objective criteria for determining personhood. Some bioethicist like Peter Singer argue that even toddlers are a “gray case” since their cognitive capacity is still quite limited.13

At the end of life, the materialist philosophy is used to justify assisted suicide. The logic of this argument rests on what Ulla Schmidt calls “the general appeal of consequentialism” which argues that an agent ought to have the freedom to choose the action that would yield “the maximum net positive result.”14 For a patient with a terminal illness facing severe pain with no hope of recovery (enhancing pleasure), the maximum net positive result for the patient might mean at least allowing the patient to end her suffering. Even from a secular perspective this theory is problematic because it depends on the ideal situation in which the patient is of sound mind, and is not being coerced by family or healthcare personnel, and documentation has proven that this is not always the reality.15 But even in an ideal situation, assisted suicide is problematic from the biblical perspective. In Genesis 9:6, God explicitly forbids murder because the fact that humans were created in the image of God makes all human life inviolable, so I believe it is safe to presume from this verse that the physician who assists a patient in ending her life would be complicit in committing murder, even if it is what the patient claims to want. In a systematic rejection of suicide, Augustine also argues that Genesis 9:6 forbids the killing of oneself because patience is a fundamental Christian virtue, and therefore the evil and suffering of this world must be patiently endured.16

Another problem with the materialism philosophy’s justification of assisted suicide to end suffering is that a 2014 study found that most people choose assisted suicide not because they are experiencing physical pain or even because they fear such pain in the future, but because they have indirectly absorbed personhood theory and don’t want to be a burden to others when they are no longer a “person” in the upper story sense of the word.17 This is an inconvenient truth for proponents of assisted suicide who portray the practice as a compassionate choice. But even if proponents acknowledged this inconvenient truth and framed assisted suicide as an act of compassion to spare the patient’s family the burden of caring for them, this argument would be a flagrant misuse of the word compassion because Scripture teaches that “true compassion means being willing to suffer on behalf of others, loving them enough to bear the burden of caring for them.”18

Materialism can also reduce human life to a cost-benefit analysis. While proponents of physician-assisted suicide claim there are safeguards against coercion, some cancer patients in states where this practice is legal have reported being pressured by their insurance provider to choose this option because medication to end life is a whole lot cheaper than cancer treatment.19 From a utilitarian perspective, euthanasia of cancer patients might promote the greatest good for the greatest number in terms of sparing the patient’s family enormous medical bills, and lowering healthcare costs for everyone. But the biblical perspective recognizes that “it is God who has called the individual into existence for his purposes and ends, and those purposes cannot be set aside in the name of the collective interests of society.”20

The Biblical Perspective

Kevin Vanhoozer acknowledges that the analysis of our material dimension by the natural sciences is not, in and of itself problematic. After all, Genesis 3:19 states that from dust we were created, and to dust we will return. But Kevin Vanhoozer considers the natural sciences to be “provisional versions of human reality that need to be deepened, or perhaps disciplined by explicitly Christian beliefs” because the natural sciences cannot adequately account for human behavior.21 While philosophical anthropology attempts to explain human behavior, it has difficulty reconciling the simultaneous optimism of human creativity and pessimism of humanity’s destructive potential.22 The proper understanding of human behavior, and by extension the concept of human dignity, can only be understood through the lens of theological anthropology.

The biblical perspective of human dignity centers on the theological statement that humanity was created in God’s image. Scripture does not offer much in the way of an explicit definition of what this means, but there is enough evidence from Scripture to affirm three crucial truths based on this statement. First, the name Adam refers not just to one man, but to humanity as a whole. John Kilner points out that this fact often goes unnoticed by Christians living in individualistic societies such as the United States.23 But the consequences of this oversight have been devastating, as it has led to a flawed understanding of the concepts of freedom and autonomy in these societies. While the secular concept of freedom centers on self-determination, the biblical perspective is what Ulla Schmidt describes as a “paradoxical freedom.”24 We are free in the sense that regardless of our circumstances in this world, this world is not our true home. But we are also bound in relationship to God and to one another, which implies that we are not free to end human life–even a life that is still inside a mother’s womb–or even to kill ourselves, thereby breaking this relationship. Second, the creation-cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28 is a consequence of being created in God’s image, but it is not the image itself. According to John Kilner, misunderstanding of this truth has led many to define the concept of being in God’s image as currently possessing attributes of God such as the capacity for reasoning.25 It should be obvious how this misinterpretation opens the door to acceptance of personhood theory, leading even supposed Christians to justify the exploitation or murder of fetuses, infants, or the irreversibly comatose on grounds that since these people lack attributes of God, they are not in God’s image. Finally, although sin has severely damaged people, it has not destroyed, damaged or even twisted the image itself because the true image of God is Christ. Paul states in Ephesians 4:24 that we are “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” While John Kilner acknowledges the honest intentions of theologians who use the metaphorical language of God’s image being damaged to drive home the devastating consequences of human sin, he argues that this idea has robbed people of their dignity by implying a sense of hopelessness, causing people to abandon any sense of accountability to God for their actions. Christ is currently the only true image of God, but we are all called to become this image of righteousness and holiness, which in practical terms entails a re-framing of the concept of our dominion over creation. There is no human dignity in Western philosophies whose valuing of human life is based on subjective criteria, and whose idea of dominion is a “strategy for acquiring, increasing and securing power over others.”26 True human dignity is only achieved when we conform to Christ’s idea of dominion, a dominion of peace based on the objective premise that all human life has intrinsic value.


Some opponents of Christianity can respect a Christian’s personal conviction that practices like abortion and euthanasia are wrong, but resent having the Christian view imposed on them. On the surface, this is a fair argument. But the problem according to Nancy Pearcey is that “when society accepts the practice, it absorbs the worldview that justifies it.”27 Currently, abortion and prenatal screening for conditions like Down syndrome are framed as a choice. But if such practices become widely accepted, it may only be a matter of time before insurance companies and taxpayers resent the cost of medical care, special education services and accommodations for these children, and view parents who bring these children into the world as irresponsible. At worst, this could mean that genetic screening and abortion of children with Down syndrome (or any other disability for which a prenatal test is developed in the future) may no longer be optional. At the very least, it would result in a much more hostile world for all people with disabilities, with public accommodations and technological innovation becoming a lower priority, especially for “preventable” disabilities. Society could also come to view abortion as the best option for poor families, which would lead to disinvestment in social welfare services. If assisted suicide is widely accepted, the suffering for people who choose to live would also increase as innovation related to palliative care would also become a low priority. As already mentioned, the coercion of cancer patients in states where assisted suicide is legal proves that if assisted suicide becomes a widely accepted practice, it may only be a matter of time before euthanasia is no longer optional for people with conditions that incur high medical costs.

Perhaps these stark implications could be driven home for opponents of Christianity by co-opting the utilitarian philosophy. Sometimes, it is necessary to forfeit individual rights to promote the greatest good for the greatest number, especially since we are all–regardless of race,education or socio-economic status–potentially just one unexpected illness or horrific accident away from this discussion no longer being hypothetical. The Christian with righteous motives does not impose their views on others out of a selfish desire for power or political influence. We do so because individual choices eventually add up to a society’s worldview, and out of love for our neighbor, we wish to protect society from becoming a more technologically advanced, but no less brutal version of societies like ancient Rome whose pre-Christian worldview ultimately had devastating consequences for everyone.

In addition to the practical reasons for promoting the God-given dignity of all human life, even Laura Hercher, a genetic counselor at Sarah Lawrence College raised the rhetorical question, “if the world didn’t have people with special needs and these vulnerabilities, would we be missing a part of our humanity?”28 From a theological perspective, my answer is that we absolutely would. When Jesus and his disciples encounter the man blind from birth, Jesus said “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). Personally, I believe this passage indicates that people with disabilities are a part of God’s plan and he has a purpose for them which could not be accomplished any other way. Even though I have a disability myself, I have become so accustomed to living with it that even I take my blessings for granted and can easily become self-absorbed. But when I visit my grandma in the nursing home who is confined to a wheelchair and can barely speak now due to Parkinsons disease, my capacity for compassion and empathy is renewed. Whenever I meet new people, I love witnessing their amazement when I show them how I read and write using braille. Perhaps God allowed a world with vulnerable people and people with disabilities to teach us how to be compassionate and open-minded to other ways of living, making the tapestry of humanity infinitely more beautiful.


  1. Lisa Ko, “Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States,” Independent Lens: Beyond the Films, January 29, 2016,
  2. Ko, “Unwanted.”
  3. Sarah Zhang, “Prenatal Testing and the Future of Down Syndrome,” The Atlantic, December 2020,
  4. “States Where Medical aid in Dying is Authorized,” Compassion and Choices, Accessed May 9, 2022,
  5. Nancy Pearcey, Love thy Body, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 12.
  6. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 86.
  7. Robert Wennberg, “The Right to Life: Three Theories,” Christian Scholar’s Review 13, no. 4 (1984): 317.
  8. Wennberg, ”The Right to Life,” 318.
  9. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 103.
  10. Kevin Vanhoozer, “Human Being, Individual and Social,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 163.
  11. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 508.
  12. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 89.
  13. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 54.
  14. Ulla Schmidt, “Euthanasia, Autonomy and Beneficence,” Studia Theologica 56, no. 2 (2002), 316.
  15. Schmidt, “Euthanasia,” 137.
  16. Schmidt, “Euthanasia,” 315.
  17. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 90.
  18. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 91.
  19. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 91.
  20. Wennberg, “The Right to Life,” 317.
  21. Vanhoozer, “Human Being,” 160.
  22. Vanhoozer, “Human Being,” 162.
  23. John Kilner, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Company, 2015), 196.
  24. Schmidt, “Euthanasia,” 142.
  25. Kilner, Dignity and Destiny, 22.
  26. Vanhoozer, “Human Being,” 162.
  27. Pearcey, Love thy Body, 93.
  28. Zhang, “Prenatal Testing.”


Erickson, Millard J.
Christian Theology. Third edition.
Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013.

Kaelber, Lutz. “Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States
University of Vermont
Updated 2011

Kilner, John Frederic.
Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Company, 2015.

Ko, Lisa. “Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States.”
Independent Lens: Beyond the Films.
January 29, 2016

Pearcey, Nancy.
Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018.

Schmidt, Ulla. “Euthanasia, Autonomy and Beneficence.”
Studia Theologica 56, no. 2 (2002): 132-51.

“States Where Medical aid in Dying is Authorized,” Compassion and Choices, accessed May 9, 2022,

Wennberg Robert N. “The Right to Life: Three Theories.”
Christian Scholar’s Review 13, no. 4 (1984): 315-32.

Vanhoozer, Kevin. “Human Being, Individual and Social.” In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, 158–188. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Zhang, Sarah. “Prenatal Testing and the Future of Down Syndrome.”
The Atlantic
December 2020

On Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life: Part 1

Well readers, I am a woman of my word, and given that the Fall semester of seminary school officially starts this week, and the abortion debate will probably dominate the news cycle until midterms, it is almost time that I share the research paper I wrote last semester on the biblical perspective on human dignity. As I mentioned, I earned an 84%, not the greatest grade but in retrospect I realize it was a fair grade as I got too emotionally invested in the paper and thus it was too narrowly focused on the sanctity of life when the concept of human dignity also involves a more broadly defined inclusion of groups both society and the church tend to marginalize such as the aged, or people who choose to remain single. I also share this paper with the caveat that because of its narrow focus, abortion as it relates to genetic screening for disabilities like Down Syndrome, my true views on the broader abortion debate are not as black-and-white as portrayed in this paper. Hence, the reason this post is in two parts. Since my paper is over 3,000 words, I am giving it a post of its own tomorrow. But before sharing my paper, I wanted to clarify my views on this issue because although I believe there is compelling biblical evidence that God regards the unborn as fully human, the extreme degree to which many fundamentalists have weaponized Scripture related to this subject, sadly but understandably explains why so few people in my generation, and the younger generations want to associate with Christianity, and I want to make sure readers understand that these are not my views. Furthermore, since Scripture does not explicitly address abortion, it is important that theologians approach this subject with humility.

Abortion is a very sensitive and complicated subject, so much so that when I was a junior in high school and a Social Studies class required us to research an issue and present our views on the issue, the teacher said abortion was the only topic that was off limits. (I chose the topic of capital punishment, an issue that I feared the teacher wouldn’t accept because it also has to do with sanctity of life. But he allowed it because it wasn’t abortion). So it is with a little trepidation that I am devoting a blog to this issue. (My paper will also address physician-assisted suicide.) But in these times, bravery–which I define as doing your best to speak truth and stand up for what is right regardless of political or social consequences–is becoming ever more essential, so I am going to be brave.

When I was a senior in high school, I heard some of my peers from an advanced literature class talking about The Handmaid’s Tale. Out of curiosity, I downloaded it from Bookshare, but at the time didn’t get very far because the plot moves very slowly and I just couldn’t stay engaged with it. But then a few years later, around the time Donald Trump was elected and society at-large was raving about it, I decided I ought to give it another try, and this time I could hardly put it down. I finished it shortly before the first season of the TV show was released on Hulu, and I engaged in much lively conversation with other female coworkers at the Social Security disability law firm where I worked at the time about how scary the show was when you considered that real life seemed to be getting perilously close to resembling Gilead. Around that time, Mom found a YouTube video–unfortunately I could not find it again–in which Laura Ingraham was asked by the host of the Fox show immediately following her whether she would consider running for President, and she responded that she would, accept for the fact that she believes women shouldn’t work outside the home! Of course, the hypocrisy of this statement was glaring, given that she hosted a TV show and made millions of dollars, making her a real life Serena Joy! What is even more astounding is that in an articlethe author, Margaret Atwood wrote for The Atlantic, she said she stopped writing the book several times, thinking that the plot was too far-fetched!

I do stand by my belief that the genetic testing industry should be regarded with a healthy degree of wariness because as my paper will explain, if society comes to accept abortion of embryos likely to be born with disabilities (high-tech eugenics) the implications would ultimately be devastating for everyone. But my paper overlooked three important truths. First, the presence of a genetic abnormality is not the reason behind most abortions. Second, people in privileged positions–men who will never experience pregnancy firsthand, as well as women whose wealth/whiteness insolates them–really have no business weighing in on all of the scenarios which for them are merely hypothetical. While I am qualified to advocate for children with disabilities, in retrospect, I realize I am not really even qualified to judge mothers who choose to abort a child likely to be born with a disability because I am in a position of privilege as a white woman born into a comfortably middle-class family who has never gone a day without excellent health insurance, and attended an affluent school district that was able and willing to provide all of the support I needed. One subject that was briefly discussed in the Shake the Dust interview with Dr. Amy Kennywhich I mentioned in a previous post, is the idea that mothers who choose to abort babies with genetic abnormalities are not necessarily cold-hearted proponents for eugenics. Systemic racism, generations of poverty and constant cuts or threats of cuts to welfare programs trigger the legitimate fear for expecting mothers from less privileged backgrounds that they will not be able to properly provide for a child with disabilities. Ideally, we should prioritize robust legislation that rectifies our history of systemic racism and strengthens social safety nets, which would assuage the fears of these mothers, but in the meantime, no one has the right to judge them for choosing abortion. But most importantly, all of the hypothetical scenarios bandied about by politicians are what my paralegal textbooks would call red herrings, rabbit trails the opposing party coaxes you down to distract you from the real issue at play. In The Color of Compromise which I read last semester, the primary focus is racism, but Jemar Tisby also briefly discusses the history of the abortion debate because it is actually relevant to systemic racism. When Roe v. Wade was ruled in 1973, Christians’ views on abortion were mixed, and the Southern Baptist convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States even passed a resolution stating that legislation should allow for abortion in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal deformity, and the physical, mental and emotional health of the mother. But when Christian fundamentalists were unsuccessful in their efforts to resist racial integration of schools, they needed a new issue to coalesce a voter base around to maintain their power and influence. The issue they ultimately decided to focus on was abortion. And while the pro-choice platform of Democrats seems kinder on the surface, the truth is that both sides now use the abortion issue to raise money and gain power and influence. Personally, I wish culture influencers would do more to promote responsible behavior BY BOTH PARTIES in a consenting relationship to avoid unwanted pregnancies rather than getting an abortion after the fact. At the same time, earthly governments have no business legislating morality.

I look forward to the day when the whole world lives under a righteous, Christian government, but given our fallen state, we cannot and should not establish such a government by our own power. In 18th century America, many feared that government disestablishment from religion would mean the end of religion and moral disaster. While I don’t have official statistics on how many Americans became religious nones immediately following disestablishment, there were no doubt some people who chose this path. There were definitely Deists, influenced by enlightenment philosophy such as Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason who respected Jesus’s teaching related to morality, but rejected the supernatural. But overall after disestablishment, Christianity actually flourished like never before as people could chose the denomination that most spoke to their hearts, and attending church was a choice. (All mainstream Christian denominations basically agree on essential doctrine. Their differences lie in how to interpret ordinances (for example, Infant baptism or believer baptism?) and worship style. The more I reflect on the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the extreme state laws this decision triggered, I cannot help but wonder if these laws are the modern manifestation of a desire of some to return to the status quo for most of our overall bleak human history when people in positions of power usurped God, denying the masses the chance to exercise the free will God intended. Under this system, a king could boast that his territory had been “Christianized” but no one’s heart was really in it. This is suggested in the introduction to a primary source from 17th-century Europe which I read for my Church History course, which cited regulations prohibitting walking around or gosiping during prayers, and one distinguished theologian was praised at his funeral for never having slept during church! Thomas Jefferson had many flaws–most notably his hypocrisy in championing freedom while owning slaves–but we should all be grateful for his wisdom in pointing out that “if an all-wise and all-powerful God chose not to coerce the bodies or minds of men and women” what gives us “fallible, uninspired men” the right to do so (Schmidt and Gaustad, Religious History of America Chapter 6)?

When fundamentalists of any religion seek to implement a theocratic government, the fact that all earthly governments are under the influence of Satan means that any righteous intentions that may have existed to begin with always and inevitably give way to hypocrisy, and a complete misrepresentation of the true tenets of the faith, as addiction to power takes precedence over genuine faith. Margaret Atwood illustrates these shortcomings of theocracy brilliantly in The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as its sequel, The Testaments. In The Handmaid’s Tale, June becomes aware of the hypocrisy of Gilead when after being forced to adhere to strict 17th-century purity standards, the commander Fred Waterford takes her to a former hotel converted into an underground brothel to satisfy the needs of high-status commanders and officers. In The Testaments, Aunt Vidala, the religion teacher at the “school” for girls in Gilead takes the story of the Levite and his concubine from Judges 19 and 20 completely out of context. But there are plenty of real-life examples, both historic and current, of hypocrisy and the cherry-picking of Scripture, from the conduct of Jerry Falwell Jr., to white pastors in 19th-century America who took Scripture out of context to justify chattel slavery. The abortion issue is just another example of hypocrisy, given that the same politicians who are vehemently pro-life as it relates to abortion resist any efforts to control who has access to guns, or strengthen social safety nets to protect children after they are born. It also bothers me that pro-life dialog around this topic seems to put all of the blame and shame of an unintended pregnancy on the shoulders of women when as far as I am aware, the virgin Mary is the only woman in human history who became pregnant without the involvement of a man.

Because of my medical history, I most likely will never be pregnant, which occasionally gives me twinges of sadness because I would love the opportunity to raise a child from infancy someday. So I must admit I could kind of empathize when I heard that some protestors stand outside abortion clinics with signs that say, “I will adopt your baby.” But I am now beginning to understand why women seeking abortions find such signs offensive. As my paper will explain, the Bible never explicitly addresses abortion, but there is compelling evidence to suggest that God cherishes the unborn, and that they may possess souls long before birth. But there is also much more direct evidence in Scripture that God values women as more than mere incubators. Carrying an unwanted pregnancy can be traumatic, even dangerous, especially for women of color, and the motives of people like me are actually quite selfish given that there are already thousands of older children, even teenagers in the foster care system who need loving forever homes.

All this is to say that as I have learned more about the abortion issue since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, my views on abortion have become more nuanced since I wrote my paper. Politicians whose Christianity and pro-life position is genuine would support positive legislation that indirectly encourages women to choose life, such as legislation that strengthens social safety nets and garantees universal access to health care, while having the humility to recognize that as politicians, they are not experts in all of the difficult real-world situations that lead to abortion, and therefore should not enact rigid laws banning it. Since science and medicine are aspects of God’s general revelation to all of humanity, doctors should have no fear providing medical care that technically involves abortion, and legislators should trust women and their doctors to privately decide what is in the best interest of all parties on a case-by-case basis rather than setting arbitrary limits on when abortion is permissible.

I am pro-life, and I believe that from the moment of conception, embryos should be respected as far more sacred than just a clump of cells. But I also believe that sincere Christianity should define pro-life in far broader terms than the abortion issue. Furthermore, Christians also need to have the humility to recognize that as compelling as passages like Luke 1:41 (when John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice) are for us in-house, theologians disagree on how literally to interpret this, and other passages related to the unborn. So we must accept that this idea that life begins at conception is not a universal view imparted through general revelation on the consciences of all humanity, but a perspective gleaned from God’s special revelation in Scripture. As Christians, we can and should share the gospel on an individual level by praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance in gently, lovingly encouraging friends, family, coworkers who may reach out to us to choose life. Yet there is no ambiguity as to how to interpret verses where Jesus calls us to have compassion for the poor, the refugee seeking asylum, women, and these values have also been imparted on the conscience of the vast majority of humanity, as evidenced by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was drafted by people from diverse nationalities and religious backgrounds, and was passed in 1948 by the United Nations in response to the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust. Legislation should focus on these universal human rights, many of which the United States has room for improvement in recognizing. But we should leave the judgment of women who seek abortion to God. Jesus, who was all-powerful and without sin, never coerced people to adhere to his teachings, but drew people to him through love, mercy, compassion. If the Christian faith and pro-life views of politicians and pro-life lobbyists were sincere, they would do the same.

What I Would Tell the Teenage Girl Who Wrote a Letter to President Bush

This past year, Mom deep-cleaned the basement, put in new flooring (by herself), donated/threw away things we no longer used and reorganized special items we wanted to keep. One day several months ago, shortly after this massive undertaking was complete, I had just finished walking on the treadmill one Tuesday evening when I grabbed my phone off the shelf where I set it to play music, and in so doing noticed a folder with braille sticking out of it. Curious, I carefully pulled out the folder to look inside, and discovered she had saved the letter I wrote on Wednesday November 3, 2004, the day after the 2004 election, to President George W. Bush.

I remember that day vividly. I was a freshman in high school, too young to vote, but I voted for John Kerry in a mock school election during lunch period on the eve of the real election. To my dismay, George W. Bush was declared the winner of the mock election. But my parents weren’t surprised at all. We were independent voters, but they told me our county is a very Republican-leaning county. Looking back on it, high school was an interesting time. My peers and I were taking more interest in current events, as we realized how rapidly adulthood was approaching, and were starting to form our own opinions, and yet we were still largely sheltered, our opinions heavily influenced by our family values. The bus ride to school on Election Day was interesting, as I witnessed a boy from a conservative family get into a somewhat heated argument with the bus driver, a Black woman. A couple days later, on the bus ride home, I voiced my disappointment with Republican opposition to stem-cell research to a boy in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy whom I had ridden the bus with since elementary school. We had a casual friendship. One monday morning in middle school, he told me that a big project for Social Studies was due that day when I thought we had another week to work on it. When he saw my panicked face, he laughed and said, “Just kidding!” I liked teasing him for his unfair advantage in gym class when he would cruise around the perimeter of the gym in his wheelchair while the rest of us had to walk the laps. (He had his own exercises appropriate to his situation later).

On the bus home a couple days after Election Day, I told him how my sister and her boyfriend (now husband), were pursuing science degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and pointed out that this field of research could one day repair my optic nerve and restore my sight, but Republican opposition was slowing this research. He responded that stem-cell research might hold the cure to his muscular dystrophy too, but he would rather remain handicapped than benefit from research that killed embryos. I didn’t have a response to this compelling argument. This conversation, and the interesting tension between self-interest and ethics it raised came back to mind on June 24 when Roe v. Wade was overturned. I will talk more about this issue specifically in another post, but that conversation was my first awareness of the reality that these sensitive issues are not black-and-white, and to pass legislation at either extreme that does not recognize this reality is counter-productive. (It would be really interesting to know where these bus friends stand on these issues now that they have experienced the broader adult world.)

The winner of the real election had not been called as of 7:30 Wednesday morning when I left for school. But one of my friends who somehow had access to the news came up to me in the hall between second and third hour, and informed me, with an excited tone of voice that indicated she had voted for Bush in the mock election, that George W. Bush was declared the winner, and John Kerry had just conceded. I think I smiled and uttered a neutral, “That’s cool!” Good sportsmanship was heavily emphasized in my family, and our school, so it never occurred to me to question the integrity of the election, or that one day, an insurrection would be instigated by adults who could not accept the outcome of an election. But after talking to my friend, a burning inspiration welled up in me, a sense that I needed to get civically engaged. I was going to write a letter to the president voicing my concerns. I have heard of people doing this. I have even heard of children being invited to the State of the Union address and being recognized for their activism. Maybe I would be recognized for my activism too, not just any teenager, but a blind teenager writing a letter to the president! Maybe shaking hands with one of my senators would fast-track me to an internship program and I would one day be president of the United States. Yes, I had a really big ego! In fact, my ego was so big that the following Saturday, realizing that I would no longer own the BrailleNote that composed this letter once I graduated high school, and even before then the digital file could be lost, I spent the morning re-typing the letter on my Perkins Brailler so that it would be preserved for posterity. It clocked in at 1,431 words according to my BrailleNote, 3 print pages, 8.5 braille pages. 

I must have given my Math homework short-shrift that night because I remember typing feverishly on my letter that evening. I finished it during study hall the following afternoon, and printed it at school. The following day, Friday, there was no school, as we always had a long weekend at the end of each quarter to give teachers time for grading. This meant Mom could take me to the post office first thing in the morning, I realized as I got on the bus that afternoon!

Mom laughed a little uneasily about the pointed language in my letter–no veiled threats or anything like that, just a very snarky tone–but she was fully supportive of my activism. So that evening, she helped me re-type the letter on our desktop computer to correct some formatting issues and make minor edits, but the final letter ended up being pretty close to my original inspiration, and on Friday morning, it was signed and sealed and Mom promised we would drop it off at the post office on the way to a garden center with Grandma.

I forget the specifics of why the post office mailbox was blocked, but Mom said she couldn’t pull the car up to it as she usually does, and she thought it would be easier if I just give her the envelope and let her get out of the car and drop it in the mailbox. So I gave her the letter, but when two months passed with no response, despite knowing that Mom is a person of impeccable integrity whom I still trust to fill out my ballots on Election Days–and we have on a few occasions voted differently–I had to ask, “you really did drop it in the box, right?” In my teenage mind, it dawned on me that given the contentious political climate–though child’s play compared to the political climate today–her understandable motherly instinct to protect me from possible negative repercussions could have prompted an uncharacteristic one-time act of deception that would have been very easy to pull off given I am blind. She could have gotten out of the car, walked to the mailbox, maybe even stuck her hand in the mailbox without actually releasing the envelope from her grip, and walked back to the car.

Much later–I think it might have been March or April–I did receive a terse, generic form letter. No invitations to the State of the Union Address, no fast-tracking to an internship, but it still ended up being a valuable learning experience that still influences how I think about politics today.

My cynical attitude toward politics was cemented during my time studying with my Jehovah’s Witness friends. When they explained why they do not vote or run for political office, I remember challenging, “but if we had more people of good character in government, this world could be better?” They responded that there are good people in office, but they are ineffective because all earthly governments are influenced by Satan. When they went home, and I watched news coverage of Donald Trump’s meteoric rise in popularity despite a complete absence of morals, or Republicans so out-of-touch with average people, so beholden to lobbyists, and so addicted to power that they championed denial of health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and refused to pass sensible gun control legislation even after hearing emotional testimony from grieving families, when Hillary Clinton, despite having character far superior to Trump, was nonetheless also beholden to large donors and wasn’t entirely transparent, especially when it was revealed she used a private e-mail server for government correspondences, it occurred to me, “oh my goodness! The Jehovah’s Witnesses are right!” But the seed of cynicism was planted with that letter back in 2004, my first realization that politicians really don’t care what the average teenager in middle-America thinks.

To be fair, like I said it wasn’t the greatest letter. I laughed hysterically when I found this letter. I cannot believe what a snarky teenager I was! To get a taste of my tone, here is the first paragraph: “My name is Allison Nastoff and I am fourteen years old. I am also blind. I am writing to you on behalf of me as well as my parents, siblings and friends to inform you that I am very disappointed that you were reelected. Let me tell you why since apparently, you haven’t been listening to the news or the pleas of half the American people.” The rest of the letter is pretty much parroting rhetoric from hyper-partisan sources like Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11, or arguments I overheard from friends and family. My ignorance of history was also on full display, as I unfairly attributed economic policies that encouraged the outsourcing of jobs, and opposition to abortion and stem-cell research to George W. Bush personally, not fully understanding the concept of party platforms, and unaware that the modern positions of the Republican Party actually originated with Ronald Reagan, and the Moral Majority Campaign of Christian fundamentalists that got him elected.

What is interesting about this letter though is that despite having a much better grasp of history, and eighteen additional years of life experience and exposure to people with different views, my positions on the issues I address remain largely unchanged. If I were writing this letter today, my reasoning would simply be more nuanced, and of course, I would write more conscientiously and seek constructive feedback to ensure my tone would be less off-putting. For example, when criticizing his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, I write, “I am definitely against gay marriage and abortion because marriage should be between a man and a woman, and having an abortion does take the life of an unborn child, but I strongly oppose outlawing abortion, and passing a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. This is because, as John Kerry said, you can’t legislate your religious beliefs.” I laughed at my teenage self for being so partisan that I appealed to John Kerry as if he were God. Today, if I chose to appeal to a person, I would choose someone more illustrious like Thomas Jefferson who stated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that, “Almighty God hath created the mind free.” But while we should not go as far as totally demonizing Thomas Jefferson, we should acknowledge the hypocrisy of this and other statements he made regarding liberty in light of the reality that he owned many slaves. Perhaps a more impactful argument would simply be to respectfully point out that while we are free to have our own personal convictions on these subjects, we really have no right to broadcast our opinions, much less legislate on them unless we have had firsthand experience with these circumstances.

One fundamental aspect of my letter has evolved significantly however. In my critique of the war in Iraq, in my critique of his opposition to stem-cell research, and in the conclusion of the letter, I give considerable attention to America’s stature in the world. Perhaps embracing the idea of American exceptionalism was understandable in 2004, just three years after 9/11. The way I remember it, although there was certainly division in 2004, there was also still a lingering sense of patriotism in those days. But as an adult, I have come to believe that the concept of American exceptionalism is problematic. Even if you don’t ascribe to Christianity, I would submit to you that American exceptionalism is harmful because it actually hinders our progress toward becoming more exceptional (a more perfect union). It’s like when I was in chamber choir in high school. Chamber choir was the highest-level choir in the school. Auditions were required to get in, and not everyone who auditioned was accepted. We all loved to sing, and knew what we had signed up for, more challenging music. But this choir met the last hour of the day, so we were tired from a long school day. I think we would have loved to just come to choir, sing our songs straight through, be told we were awesome, and go home refreshed from an hour of carefree singing and the stroking of our egos as the students privileged to be in the highest-level choir in the school. But that is not how Mrs. B operated. She did not care that it was the last hour of the day. She expected excellence from us, and there were many days when we couldn’t sing more than one note without her stopping to nitpick the tiniest improperly pronounced vowel, or tone that wasn’t locked. One day when she could sense that the class was exasperated by this, she stopped and explained that her nitpicking was out of love. We were excellent, but while the choir director who doesn’t have high expectations, doesn’t call out when students could do better may be the more fun teacher in the short-term, long-term, such teachers ultimately do their students a disservice. I believe the same metaphor is appropriate for our country. We do have a lot to be proud of as a country. No other civilization in human history has enjoyed the same degree of freedom, especially regarding speech and religion, as the United States. But we also have a lot to be ashamed of, especially our history of slavery, systemic racism, and the murder and oppression of indigenous people. Instead of reflexively accusing people like Nicole Hannah Jones (author of The 1619 Project) of hating America, we should recognize that people like her are comparable to Mrs. B. It is because they love this country that they challenge us to actually live up to the ideals espoused in our Constitution, which cannot happen until we are willing to take the extremely uncomfortable but necessary first step of exposing our ugly history to full sunlight.

But for those of us who are Christian, American exceptionalism is especially dangerous because we have a tendency to merge this exceptionalism with Christianity (Christian Nationalism) which is actually a form of idolatry that ultimately leads people to worship country before God. It should come as no surprise that this attitude leads to the implementation of policies that are anything but Christian, but which people justify using Scripture.

Thus if I were writing this letter today, I would radically reform the following problematic passage related to the war in Iraq: “But perhaps the most saddening aspect of this war in Iraq is our declining stature in the world. Before you took office, America was a super-power, a dream land which many immigrants saved all their earnings to immigrate to. Yet I have heard many predictions, even from optimistic adults predict that in four years, America will no longer be a super-power, or a dream place that people will immigrate to.” First, the most saddening aspect of this war was the death of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians in a war that could not even be justified as self-defense provoked by a direct attack. But today I would ask, what gives us the right to appoint ourselves policemen of the world, toppling regimes like Saddam Hussein (evil as he was) when we have our own cruel history? I would also completely abandon the concern over our country no longer being a super-power because now I realize, so what if we are no longer a super-power. All once-revered empires in history–Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome–and in modern times Great Britain, eventually fell. Even God’s chosen people Israel were ultimately divided and scattered. The Bible says that kings are set up and deposed according to God’s sovereign will (Daniel 2:21), and numerous Bible verses make it clear that only Christ’s kingdom will endure forever. Some Bible scholars speculate that perhaps the United States is represented in the feet of the statue envisioned in King Nebachadnezar’s dream, made from a mix of iron and clay, an empire that is strong because of the iron, but also divided (Daniel 2:41). But there is far from universal agreement about this, and in any case, such speculation is counter-productive. What matters is that no great empire of human history has endured forever, and to think that the United States will end up being some kind of divinely ordained exception to this pattern is a form of idolatry.

As I mentioned back in June when I felt inspired to write about the gun violence epidemic, I had planned to read Jesus and John Wayne this summer, a book introduced to me in a discussion from my American Church History course. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten very far, and realistically won’t have it finished by the time school starts again in a week and a half as it reads like a textbook so I have had difficulty staying focused on it. But in chapter 1, the author discusses how liberal Protestants and Fundamentalist Christians disagreed over whether the United States should get involved in World War I. While liberal Protestants saw the war as a war to end all wars, and an opportunity for the United States to extend Democracy and Christianity across the globe, fundamentalists questioned the very notion that the United States is or ever was a Christian nation. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t take long for the attitudes of fundamentalists to radically change, but I would have agreed with a quote from the November 1914 edition of The King’s Business, a monthly publication of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. “A Christian nation” the editors argued, “is a nation which, as a nation has accepted Christ as its Savior and as its Lord in its commerce, in its politics, in its international relations and in all the departments of its life. Such a nation does not exist on Earth, and never has existed, and never will exist until our Lord comes again.” Thus if I were writing this letter to George W. Bush today, I would no longer embrace the attitude of American exceptionalism, and would respectfully urge President Bush to return to the true tenants of the Christian faith, to seek peace, not war, to implement policies that honor the human dignity of all, even at the cost of political power, wealth or our dominance on the world stage.

The political polarization today is such that during the Trump administration when I helped friends and family compose respectful letters to our representatives voicing our concerns, the letters were completely disregarded. I believe we are much safer as a nation under President Biden, a man whose integrity, character and competence is far superior to Donald Trump. But he is by no means perfect. I especially disagree with his decision to step back from his bold promises to invest in clean energy and issue new permits for oil drilling to lower gas prices, putting short-term economic interests ahead of the long-term existential threat of climate change. And Joe Biden is still part of a political system beholden to money and special interests such that I think even today if the teenage me said she wanted to write a letter to the president or her representatives, I would say, “Don’t waste your time.”

This past Tuesday, Wisconsin held its primary election, and one of the races on the ballot was the race for the Democratic candidate who would run against–and hopefully unseat–Ron Johnson, a horrific embodiment of Christian nationalism. One of the candidates that ran was Steven Olikara. It just so happens that I went to school with him from kindergarten through high school, but that had nothing to do with why I supported him. His campaign was radical, and a refreshing departure from traditional politics. He wanted to represent the “exhausted majority,” the vast majority of Americans who no longer trust that government can work for them. On Sunday July 17, a debate was televised statewide, and while the other candidates gave the traditional canned political responses to issues–assuring viewers of their pro-choice stance for example–Steven Olikara recognized the abortion debate had nothing to do with genuine concern for women or babies. It was an example of the political-industrial complex, an issue that both sides use to raise money and gain political power. He promised he would work to get money out of politics, even promising that he would not fundraise while Congress was in session. His website also advocated for term limits, and a citizen-legislature such that ordinary people could have access to politics, and thus the interests of ordinary people would be better represented. But ironically and unfortunately, because of his impeccable integrity, his refusal to participate in “the system” by accepting money from special interests, his campaign budget was only $500,000 compared with the multiple millions of the candidate the party establishment decided to coalesce behind, Mandella Barns. Many Wisconsinites likely were unaware of Steven Olikara because I only saw one very brief commercial last Sunday morning, and it frustrated me to hear that even many voters who were impressed by him decided to vote for other candidates, succumbing to concerns over “electability.” Thus to my astonishment, while Mandella Barns won with over 389,000 votes, Steven Olikara received only 5,611 votes statewide! At least I can proudly say I was one of them. This is not to say that Mandella Barns isn’t a good person. While he is wealthy now, as a black man raised by working-class parents, I am confident he understands and will represent ordinary people far better than Ron Johnson has. I also recognize that even if Steven Olikara won the primary race and the general election in November, his effectiveness would have been hindered by “the system.” The Bible is clear that no earthly mortal–not even Steven Olikara–can truly reform our fallen world. Thus, I would tell the teenage me that while Ronald Reagan’s racist rhetoric regarding welfare, and “law and order,” and his flawed belief in trickle-down economics have done immeasurable harm to this country, he did get one thing right. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. As such, far more productive than running for political office or writing letters to your representatives will be your decision to study to become a chaplain.

Chapter 8: A Complicated Question

It is 2010, and I am standing in front of a classroom of thirty college students at Carroll University where I am a student myself. But I am not in this class. My classes are in the communication and english departments. This is a class for business majors studying diversity in the workplace, and I have been invited as a guest speaker. Presentations like this are second nature to me. I have been giving presentations like this since I was in second grade and was invited to speak to a third grade class. When you have such a rare disability, you are an ambassador whether you want to be or not, but I do genuinely enjoy giving these presentations.

    In front of me, the professor has graciously placed a big table where I set up as the class chats amongst themselves and gets situated. I have brought along my BrailleNote, the Perkins Brailler which I used for math, the one subject that is not as feasible on the BrailleNote where you can only see one line at a time, some braille promotion cards I bought from the National Federation of the Blind that have the alphabet in print and braille, a grocery bag with boxes of cereal, milk and utensils–later in the class, students will put on blindfolds and attempt to make themselves a bowl of cereal–and of course, Gilbert who lies snoring at my feet.

    I introduce myself and give a brief history of how I became blind, and how I adapted, at school and at home. Then for the next hour or so, I open up the floor for questions. Most of the time is spent on the garden variety questions like how I accomplish various tasks, whether I enjoy watching television. But without fail, the big question always comes, usually toward the end like a grand finale: “if advancements in science allowed you to see again one day, would you want to?”

    I am not offended by the question. It is a valid question I am sure I would have asked if our roles were reversed, and something I have wondered about when listening to people with other disabilities I cannot imagine living with, such as people confined to a wheelchair. The problem is, this question always leads to internal conflict for me. These presentations are not job interviews, but indirectly, they are. After graduation, many of these student will go on to careers in business, possibly conducting job interviews themselves. If they see that a candidate for a job is visually impaired, their interaction with me will almost certainly come back to mind, and with it, the attitude I conveyed toward living with blindness. There is an unwritten rule in the disability community that to wish for your disability to be healed is unseemly, a sign of low self-esteem. So the same advice experts give for job interviews applies. Be honest, but accentuate the positives. Project confidence. So I respond with a half-truth, that it would be neat to experience what it would be like to see for maybe ten minutes, like if there were goggles I could put on like the ones used for drunk driving simulations in high school. But really, being blind is normal for me as I was too young to remember when I had sight, so having sight restored someday isn’t something I think about a lot. But the full, unvarnished truth is way too complicated to sum up in a job interview or class presentation.


    It is a Sunday morning when I am five or six years old. I am standing with my family at Saint Dominic’s Catholic church listening to Father Kurt read from the Gospel of John. Like most children that age, I was fidgety and often tuned out the church service, just wanting to get home. But that day’s reading piqued my interest. It was the story of Jesus encountering a man blind from birth, begging by the side of the road. Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes, telling him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, at which point his sight would be restored. Mom must have sensed what my little mind was thinking as an excited smile spread on my face. Usually preferring that us kids hold our questions until we are in the car, Mom leans over to me on the spot and explains to me in a whisper how this story was actually a metaphor for spiritual blindness. Now that I am an adult, I believe her explanation was also a half-truth. Jesus absolutely does use this healing to expose the spiritual blindness, the hardness of heart exhibited by the Pharisees. But Jesus did literally restore sight to the blind. I respect Mom’s intentions. She didn’t want me to become disheartened toward Jesus, or develop bitterness toward my literal blindness when in my innocence, I prayed for Jesus to restore my sight and nothing happened.

    So in the years that followed, I rarely thought about whether I would wish to see one day, and when I did, it was more in terms of mere curiosity than a real longing to see. I think the word normal is such a funny word. It is defined as “conforming to an expected standard,” but everyone’s life is unique in some way. Normal means something different to everyone. My peers, who could see making them “normal” by society’s definition would be fascinated by how I could read and write braille. To me, braille is normal, but I would find myself fascinated by the tiny wrinkles made by the pens of my peers on the pages of their spiral notebooks. If we were sharing a desk for a group project or something, I sometimes couldn’t help reaching over and sliding my fingers along those lines of tiny wrinkles wondering how they can read and write a language that looks so complicated. Not understanding my fascination because print is normal for them, they would often move their notebook saying, “sorry my notebook was in your way.”

    Another mantra emphasized by the disability community is to not let the disability define you, and to an extent, I agree. No one with any kind of disability should let people tell them they cannot do something, cannot pursue a dream because of their disability. More than at any other time in history, technological innovations have opened so many doors for people with disabilities. But I have often wondered if in some ways, I would be a different person if I could see. I often think about how interesting it would be if I could clone myself, and then be a fly on the wall and watch her grow up, just to find out to what extent my personality is influenced by my blindness. Would she enjoy watching and participating in sports, or would she, like me find the cacophony of screaming fans, whistles and buzzers obnoxious, even if she could see what was going on with the game? Would she still find museums boring even if she could see what was behind the glass? Would she enjoy helping Mom select a paint color and be excited about how clean and cheery the newly painted room looks, or would she, like me, groan when Mom wanted to re-paint a room because all she would notice is the stinky paint fumes, and the annoyance of having to move about carefully for a few days so as not to accidentally touch the wet paint, or stub her toe or bang her shin on the furniture that had to be re-arranged for the project?

    When I was in middle school, a close friend who had to endure bullying confided in me that she loved having me for a friend because I didn’t cast judgment about her physical appearance. This warmed my heart, and most likely, I wouldn’t have said anything mean to her if I could see as kindness toward others was engrained in my siblings and me. But would my clone, whose personality would be identical to mine except for her ability to see, reveal that my heart wasn’t really as pure as my blindness allowed it to be?

    With no concept of physical appearance, I never rebelled, trusting my parents to choose respectable clothing for me, and accepting their guidance when they taught me how to comb my hair. But would my clone have chosen to rebel, wearing short skirts, dreadlocks, maybe even a nose piercing or tattoo?

    But all these questions really aren’t important in the grand scheme of life, just curiosities to daydream about. Blindness is normal for me, and I live a fulfilled life.

    In 2015 while taking a walk with my dad one summer evening, I met Eda, a neighbor who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and out of genuine curiosity dating back to childhood when Jehovah’s Witnesses would knock on our door, I said yes when she asked if I would be interested in a weekly bible study. I didn’t become a Jehovah’s Witness, as much of their theology I disagreed with. But studying with them deepened my own faith in incredible ways, and one belief that both of our faiths share, although mainstream Christianity does not emphasize as much, is that Christ will return and all disabilities will be healed. Given my lifelong indoctrination with positive attitudes toward my disability, I was conflicted at first as to how I should feel when Eda talked so passionately about this. Part of me wanted to reprimand Eda for implying that my disability was a problem that would be cured one day, when I was living a happy fulfilled life. And yet, that excitement at the prospect of sight being restored from when I heard that story from the Gospel of John, returned, this time multiplied exponentially as it dawned on me this story was more than just a metaphor. In spite of myself, I found myself verbalizing to Eda and her friend Jane, daydreams of running with both hands swinging at my side, no longer needing to hold on to a white cane, guide dog or sighted person to guide me, daydreams of exciting solo excursions to wherever the spirit led me, again no longer needing the assistance of a sighted person. Was my self-esteem lower than I thought? What would other people with disabilities think if I confided in them the freedom I imagined experiencing if my disability could be healed?

    A few months later in a training meeting at the Social Security disability firm where I was a paralegal, an attorney was explaining that if there is strong medical evidence that a person’s disability could be cured, but the person chooses not to get the necessary treatment, they could be denied disability. On one level, this makes sense. But it also made me wonder, if a cure for my disability were discovered, would I have a choice whether to receive it? On the surface, of course it would be my choice. No one can handcuff me and drag me to the hospital for the stem cell infusion or chip implant that could restore my sight. I can empathize with the perspective that taxpayers should not have to pay welfare to someone whose disability could be cured. I am a bit of a prideful person who for several years didn’t even want to apply for disability since I am college educated and capable of working. Since there is no cure for my blindness right now, I was able to find an employer willing to accommodate me, assigning the visual aspects of the job to others. But business people are always talking about efficiency. Would any employer still accommodate me if I chose not to be cured? Thus, practically speaking, I may not have much choice. With my disability benefits cut off, and business no longer interested in making accommodations, choosing not to take the cure would mean choosing poverty. Recognizing this risk, I think I would still choose not to take the cure. I never rebelled when it came to dress and hairstyle, but I love the idea of rebelling when it matters. I want to live in a society where people are accepted as they are, where diversity is cherished. I have nothing against people who see things differently, especially those whose disability began later in life when it wouldn’t have formed a core part of their identity, shaped their personality. But I wouldn’t want to send a message to young people whose disabilities cannot yet be cured that, “for now you can hold your head high, enjoy the opportunity you have to be an ambassador, but if a cure is found, you are going to have to cave to the pressure of taxpayers and businesses, conform to society’s standard for normal in the name of financial security.”

    In addition to financial concerns, I hesitate to have my disability cured in this life because in regaining my sight, my life would lose some of its richness. Don’t get me wrong. Not every day of life as a blind person is sunny. In fact, life as a blind person can sometimes be a real pain in the ass. It took me hours longer to complete math homework than my peers, especially when the assignments involved graphs or geometric figures. When I flirted with the idea of law school in 2013, I couldn’t believe the hours of paperwork I had to fill out proving I was blind to get the LSAT in braille. Would a sighted person really request the LSAT in braille just for the heck of it? And despite growing up with parents and teachers who had me chanting “yes I can!” long before Barack Obama, it is hard not to have a crisis of confidence when you are looking for employment, and every company’s website has that canned statement that they don’t discriminate on the basis of disability, and yet all their job postings have at least one essential duty that is visual in nature, like taking photos, or overseeing layout and design.

   But I cherish the many wonderful moments my disability has brought about. These include hillarious misconceptions which sighted people take for granted, like how until middle school, I thought that airplanes flew by flapping their wings like birds, as well as commical moments of irony like the time I got a letter pre-approving me for an auto loan. Blind people do not have supersonic hearing, but the brains of people who are blind compensate by being more attuned to the other senses, so I have been known to hear or smell things that others miss. Being blind also has a few perks, like being able to read when it is pitch dark, and being able to have a guide dog who has been an unofficial therapy dog as well, keeping me smiling when life got tough. But most importantly, I have enjoyed the opportunities I have had to enlighten people by showing them there is more than one way to complete tasks like reading, writing and traveling.

In the story of the blind man from the gospel of John, the apostles ask Jesus if this man is blind due to sin by him or his parents, to which Jesus responds in John 9:3 that neither him nor his parents have sinned. His blindness happened so that God’s work could be displayed in his life. For this blind man, God’s work was displayed through healing him so that he could expose the spiritual blindness of the pharisees. For my life, I believe God has a purpose in me remaining blind to show what a rich, fulfilling life is possible even when you cannot meet society’s standard of normal, to be a friend to those that everyone else puts down because of physical appearance. And yet as it says in Ecclesiastes, to everything there is a season, so in those moments when being blind can be a real pain in the ass, I love to daydream of a day when I might be able to run with both arms swinging at my side.

Chapter 7: The Rivers of Faith and Life Come Together

The first seeds of awareness that seminary school might be in my future were planted every time we went to Elmbrook Church, where I would be on the edge of my seat, fully engaged with the academic nature of each sermon that brought the Bible to life, and then fertilized one Sunday in 2013 when the senior pastor at the time remarked that as a child, he was terrified of public speaking, and yet God called him to be a pastor, proving that with God, anything is possible. I even visited Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the school I now attend which at that time had an extension site at Elmbrook Church. But after that visit, I determined I wasn’t ready to commit to seminary school at that time. For one thing, I wasn’t mature enough at the time to know what I wanted to study, or what kind of career God was calling me to. Even though the senior pastor’s testimony got me thinking about career possibilities I had never considered before, I still wasn’t feeling called to the demanding career of a pastor. In addition, I was embarrassed when as part of the visit, my mom and I had lunch with an admissions counselor. My family always said grace before dinner at home, but felt awkward praying in public, so at restaurants or school cafeterias, we would just dig right in. So I was embarrassed when I had already started eating, and the admissions counselor wanted to say grace. Maybe I wasn’t even “religious enough” to fit into the culture of seminary school at that present moment. So I decided to focus on gaining real-world work experience.

    During the years I worked at the Social Security disability law firm, I never explicitly talked about God with people outside family or Bible study. Most of my coworkers were not religious, and on the rare occasion when I saw opportunities to mention my faith, like when someone randomly confided to their fear of death on a slow day, I always chickened out, unable to find the right words. But my coworkers respected me for my compassion when handling clients, and one woman told me she admired how she never heard me use profanity. Sometimes people would even apologize to me when they used profanity, as if I were their pastor. But Mom told me that living by example is the best way to attract people to the Gospel, and she said her parents used to say, “if you have to tell someone you are Christian, maybe your faith isn’t authentic. It should be obvious just by the way you live.”

    By this point in the book, readers who don’t know me intimately likely have an inflated view of me, so I think it is time to quell that and confess here that while my example was respected at work, and while I want to live a life that counts for God, by no means is my behavior always becoming of a student in seminary school. Despite intellectually knowing that God has a purpose for everything, including my blindness, sometimes I find myself envious of the freedom and autonomy sighted people take for granted. More on that in the next chapter. Somewhat related to that, despite knowing how blessed I am to live with my parents, especially during this pandemic as I witnessed friends who live alone spiral into depression and anxiety, sometimes I find myself frustrated with God that I am not out in the world living the adult life, contributing to the world like my siblings. Because I don’t pray often enough about this, this frustration sometimes manifests itself in angry outbursts at my parents which I always regret after the fact.

    But while I didn’t talk about faith, and still don’t live out my faith as fully as I should, in recent years I have been filled with inspiration to write about it on my blog. In 2009, I started a blog to chronicle my experience training with Gilbert and navigating college life. In those days, I rarely mentioned my faith. Between June 2013 and February 2018, I did not write at all on my blog. In 2014 and 2015, I felt so devoid of purpose in my life that I couldn’t find the motivation to write, and in 2016 and 2017, I was too emotionally drained from my job to write. But looking back on when I felt inspired to resurrect the blog in 2018, I noticed that my writing had transformed. I felt compelled to share my faith in most of my posts, and on a couple occasions, I would be hit with waves of inspiration to write about faith as it relates to politics, current events or mental health in our society, waves which were so intense that I couldn’t sleep until these thoughts were written.

In 2019, I started feeling restless, longing for a job that was more intellectually stimulating, where I could better utilize the gifts God has given me, and I sensed God nudging me to revisit the idea of taking seminary courses. But since school work takes longer for me, I knew I would need to quit my job to do well, and it took a lot of sweat and tears to get the job I had. Life was humming along smoothly, and I just couldn’t bring myself to resign. But then the pandemic hit, and my family did not want me going to work given that I have underlying medical conditions. I had no idea when it would be safe to return. My manager said he could hold my position for as long as necessary, but after much prayer, I realized the pandemic was just the kick I needed to respond to God’s call. So on April 24, 2020, I officially resigned from the law firm, and now here I am, about to start my second year of seminary school. Like everyone, the forced isolation of this pandemic has driven me crazy to some extent, and occasionally, I find my mind racing down a rabbit hole of anxiety over whether resigning from the law firm was a smart move for my future financial security. But this isolation is different from 2012 because seminary courses have given my days structure and purpose, and even on days when I feel lonely or anxious, it only takes a little prayer to get me back on track. I think the isolation of 2012 prepared me well for this season by strengthening my patience and trust in God. So while this pandemic forced many people to cope with isolation and uncertainty for the first time in their lives, I recognize this pandemic as a season that will one day be a distant memory, a patch of choppy water in a river that will smooth out. As for the uncertainty, I don’t know what direction my life will take after completing my seminary education, but I trust that God has a plan.

Chapter 6: Coming to Faith

It is one of many Sunday mornings growing up. Most of the family is in the car, which is idling in the driveway. I say most because we were always waiting on one pokey sibling.

    BEEEP! Dad lays on the car horn.

    “Where is he?” Dad would mutter angrily.

    “I don’t know, but I’m tired of always being late,” Mom said with an exasperated sigh, “I almost don’t even want to go if we cannot get there on time.”

    That would have been fine with us kids. We almost always went to the 11:00 mass, also referred to as the drunkard’s mass because it was the latest mass offered. But even 11:00 seemed early when we were enjoying a leisurely breakfast–Mom often made her family-famous, fluffy waffles on Sunday morning–and we would have loved to stay in lazy mode. But alas, my parents felt it was their duty to raise us Catholic, and so they drove us to Saint Dominic’s church, figuratively kicking, and literally screaming at each other about whose fault it was that we were late again, or why someone had to take a cold shower because one sibling or another used up the hot water.

    Once we arrived at church, the atmosphere, from the aroma of incense to the organ playing calmed us down so that by the time we took our seats, no one would have known we had been fighting just minutes earlier. But my siblings and I loved it when sometimes, the usher would tell us there were no seats left in the main sanctuary and direct us to some pews in the hallway. Mass was piped out to the hallway so we could still participate, but since it was the hallway, my siblings and I felt less guilty about horsing around.

    During the week, my siblings went to Saint Dominic’s school, but because of my special needs, I had to go to public school. All of my siblings switched to public school for high school, but the closest sibling in age to me was my brother Brice who was four years older than me, so he graduated high school as I graduated eighth grade. As a child, this sometimes made me sad. I would see friends meet up with their siblings to ride home together on the bus, or say hi to a sibling in the hallway and I would wonder what it would be like to have a sibling in the same school, to be in the same world as them. As it was, I sometimes felt isolated. Saint Dominic’s let out an hour earlier than Burleigh Elementary, so my siblings were always home and well immersed in after school snacks and a television show by the time I got home, and occasionally, they would have off when I had school. I always felt especially left out at weekend sports tournaments or social events. There was a tight-knit group of parents talking about Saint Dominic’s life, while my older siblings and the other kids played together. And then there was me, not part of the club, and thus not sure how to fit in.

    While my siblings received their Catholic education in Religion class during their regular school day, public school students like me attended CFC (Catholic Formation Class) for an hour and a half one evening a week. Saint Dominic’s was not able to provide the workbooks for CFC in Braille, and family life was too hectic to deal with figuring out how to get them in Braille on our own, but I would listen along as other students were called on to read out loud from these books, and each year during elementary school, either my sister or another older kid would be appointed to assist me with visual activities, and to take me to the restroom as my medicine often wore off around CFC time. By middle school, I was able to just partner with another classmate for visual activities, and in middle school, CFC met on Sunday mornings when my medicine was more reliable.

    If you had known me as a child, you never would have guessed that one day, I would be taking seminary courses. I was the typical kid who found church tedious, from the Catholic rituals of standing and kneeling, to the sermons that when you are little, you actually believe could last forever, and you could become the age of Grandma sitting there in the pew, and the priest would still be droning. I remember one Sunday when I was six or seven years old, I was in a particularly bad mood and as we were walking out of church, I said nice and loud “I hate church!” Unbeknownst to me, right as I said that, the priest was walking by. My mom was a registered nurse and at the time worked at a rehab facility, which sometimes required her to work weekends. This was one of those weekends she had to work, and my sister couldn’t wait to rat me out to Mom when she got home that evening.

    To keep myself from going crazy when I was really young, I would sometimes pass the time by taking a hymn book from the pew rack in front of me and counting the pages. These books were made of those thin, onion skin pages that would stick together, so separating the pages kept my little fingers occupied even longer. My parents never took the book away or reprimanded me for this. I guess they figured hey, she’s being quiet. I think it served the same purpose for me as the fidget spinner for kids today. As I got older, I followed in the footsteps of my older siblings and just daydreamed. Occasionally, Dad would light-heartedly quiz us about the sermon, and our covers would be blown when we couldn’t think fast enough. But my parents generally didn’t make a big deal of our inattentiveness in church, especially since Mom would often catch Dad dozing off in church and have to elbow him to wake up. They took us to church out of a sense of duty, but they viewed the daily example of Christian values at home as more important than that one hour a week anyway.

    I wasn’t all that fond of CFC either. The workbooks were boring, and we had homework, which infuriated me because I thought I got enough homework during the regular school day. As another example of how irreverent I used to be, each week in CFC, someone was assigned to bring a treat to share halfway through class. Every teacher would have us say a brief prayer of thanks to God before we ate, which normally I didn’t mind. Our family said grace before dinner each night too, so I was used to that. But one year, we had a teacher who wanted us to recite the Nicene Creed before snack time. I remember finding this incredibly annoying because this is such a long prayer when you are eight or nine years old and hungry. But externally, I was a good girl so I kept my mouth shut. But one week, a mischievous boy in the class echoed my sentiments out loud, and I remember smiling at his audacity.

   Although I did not take church or CFC seriously as a child, looking back I realize that all along, God was working on my heart, nudging me toward a personal faith commitment. Starting in about third grade, Dad started going to Indiana once a month to help his parents with yard work. After selling their motel business in 1986, Grandma and Grandpa built a big house on a five-acre lot, not anticipating the difficulty maintaining this property as they aged. Sometimes my siblings also came along, but since they were teenagers by that point, Dad allowed them to stay home most of the time. But I loved these monthly trips. I loved the one-on-one time with Dad, driving through Chicago singing along to oldies on the radio as we drove down on Saturday mornings, and then listening to 60 Minutes on a news station as we drove home Sunday evenings. When we got there, Grandma doted on me, letting me eat whatever unhealthy treats I wanted for lunch, and taking me for rides around their property, with me sitting next to her on a motorized scooter. During this time, Grandma also taught me to pray the rosary, and praying the rosary together became a part of every monthly visit. 

    In one sense, I hated praying the rosary, especially the tedium of having to pray the Hail Mary fifty times. But I never protested when Grandma wanted to pray the rosary because I think on some level, I actually enjoyed it, as the repetition of these prayers quieted my mind, gave me a sense of peace which I now recognize as God’s presence. I also think something in my heart was stirred by witnessing my Grandma’s dedication to her faith, the sincerity with which she prayed even though I did not feel drawn to God yet myself.

    Then one Wednesday night during my freshman year of high school, I was sitting at the kitchen table working on homework, listening to Dateline which my parents were watching in the living room. That night, the show featured the authors of the Left Behind Series, and the longer I listened to their interview, I had this strange urge to get ahold of these books as soon as possible. So that Friday after school, Mom took me to the library where I checked out the first book of the series which was available on tape. Just a couple chapters into the book, I had decided I wanted my life to count for Christ, and my passion only grew over the following year as I obtained and listened to all the books in the series. Skeptics might say I was “scared straight” by these books, and maybe I was a little. But more than that, I think that until reading these books, I just never gave any thought to that line in the Nicene Creed which says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” It wasn’t until reading these books that something clicked in my mind and I realized the story of Christianity wasn’t a story that ended long ago which we merely drew moral lessons from on Sunday mornings. Jesus was coming again. The story was still unfolding, and I was a part of it, and this was thrilling to me.

    I found myself taking mass much more seriously, and as a “baby Christian”, I had a couple thrilling situations where I said a prayer during a difficult circumstance, and I felt a “peace that passes understanding” and could hear God’s voice in my conscience guiding me through the situation. My favorite character in the Left Behind series was Buck Williams, a journalist who was “left behind” but repented, left his position at a prestigious newspaper, and started an underground publication exposing the truth about the anti-Christ. Although I didn’t mention this on my college application, nor on my application for a mentorship program my junior year of high school where I had the opportunity to intern with the Waukesha Freeman, a local newspaper, Buck Williams was largely behind my decision to study journalism. I enjoyed writing, had won a couple essay contests, and was told by family and teachers that I was a talented writer. Maybe I too could expose the truth, and in that way make my life count for God!

    My freshman year of high school also marked a wonderful turning point in accessible technology when I received my first BrailleNote, and the following year, I learned about, and subsequently subscribed to, a website where people who are blind or dyslexic can download thousands of digital books to listen to or read in braille. My subscription to Bookshare meant that for the first time, I could download the Bible in braille and read it for myself. I could have ordered a braille Bible as a child, but given that it takes up six feet of shelf space, I would not have been able to bring it to CFC to look up Bible verses, and probably would never have cracked it open at home either given that I hadn’t made a personal faith decision. As an enthusiastic baby Christian, I had noble intentions of reading the entire Bible cover to cover. I remember telling my mom how the Bible feels like that movie you have seen bits and pieces of at different times, but you have never managed to sit down and see the whole movie so it never fully makes sense. After school, and even during free moments during school, I would open up my Bible, and in the first week or so of having my own Bible, had gotten through Genesis and Exodus. I have since learned that this noble intention is shared by many baby Christians, as is the reality of ultimately falling off the wagon as without guidance, the Bible quickly becomes overwhelming as it is comprised of several different genres, and is not actually arranged in perfect chronological order. But I still cherished just having it on my BrailleNote, and knew someday I would get back to it.

    Shortly after I started reading the Left Behind Series, Mom started reading it herself, and it inspired her to re-dedicate herself to faith as well. When I started middle school, she signed onto a weekend program where she worked twelve hour days at the hospital every Saturday and Sunday, and then could be off all week. This schedule worked wonderfully with school schedules, but it meant she was rarely able to go to church. But she and Mrs. Lillie heard about a dynamic Women’s Bible study program that met at Elmbrook Church, a large nondenominational church on Tuesday mornings. I couldn’t wait to get home from school on Tuesdays to hear all about Mom’s Bible study that morning, and in this way became more aware of the Protestant world. It seemed like there was a zeal for faith that was lacking in the Catholic tradition, and began to question Catholic practices like confessing sins to a priest rather than directly to Jesus, or reciting scripted prayers rather than just praying from the heart. It also bothered me that all too often during mass, I would hear a reading that I found confusing or challenging, and yearned for a sermon that addressed it. But instead the priest would go off on a tangent that had nothing to do with the readings. This was not unique to Saint Dominic’s. I noticed this when I occasionally visited other Catholic churches or watched Catholic masses on television. The age at which young people receive the sacrament of Confirmation and are subsequently recognized as full adult members of the church, is determined by each individual diocese. In the Milwaukee diocese where I grew up, the sacrament took place junior year of high school. As my junior year approached, I felt a little disingenuous going through with the final year of preparation for Confirmation, but while my parents said they would respect boundaries and allow us to make our own faith decisions as adults, they wanted us all to go through with Confirmation. I decided to take the sacrament seriously, framing it in my mind as a commitment to follow Christ, even if I eventually chose a Protestant church. I even asked Grandma to be my Confirmation sponsor. She was honored and delighted, but in retrospect, given how upset she was when I did eventually switch to a Protestant church, maybe I should have chosen someone else. But at that age, I didn’t fully appreciate how much it meant to Grandma that the family was not just Christian, but Catholic. We are still on speaking terms, and I know she loves me. Every time I see her, she gives me a big hug and says “God bless you sweetie.” But we no longer say the rosary together, and we have an unspoken agreement between us to just not talk about religion.

    On Sunday August 31, 2008, during the one week I lasted in the college dorm, an older student who had been showing me the ropes of college invited me to Elmbrook Church with her, and I jumped at the chance. I loved everything from the livelier modern music, to the unscripted prayers, and even the sermon. Although it was longer than the Catholic homily, it didn’t seem long because it was so inspiring. Instead of a random tangent, it was a teaching directly related to the Bible. I couldn’t wait to go back, but it was awhile before I was able to return. Although returning home was the best decision overall, I kicked myself internally every Sunday morning, wondering if I could have persevered and stuck things out in the dorm because moving back home meant I no longer had a ride to Elmbrook Church. Mom still worked weekends at that time, and Dad was not comfortable leaving the Catholic church. We didn’t know of anyone in our neighborhood who went to Elmbrook Church, and cab fare would have cost a fortune. So I resigned myself to the reality that for the time being, I would have to go to Saint Dominic’s if I wanted to go to church. In 2011, Mom got a new job that no longer required her to work weekends, so she was able to go to church again. For the sake of family unity, Mom was not comfortable completely leaving the Catholic church, but Mom and I would attend Elmbrook Church periodically, and every time we left feeling inspired and sensing God’s presence. After every visit to Elmbrook, the contrast between that experience, and the Catholic tradition became more pronounced to the point that shortly after college graduation when I expressed to my mom how I was seriously considering trying to live on my own again in an apartment closer to Elmbrook Church, Mom confided that she really wanted to switch to Elmbrook Church permanently herself. So in March 2013, we took the membership class and officially switched to Elmbrook Church.

    In 2012, I graduated from Carroll University with a Bachelors degree in Communication with a journalism emphasis. But during my college years, the economy, and the journalism landscape changed and I could not find a job. But that summer, I also suffered debilitating migraines and fatigue, and tests revealed I had a severe case of Celiac disease. Mom pointed out that perhaps it was by God’s grace that I hadn’t found a job because I would have had to miss a lot of work with all the migraines and doctor visits I had that summer, and I would have started out with a bad work reputation. During the thick of my illness, I agreed with her, but when my symptoms resolved with a strict gluten free diet and I still couldn’t find a job, the sense of isolation, having no job or school to give my life routine and a sense of purpose, drove me crazy. I think I prayed a few times, but when I didn’t get the instantaneous response from God I had as a “baby Christian” in high school, depression started to set in and I found myself questioning whether God really had a purpose for me. Was all my hard work all these years for nothing?

In the summer of 2013, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development helped me land an internship with Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement, a local charity that provides braille and audio books and classroom materials to blind people in the community, and during this internship, I met a blind woman who suggested I look into paralegal courses because while she didn’t pursue a paralegal career, she took some classes, enjoyed them and said it seemed like an accessible field for blind people. After reading a paper I wrote my freshman year of college in which I argued that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam should have refused to carry out the Mi Lai massacre because conscience takes precedence over orders from a superior, my parents thought I would make a great lawyer. While my parents may have been right, I wasn’t passionate enough about law to commit to the expense and academic rigor of law school. But a paralegal certificate from the local technical college was a lot more financially reasonable, and could be completed in one year. Maybe I could still put some of my writing skills to use assisting a lawyer. So in 2014, I earned a paralegal certificate, and in April 2015, I was glowing with joy as I landed a job at the Social Security disability law firm where I would work until March 2020. But this joy was short-lived. A few months into the job, I realized the software the company used wasn’t as accessible as I thought it would be, and I often made mistakes that drew angry calls from clients, and even caused hardship for the attorneys on a few occasions. Again, I was gripped by intense depression and anxiety. Pride kept me from being fully honest with the manager about how much I was struggling, and while I applied and even interviewed for other jobs with no success, something kept me from quitting. Just when I felt like I had reached the end of my patience, a sermon or a conversation with a friend would give me encouragement to get through one more day. God rewarded my patience in December 2016 when my manager gave me a simpler position that was far more accessible, and in February 2017, the manager allowed me to switch to a part-time schedule.

Chapter 5: School Days

I am in first grade, and it is toward the beginning of the school year. The classroom consists of six short round tables, around which are four tiny plastic chairs. I sit in one of these chairs, and next to me in an adult chair sits Mrs. Zahn, the full-time teacher’s aid that helps me keep up with the class.

    “Hi Allison,” my friend Katie says as she takes her place at the table.

    “Hi Katie,” I say.

    “How does she know it’s me?” Katie asks Mrs. Zahn in amazement.

    “I don’t know. Ask her,” Mrs. Zahn says.

    So she asks me, and I say, “I can tell by the sound of your voice.”

    Later it is time to read a book. As the teacher passes out books to the other students, books which I reach for and stroke in amazement as they look like blank pages to me, Mrs. Zahn places my book in front of me. My version of the same book is on thick cardstock-type 8.5 by 11 pages of raised dots, spiral-bound with plastic binding.

    “How does she read that?” another classmate asks, fascinated.

    “I don’t know,” says Mrs. Zahn, “Ask her.”

    A few days later, Mrs. Becky comes to pull me out of class for Occupational therapy.

    “Use your cane,” she gently reminds me as she trails behind me as I make my way to her room. Sometimes, I would walk forgetting to swing my cane properly, resulting in me bumping into doors or tripping over boots left outside lockers.

    “It looks like a class of fifth graders is coming our way,” Mrs. Becky said a few minutes into our walk. “Let’s stop and let them pass.”

    Sure enough, I hear a cacophony of footsteps and whispered chatter of a class walking single-file behind their teacher on their way to lunch or a “special” class like art or music. As I was taught, I stop and tuck my cane in close to my body so as not to trip anyone, and wait the way a car waits for a train to pass. But instead of walking past quietly as I thought they would, the passing train of students calls out “Hi Allison!” “Hi Allison!” “Hi Allison!” one after the other. I cannot respond to each hi fast enough! When the class has passed, I ask Mrs. Becky in bewilderment, “How did they know who I was? They are not in my class!”

    “You’re famous,” she replied with a smile in her tone of voice, “everyone in this school knows about you because you are the first blind person to go to this school.” The following year, a reporter from our local newspaper followed me for the day and wrote an article about me.


    It is a Monday morning in October of my third grade year, and over the weekend, the teacher had graded our first Social Studies test which we had taken on Friday. The test covered basic geography concepts like the names of the seven continents and four oceans, the differences between a map and a globe. I got my test back at the same time as the rest of the class, but before handing them back, the teacher showed my grade to Mrs. Zahn, who affixed a little braille sticker in the upper right corner of my answer sheet with the grade on it so I could see it for myself. I had written my answers in Braille, and Mrs. Zahn transcribed them verbatim into print for the teacher. My grade on this first test was a C.

    Third grade was the first year of “real school” with letter grades, and this was the first major test of the year. When I saw that C, I didn’t think anything of it. I knew what the letter grades meant and although of course, an A would have been better, a C meant average. I was okay with being average. I had heard my parents yell at my older brothers when they occasionally brought home Ds, but they seemed okay with Cs. So I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got from Mrs. Reich when I saw her later that day. Her reaction resembled the plot of Ms. Nelson Is Missing, one of my favorite children’s books from the previous year.

    This perpetually cheerful teacher who rewarded me with M&Ms on Fridays based on how many braille pages I read, who took me on fun field trips to the mall or the grocery store, had suddenly become Ms. Viola Swamp. After an interrogation in which I admitted I had not studied for the test as I was supposed to, with the flimsy excuse that we were celebrating Mom’s birthday that night, and some relatives came to visit, she said, “I don’t care what you have going on at home in the evening, how much fun you are having. I don’t care if the whole house is full of company for a party. You are going to go upstairs and study. School is only going to get tougher in the years ahead, and if you don’t study, you are going to be in trouble.”

    It is Monday June 11, 2000, the second-to-last day of fifth grade. My work ethic hadn’t improved much since third grade. Just a couple months earlier, the class was reading Johnny Tremaine. Normally I loved to read, and have been known to stay up late into the night, well aware I would be tired the next day, but unable to put down a good book. But I found Johnny Tremaine excruciatingly long and boring, so one week, I just just couldn’t stand it anymore and stopped reading. That year, I had a new aid, Mrs. Hobson, as Mrs. Zahn was transferred to a younger student. She would be my aid from fifth grade all the way through first semester of my senior year of high school. The fifth grade teacher was a big fan of pop quizzes, and because Mrs. Hobson received things ahead of time to get them in braille for me, she knew there was going to be a quiz on the chapters I neglected to read. So in an act of mercy she told me she would never show again for as long as she was my aid, an act of mercy she reminded me of years later too, she pulled me out of class for a marathon catch-up session. Overall though, my grades were decent, and I had met all the requirements to graduate fifth grade. Tomorrow, there would be a small ceremony in the school gym, and then it was off to middle school. But on June 11, during a period of quiet work time to tie up the last academic loose ends, I heard the principal walk in and whisper something to the teacher, then come up to my desk. For a moment, my heart skipped a beat. Was I in trouble?

    “Hi Allison,” Mr. Zahn whispered, “I just wanted to tell you congratulations on your graduation tomorrow. I’m so proud of you.”

    “Thank you,” I said, a little caught off guard but grinning ear-to-ear.

    “You were an experiment, did you know that?” he asked. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember being puzzled by this statement.

    “You are the first blind person to ever attend this school district,” he explained. I had not known that. I knew I was the only blind student currently in the school, but at that age, I was too young to grasp the significance of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the decision my parents and teachers had made on my behalf.

    It’s funny to think how when I was a kid, it seemed as though school would be my routine for eternity. Now that this chapter of my life is over, it feels as though it passed in a flash. But these snapshots stand out in my memory and illustrate my school experience well.

    I feel so blessed that I wasn’t sent to a boarding school for the blind, not only because I was spared the heartache of having to say goodbye to my family every week, but also because I cannot imagine that I would have felt as natural, at ease in a sighted world as I do today. In fact, I actually feel more at ease in the sighted world than with a gathering of blind people, and even forget what it means to be blind. As a funny example of what I mean, once when I was in high school, I was invited by a friend to a meeting of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students at the state convention for the National Federation of the Blind. We needed to vote on something–I don’t even remember what it was now–so the student president said she was going to pass around a bag, and asked us to throw in a dime if we wanted to vote one way, and a nickel to vote the other way. When the bag got to me, I put in my coin, but when I held the bag out to the next person, he didn’t take it.

    My first thought was “hello! are you awake!” before remembering, “oh yeah, all these people are blind like me!” So I tapped the person on the shoulder and told him I was passing him the bag, shaking it so he could find it. But my interaction with sighted people is so natural. They see me and seamlessly put items right into my hand. They see me reaching for them and intuitively take the item from my hand. When I went to these events, I could understand the allure of going to a school for the blind when I casually chatted with other students about technology or braille without having to preface anything with explanation, or to not have to explain your disability and the accommodations you need to teachers unfamiliar with blindness. I know some very successful older blind adults who would have gone to the state school for the blind growing up, and they are very confident in the sighted world and have even mentored me on how I could advocate better for myself. This important skill must have been built into the curriculum, or else they did a great job figuring it out on their own. But I feel so blessed to have gotten the chance to advocate for myself at such an early age when Mrs. Zahn responded to the questions of my classmates with, “I don’t know. Ask her!” Whether or not my classmates remember these interactions today, I don’t know. But maybe by having me in class, they at least subconsciously benefitted, by seeing that blind people are no less intelligent than anyone else and can speak for themselves. I have heard blind adults lament that if a sighted person is with them, there is still a segment of the public that will direct questions to the sighted person, assuming this person is the blind person’s guardian. For me, having the opportunity to practice speaking for myself at a young age meant that as I got older and was progressively given more responsibility advocating for myself with teachers, I was confident and comfortable doing so, and by the time I started college and had to advocate for myself completely on my own, it felt as natural as breathing.

    Mrs. Zahn also emphasized the importance of precise language. In third grade, my best friend was Amber and we liked to hold hands and walk together to “special” classes. Sometimes, the teacher would want me to walk on my own to practice orientation and mobility, so Amber was asked to seek permission first. But the first time when she asked Mrs. Zahn “can I walk Allison to Music class?” Mrs. Zahn gently corrected her and asked that Amber say “can I walk WITH Allison?” I overheard this conversation and was puzzled about why Mrs. Zahn wanted Amber to phrase the question this way. She explained to me how she didn’t want my peers to view me like a pet. They didn’t need to walk me to class like a dog. I was perfectly capable of walking to class by myself, but they were welcome to walk with me as friends. As an adult, I find it disheartening when people mock the idea of political correctness. Words really do matter, and just a small, seemingly petty difference in wording can have profound implications for how a demographic is perceived and treated.

    Overall, I remember Burleigh Elementary School as a warm nurturing environment that emphasized kindness and inclusion, so much so that sometimes, I felt like a rockstar! It was not unusual, especially in the early grades to have whole classes say hi to me as they filed down the hallway. There was a small underbelly of bullies that I had to deal with at before-school daycare from third through fifth grade when my parents felt they shouldn’t impose on Mrs. Lillie to babysit me when they had to get to work early. When I would try to join in one of their games, I was pointedly ignored, and if I was playing with legos or something they wanted, they would just come up and snatch them away as if I weren’t even there. But when the school day actually started and I went to my regular class, it was as if I went to a whole different school. I never lacked peers clamoring to partner with me for an assignment, or friends to play with at recess or sit with for lunch. In first and second grade, I would try to sit off by myself because the cafeteria was so noisy it overwhelmed me and I didn’t want to talk. So to ensure I had a healthy social life, I was allowed to stay in the classroom for lunch with three peers. Everyone in the class wanted a turn to eat lunch with me. This began to change in middle school, a phenomenon which I had not anticipated. I had a group of girls I sat with for lunch, and there were many days in which I genuinely enjoyed meaningful conversation with them. But some days, I felt so out of place, even with these friends because I found typical junior high antics like screaming over a cute guy, stupid and annoying. To these girls’ credit though, they were extremely respectful in that when I would be startled by an especially piercing shriek, they would apologize to me and try not to act so ridiculous. They couldn’t fully resist acting like junior high girls, but I sensed in them a little more maturity, an awareness that they knew they were being obnoxious even if puberty made this behavior hard to resist. Maybe they admired and respected my ability to just smile and eat quietly, staying above it all. Most of these girls were also in choir with me, so I have happy memories with them in choir too.

    I feel fortunate in that I was never bullied outright in middle school or high school, but I often felt ignored. Gone were the sweet elementary school days when people clamored to partner with me for a project. In middle school, when the teacher would ask us to find a partner or divide ourselves into groups, it seemed even if I stood up from my desk and walked toward the throng of students with a hand raised like an awkward beggar, asking if anyone would partner with me, I heard only crickets. Sometimes I could get a group’s attention and get a lukewarm yes when I asked to join them, but sometimes the teacher would have to help me find a group. If I had to do a group project with two or more people, it felt like there was the rest of the group, a cohesive clique, and then me, just along for the ride like a third wheel. I appreciated the occasional teachers like my seventh grade science teacher who really made sure that the group was interacting with me and giving me a meaningful role in the building of our Rube Goldberg machine. I have met blind people who are very comfortable being loud and assertive, but that was never me. I think I did a great job of advocating for myself when it came to explaining my blindness and the adaptations I used, but I never quite figured out how I was supposed to assert myself in a group that I could tell wasn’t really interested in working with me.

    In the hall between classes, it was very rare for a student to say hi to me, and if none of my friends were in class with me, I just sat quietly at my desk while it seemed everyone else was chatting during the lag time before class started. In the awkward insecurity of middle school where image is everything, the old lady clothes I had to wear because of my back brace were certainly a hindrance to making a lot of friends, as well as possibly the white cane I swung in front of me, the cart I had to pull behind me to carry my supplies between classes, and the suitcase I had to take home each night because no traditional backpack was large enough for my braille textbooks and 3-inch binders bursting at the seams with my assignments. But these weren’t the only factors. In hindsight, I realize I was a bit of a weird kid.

    Mrs. Reich started worrying about my social life when I was only in third grade. I showed no interest in popular culture, hadn’t seen any of the movies or television shows children my age were talking about, but I still enjoyed playing house with baby dolls.

    “Just so you know, when you are twelve, if you invite a friend over and suggest playing with dolls, they will never come over again,” Mrs. Reich warned. I did lose interest in dolls on my own shortly thereafter. I enjoyed collecting American Girl dolls for a few more years, not so much to play with but to display and read the books that came with them, but by seventh grade, I had outgrown that too. But when I got to middle school, I still had no interest in popular culture, and after a visit to my grandma’s house in sixth grade, I fell in love with old country music from legends like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Merl Haggard, Marty Robins and Johnny Cash. As someone who got so much joy from singing that I couldn’t get it out of my system in choir, I would sing these old country songs on the bus, and while pulling my cart through the hallways. I guess I figured as long as I look weird, I might as well fully embrace my true personality!

    Occasionally, I would have friends over to play braille board games, or card games with a deck of braille cards. It was difficult for me to have friends over because there were no kids my age in our neighborhood, so I would have to coordinate with my parents, the friends and their parents about when was convenient for everyone and who would pick them up and bring them home. But even if there were kids my own age in the neighborhood, since I found most of my peers annoying, and most of my peers probably saw me as the weird blind kid, I still doubt I would have had much interaction with peers after school.

    By sophomore year of high school, to my relief, some of my peers were starting to grow up and show a genuine interest in partnering with me, but other factors kept me relatively isolated. In middle school, each grade had the same lunch period, but in high school, lunch periods were not grade specific. There were three lunch periods available, and everyone’s lunch period could change each semester based on when it fit into their class schedule. It was very rare that I could find a friend with the same lunch period, and by high school when academic demands were more rigorous in preparation for college, my friends and I often had to cut lunch short to speak with a teacher about an assignment, or in my case, get math tutoring from Mrs. Hobson. After school, homework usually took so long I didn’t have time to socialize with friends. I pulled many all-nighters so I could be in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir which I would do all over again because it was good for my soul, and I had several close friends in this choir whom I socialized with during the break we always got halfway through rehearsal. But beyond that, I didn’t have the time or energy for anything else. So oftentimes, my only interaction with peers was small talk during partner or group assignments, and if there were no such assignments, I could go whole days feeling as though I lived inside a bubble, silently, robotically going from class to class, doing my own thing. Perhaps due to this lack of a social life growing up, I have a little social anxiety now, especially if friends from bible study invite me to their houses. On the other hand, since I am used to being isolated, I think I have fared better in quarantine than many of my peers. Everyone’s life has challenges in some form, and I suppose each circumstance has its advantages and disadvantages in the larger context of life.

    When I was in middle school, I remember feeling almost betrayed by students I thought were my friends in elementary school, but in retrospect, I hold no bitterness toward them. I have since read studies which show that a child’s personality takes shape at about age six, so although I have lost touch with most of them, I sincerely believe that if I met them at a reunion now, they would be the goodhearted people they showed themselves to be in Ms. Gnacinski’s class. But I also believe that while character is something innate that cannot be taught, it can be nurtured by adults through activities that encourage kindness and inclusion.

    In first grade, every student got the chance to be “star of the week.” When it was your turn, you brought in a poster to promote yourself. My mom helped me create a poster with pictures of me reading braille, using my cane, playing on the swing set in our yard. I made braille labels which Mom glued next to each picture. The “star of the week” also got a few classroom privileges, like the opportunity to call out groups when we needed to line up, and to sit on the comfy couch in the library corner during story time rather than on the floor. To practice writing letters, the rest of the class sent “fan mail” to the star of the week, letters complementing what they are good at and why they make a great friend. I remember figuring that when it was my turn, my classmates would write print letters that Mrs. Zahn or my mom would read to me. My classmates didn’t know braille after all. So I was amazed when I noticed that week that Mrs. Zahn was taking students aside one by one and helping them transcribe their letters into braille for me. It felt like Christmas morning when I received that bag of 23 letters from my classmates, all of which I could read for myself. Similar activities like this occurred all through elementary school.

    Incidentally, sophomore year of high school when it seemed like classmates were more receptive to partnering with me, everyone was required to take a speech class. In this class, we talked about communication in general and the many different means of communication. The teacher invited a guest speaker, the teacher for students who are deaf or hard of hearing who showed the class a little sign language. The teacher also asked me to give a presentation on braille, and it seemed like after this presentation, more classmates paid attention to me. But in middle school, the No Child Left Behind initiative had just been enacted, and all the teachers were freaking out. So much time was redirected toward making sure we met academic standards set by the state, even learning testing strategies, that there was no time for things like presentations on braille. Even if there had been, I am not saying it would have eliminated the teenage insecurity that resulted in my exclusion, but even when the seventh grade science teacher reminded my group to include me in the Rube Goldberg project, their acceptance of me seemed genuine. I think teenagers just get so caught up in their own world, their insecurity that they just need to be reminded to stop and take notice of people with disabilities. Education reform is a complex issue I don’t want to get into in this book, nor is it a career I am interested in, but I think society would benefit from education reform that incorporates into the curriculum age-appropriate activities for all grade levels that encourage acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities.

    To the extent possible, I was held to the same academic standards as my peers. In elementary school, I attended the regular gym class with my peers, but also had on-on-one instruction with a gym teacher twice a week. Starting in middle school, it was determined that many of the gym requirements for the sighted students were inappropriate for me, so I had gym class with the Special Ed students. I think the only academic requirement I was exempted from was high school chemistry because it was very visual in nature, and I had no interest in any career that would involve Chemistry anyway. In exchange, I took Earth Science, also known as Rocks for Jocks. I was walking to this class one day when the wrestling coach with whom I was casually acquainted because he was friends with Mrs. Hobson, said hi and casually asked me what class I was headed to. When I told him I was headed to Earth Science, he said, “Ah! Rocks for Jocks!” This still makes me laugh, partly because I admire witty people, and partly because after looking up what a jock is on my BrailleNote’s dictionary, I realized it was such an accurate assessment of the class. I really felt out of place in this class because I was one of only a few other girls, and all the boys really were jocks. But it was an easy class where I remember getting my homework done relatively quickly, and for someone whose second least favorite subject is Science, that was all I cared about.

    Sometimes, I even felt like I was held to a higher standard than my peers. I remember envying my sighted peers sometimes, not because I wished I could see, but because when they didn’t do their homework, they only had to deal with lecturing by the classroom teacher and their parents. But because I had an education team, when I didn’t do my homework, I was lectured by the classroom teacher, my parents, my aid and Mrs. Reich. The lectures from Mrs. Reich were especially memorable because normally, she really is perpetually cheerful, and she still found ways to make lessons fun and rewarding as I got older. In middle school, she started teaching me basic cooking skills, and while some vision rehabilitation teachers follow a prescribed curriculum of foods blind students should learn to cook, Mrs. Reich was more laid-back and believed the same skills could be learned cooking foods the student likes. So I knew that if she felt the need to lecture me, I had really messed up.

    By high school, I was a serious student who was invited to Academic Honors Night every year. Academic Honors Night was an annual event rewarding students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. This dedication was mostly due to genuine maturity, as I was becoming an adult who understood the importance of education for my future, a future that I realized was much closer at hand than it was in elementary school, and I had developed a passion for writing and politics that compensated for my hatred of Math. It also helped that by the time I got to high school, technology was available that made homework completion much less tedious. In addition to the BrailleNote which made writing papers and doing research so much easier, the horrible 4-track cassette player and a box of cassette tapes for each textbook, was replaced with one CD for each book, and a special CD player to play it. Each box of cassettes came with a braille reference sheet to look up which cassette, and which track on that cassette contained an assigned textbook chapter. The volunteer readers for these books announced every page and chapter heading, but once you found the right track, you had to fast-forward, stop every few seconds, listen for a little bit to hear what page you were on, then fast-forward more until you got to the right spot. I didn’t have the patience for this tedium, so unless I could talk someone into giving me a print book and convince my parents to just read the chapter to me, I often found the consequences of giving a flimsy excuse to the teacher for not doing the assignment more bearable than messing with the 4-track player. But the new CD player had a keypad where I could just enter the page number and boom, I was there!

    But if I am being honest, this dedication was also partly fueled by a conversation with Mrs. Reich in eighth grade when she worried about how I would handle the academic rigor of high school, and suggested the possibility that I could spread high school over five years, or because of my disability, I could legally stay in high school until I was 21. I don’t remember my exact response, but I remember the spirit of it was “Oh heck no!” Many nights at 1:00 in the morning when I was still creating a graph or trying to figure out a complex equation and I was so tempted to just go to bed and forget it, this veiled threat was enough to motivate me to persevere until the assignment was done, even correcting mistakes I had made on my homework the night before.

    A couple years ago, I had a chance to catch up with Mrs. Reich over lunch. She told me then that a lot of aids request that teachers only assign the blind student half the homework assigned to everyone else because some subjects, especially Math are more difficult to grasp as a blind person. But Mrs. Hobson believed that I should have the same homework as my peers. She wanted me to be well-prepared for the real world, which she believed could not happen if I had the expectation of only having to do half the work as my peers. Maybe it’s a good thing Mrs. Reich didn’t tell me this until I was well into adulthood because had I known this as a teenager, I might have been furious with Mrs. Hobson. Because homework took me so long, sometimes I feel like I didn’t fully get the chance to be a kid. For example, every time I listen to a political debate, I think about how neat it would have been to try out Debate Club, but when this opportunity was offered, I knew joining this club would be biting off more than I could chew. My only extra-curricular activities in high school were weekly piano lessons with a sweet nun who taught me by ear, although I was often too burnt out from homework to practice as much as I should have, and the Milwaukee Children’s Choir which rehearsed at a church downtown two hours one evening a week. Even with just these activities, I was often living on four hours of sleep at night. But if I had it to do all over, I definitely would not have exchanged choir for debate club, as singing was, and still is a true passion of mine, and the friendships, opportunities and joy this choir brought to my childhood could not have been matched by debate club. And as cliche as it may sound, with maturity I have come to agree with the sentiment that adversity builds character. If I went through school having plenty of time to pursue every childhood opportunity, but accustomed to having only half the homework as my peers, college might have been a much bigger culture shock than it was, and I may not have been as tenacious when challenges came my way in college, in my first job as a paralegal at a Social Security disability law firm, or in seminary school where I am currently pursuing a Masters certificate in Christian studies.

    At every school I attended, I was given a private room designated the Braille Room. At Burleigh Elementary, I was pulled out of class when my peers were practicing penmanship, and taken to this room to practice Braille. I was also sometimes taken to this room when the class was given time to work on assignments independently. The teacher often played music during this time, and classmates would talk which made it difficult for me to concentrate. I was also periodically pulled out of class during story time just after lunch. This was the only time I was ever sad about meeting with Mrs. Reich as I loved everything about story time, especially in Ms. Gnacinski’s class. Ms. Gnacinski was my teacher for first and second grade. She never chose a story I didn’t love, and just listening to her sweet, expressive reading voice made me smile. Instead of listening to her from our desks, we would sit in a circle on carpet squares in the corner of the classroom. After a long morning learning to read for ourselves, followed by the noisiness and craziness of lunch and recess, this cozy story time was just what I needed. When I expressed sadness about having to miss story time, Ms. Gnacinski tried tape recording the class story time for me to listen to at home which I tried to do a couple of times, but it just wasn’t the same.

    I attended half-day kindergarten in the afternoons, but every Monday, Mom would take me to school early for physical and occupational therapy. Once I started first grade, I was pulled from art class, another largely visual subject, for this therapy. I didn’t cry in therapy as I did in preschool, but I wasn’t fond of it. I especially hated the balance beam, and having to stand on one foot without holding onto anything. I actually don’t know how I managed to graduate physical therapy by the end of second grade because I still couldn’t stand on one foot if my life depended on it. Maybe Mrs. Judy just decided I was a lost cause. I received Occupational Therapy through fifth grade. In kindergarten, the focus was learning to use silverware. Mom would send me to school with a Tupperware container of macaroni and cheese, which Mrs. Becky would heat for me. I should not have graduated from that either, as I still don’t have patience for forks. During these lunches with Mrs. Becky, I would either manage to only catch one or two noodles when I tried to spear them blindly with my fork, or I would get too many noodles and spill them all down the front of me while bringing the fork up to my mouth. My well-meaning older siblings have tried various times over the years to make me practice, but the bossy way they went about it, and the way they nitpicked everything from my posture to the way I held the fork only made me feel more frustrated, discouraged and rebellious. Meals are supposed to be enjoyable, and I don’t understand why it is so taboo in the sighted world to get a little bit of assistance from the hands God gave us. As an adult, I developed Celiac Disease, which has turned out to be advantageous as I have a legitimate excuse to avoid eating at formal events, and on the rare occasion I do eat out with friends, I have found them to be true friends who accept me as I am, even saying if they lost their sight, they would need to use their hands too!

    In first and second grade, I remember the focus shifting to learning to dress myself. Mrs. Becky showed me how I could tell my shirt and pants were on the right way by making sure the tag was in back. Nowadays most clothing does not have tags, a well-intentioned remedy to the annoyance of being poked by tags, but a change which has made it a little more difficult to ensure I am not putting anything on backwards. Fortunately, most clothing has a tiny imprint I can feel where the tag used to be, and of course, if the shirts have anything tactile like a painted design, beads or glitter, it is pretty obvious that goes in front. Mrs. Becky also showed me how to work zippers, snaps and buttons, and how to tie my shoes.

    Then toward the end of second grade through fifth grade, the focus shifted to learning to type on a qwerty keyboard and use a computer equipped with screen-reading software. I caught on to typing pretty easily. In the very early days of learning this skill, there were braille letters on every key, but I didn’t need them for long. I don’t know if the engineers behind the creation of the keyboard were consciously thinking about accessibility for the blind, but nevertheless, the little bumps on the f and j really helped orient me. The only thing I hated about learning to type were the frequent trips to the computer lab to take typing tests with my class. The tests required entering long, complicated sentences that Mrs. Zahn would have to read to me, and then a software program would assess our speed and accuracy. On these tests, my typing speed was slow which concerned teachers at first. But Mrs. Becky quickly figured out that when I could type my own sentences, cutting out the awkwardness of trying to re-type sentences read to me, my speed improved dramatically. But while my typing ability on the Qwerty keyboard was acceptable, I much preferred typing on the braille keyboard where I amazed classmates and teachers over the years with how fast my fingers could fly. To sighted people, the braille code that is based entirely around just six keys seems complicated, and I can understand where they are coming from. But once you memorize the code, the braille keyboard is so much more efficient in my opinion than the qwerty keyboard. But I am so glad I learned to type on a qwerty keyboard, not only because it is a vital skill to have when using a braille keyboard isn’t possible, but also because by middle school when spelling was no longer an official subject, the qwerty keyboard provided a much-needed opportunity to practice spelling.

    My computer skills regressed again when I got to high school because I loved my BrailleNote so much that I came to despise the regular computer. I not only hated the computer because of the inefficiency of navigating through a zillion menus and toolbars and windows with tabs and arrows when the BrailleNote was so much more straight-forward, or having to listen to text read, and sometimes mis-pronounced, in a monotonous computer voice when on my BrailleNote, I could read silently using the braille display. I also hated the fact that because the laptop equipped with the Window-Eyes screen reader was a shared computer, the screen reader did not come on by default, so I had to go through a whole procedure to get the screen reader open. For a brief time in elementary school, we had Window-Eyes installed on the family computer. My family, understandably didn’t want this on all the time, but once they figured out how to turn it off, they couldn’t figure out how to get it back on again, and family life was very hectic during those years such that no one had the time or energy to figure that out. In middle school, assignments that required typing were rare enough that I could either get them done at school, or I would write the paper on my Perkins Brailler and dictate it to Mom or Dad who would type it.

    At school, getting Window-Eyes open involved a relatively simple procedure that Mrs. Hobson wrote out for me. After holding down the power button for couple seconds and waiting for some clicking and a chime to indicate the computer was ready to go, I think I had to tab three times, enter my username, tab again, enter my password, press enter, then tab ten times to find the screen reader, press enter and it would come on. The problem was that this procedure almost never worked for me, and when Mrs. Hobson would check in on me and I would tell her I couldn’t get it open, and she would see I was completely on the wrong screen, I think she assumed I just didn’t follow the directions, especially when, of course, the procedure would work perfectly for her. It was my intention to follow the directions exactly, but I could have mis-counted the tabs, or even mis-typed my username or password. But with no screen reader, I had no way of knowing where I went wrong. In preparation for college, I found out that most colleges use the JAWS screen reader, which was fine with me because given the frustration using the computer provoked, I kind of wanted a fresh start, and I never was really proficient with Window-Eyes anyway. So in August 2008, as soon as my guide dog training was complete, I scheduled some training sessions with JAWS through Vision Forward. I am a proficient computer user with JAWS now, but more importantly, now that I am an adult, I have my own computer set with the screen reader to come on instantly and no one is allowed to touch it!

    The BrailleNote could connect to the Internet, but back in those days, not every website was compatible with the BrailleNote. One Tuesday in December my senior year of high school, Mrs. Hobson gave me two days advance notice of an upcoming unit in Algebra 2 that would require a special calculator to multiply matrices. The other students had advanced hand-held calculators for this, and my BrailleNote had a built-in calculator, but it was not capable of this particular task.

    “I want you to think about how you could do this assignment,” she told me that Tuesday.

    By then, I had been working with her so long I knew exactly what she was getting at. There was a website with a calculator program I could use. I think I did a half-hearted Google search on my BrailleNote that evening, but when I clicked on the links to a couple sites and they didn’t work with my BrailleNote, I reported to Mrs. Hobson the next day that I couldn’t find any websites. With a sigh of disappointment at my lack of initiative, she gave me the name of a website she had found. I hadn’t found that particular site in my half-hearted search, so I held out hope all day that this website would work with my BrailleNote, but alas it did not, and my anxiety about dealing with the Laptop was so intense that, in an uncharacteristic reversion to my slacker childhood ways, I lied to the Math teacher the next morning and basically told him the assignment was inaccessible for me. By then, interaction with teachers was pretty much exclusively my responsibility, and this teacher was really kind and laid-back. But Mrs. Hobson found out, and needless to say, she was not pleased with me. She marched me down to the Braille room, walked me through the procedure of opening the computer again, and showed me the website, ending with, “This should have been done days ago.”

    It so happened that the following two days, Mrs. Hobson had an emergency to attend to. But she told me in no uncertain terms that I had Friday to practice using the computer, and by the end of the day Monday, I was expected to complete the Math assignment. I forget now if I had to ask a teacher or librarian for help, or if I managed to get Window-Eyes open myself by being extra cautious, and paying meticulous attention to every keystroke. But I got through that assignment without further incident, and all was forgiven.

    Then one Friday afternoon about a month later, I walked out of choir rehearsal, my last class of the day to find Mrs. Hobson and Mrs. Reich waiting for me. My stomach dropped as my mind raced. I hadn’t tried any more shenanigans like telling a teacher an assignment wasn’t accessible. What could I have done to be in so much trouble? Usually, I got myself to the bus after choir. Sometimes Mrs. Hobson would meet me to ask me a last minute question about an assignment or something. But I had never been greeted by both of them.

    “We’ve got a bombshell for you,” Mrs. Reich said, “Mrs. Hobson got offered another position, so she will no longer be your aid.” They determined that I was mature enough to advocate for myself on my own, and what better way to practice for college. At that point, Mrs. Hobson only adapted a few Math materials and tests in braille for me. The vast majority of my assignments were e-mailed to me ahead of time directly from the teachers, and I e-mailed completed assignments directly to them. Mrs. Reich would handle the few things that still needed to be brailled or transcribed into print for the Math teacher, but basically, I was now on my own.

    To even my own surprise, I was not anxious. I was excited. I tried to be professional and hide it. I think I said something like “Oh, wow congratulations.” But Mrs. Hobson laughed. She could always tell what I was really thinking, and she knew I was like the office employee who found out they would no longer have a boss.

    For the most part, I handled this new independence with maturity. Shortly after gaining this independence, there was a Spanish project where the teacher wanted us to write a paragraph in Spanish color coding different words to indicate which were adjectives, nouns, verbs etc. Since I couldn’t color code words with my technology, I spoke with the teacher, and we worked out an adaptation where I would put the nouns in bold, underline the verbs, italicize the adjectives. But when I sat down to do the assignment, senioritis got the better of me and the tedium of navigating to all these different fonts was more than I could take. So I wrote the paragraph with no special fonts and turned it in. Disappointed, my teacher returned it with a D.

    In one sense, you could say my wish to experience what it would be like to be treated like the sighted kids, to not be lectured by a whole education team when I messed up, was granted. But when I saw that grade, my maturity returned and I found no pleasure in it. In fact, I even told Mrs. Reich of my laziness and the bad grade that resulted even though I wouldn’t have had to. I don’t think I fully comprehended until then that all the years of being tough on me, holding me to high expectations, was not for their benefit but mine. It was then that I understood the love component of tough love. They knew that this world is rough, and if a blind person is going to thrive, she needs to have a strong work ethic and set high expectations for herself, and they knew they wouldn’t always be there to help me along. So they held me to high expectations, and called me out when they knew I was capable of doing better, in the hopes that when they said goodbye, I would be self-motivated and have high expectations of myself and live a fulfilling life. As an adult, I find myself thanking Mrs. Hobson and Mrs. Reich often for their tough love, especially when I am faced with challenging situations and find that I am able to resist the temptation to just give up.

    After that wake-up call, I shaped up, and proudly accepted my final certificate at Academic Honors night that spring.

On June 8, 2008, I graduated with the same senior class I would have been in without a disability. I knew Mrs. Hobson would be there, and I couldn’t wait to grant a wish she expressed at the start of senior year, to see me cross the stage to accept my diploma independently. Despite practicing the route with Mrs. Reich at a rehearsal three days earlier, I was embarrassed when my cane disrupted the dignified occasion by clanging loudly against a podium that hadn’t been there in rehearsal. I wasn’t quite sure how to get around it, but my embarrassment melted away when Mrs. Hobson, whom I could tell was crying, ran onto the stage, gave me a hug and guided me around the podium. I didn’t know what the uncharted waters of college had in store for me, but that day, I knew I was well prepared. After the ceremony, Mrs. Hobson came to the cookout at my house, where she presented me with a ceramic plaque. Carved on this plaque in giant print letters was a mantra she said to me often over the years. “NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP.”