The Pain of Independence: a political deviant

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I’ve never been too worried about conforming. You should have seen my high school wardrobe (it was, um, *creative*) or consider the fact that I’m from the South but have an actual aversion to sweet tea and the SEC. (Yeah, several of you stopped reading right there. I know.)

I wouldn’t call myself a nonconforming rebel either but I’m pretty good at resisting peer pressure. I always felt that my inner convictions and deeply-held beliefs were far more important than popular opinion. During adolescence, right about the time I started finding my own voice and thinking critically about what I believed I received disapproval for straying a little too far from conservativism. (statistics show that most in my generation have)

About 13 years ago I spoke out in History class at my small, Christian high school in defense of immigrants and felt instantly the chasm between my viewpoint and that of my peers. I’ve since gained much more confidence, knowledge, and courage especially on the topic of immigration and have proudly landed somewhere in the moderate area of the general political spectrum. (and I think the political views of many of my classmates have also evolved) I doubt I will ever find myself at any point in my life pledging loyalty to a specific party.

First of all, I should mention that I’m not inherently political. I don’t keep up with most politics honestly and I certainly don’t go around picking internet fights with every faux news article I see shared. (I. see. a. lot. – hello, unfollow button?) The issues I am engaged with are the result of very strong convictions formed by very personal experiences, my relationship with my Savior, and the study of His teachings. I am an imperfect human doing the best I can to follow a perfect King. I honestly would avoid politics altogether (it just isn’t a pleasant subject) if it weren’t for the fact that it highly affects a lot of vulnerable people for whom I care deeply. I won’t go into detail on each policy with which I agree or disagree or those about which I honestly don’t know much. I definitely recognize that most hot-button issues are not easily resolved and are not as black and white as “right vs. wrong.” If it were so I think we would have more clearly marked camps. Obviously I believe that my beliefs are “correct” otherwise it would be non-sensical to believe them, but I do find it necessary to continually seek new information and perspectives and do my best to respect the individual who holds a contrasting opinion to my own. Respecting the individual does not mean tolerating insults, bullying, emotional manipulation, or speech that denigrates a person/persons. We have the right to shut. that. down.


Conformity vs Nonconformity

A neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, conducted an experiment on conformity vs. nonconformity in a group setting by scanning the brains (using a type of MRI) of volunteers as they answered a series of simple questions. Actors were placed in the experimental groups to confidently give wrong answers. The results, other than confirming previous research that group work influences an individual’s decision-making, showed the why behind a majority of individuals’ conformity under peer 7c2daebd86bfcb3047644e7971b0a4e7--conformity-satirepressure. It didn’t have to do with the volunteers’ conscious decision to change their answers in order to follow the crowd. The brain scans actually showed heightened activity in regions associated with visual and spatial perception meaning that popular opinion had in fact somehow changed the very perception of the volunteers. They were convinced to believe something that wasn’t true.

 

 

On the flip side the volunteers that stuck with their gut and did not conform with the
incorrect answers of the majority showed an interesting find in the brain scans as well. The amygdala, part of the brain associated with emotions such as fear and rejection, lit up. Berns called this “the pain of independence” which he says is “the clearest marker of the emotional load associated with standing up for one’s belief.” It takes courage, friends. Especially if a lot of the time you feel like you are standing up alone.


This is to point out the risk of social ostracism when one is part of a homogeneous group that doesn’t facilitate diverse viewpoints. Peer pressure is a beast.

But what if I truly agree with my group? Great! The objective is critical thinking and being able to arrive at our own conclusion and if that conclusion happens to be exactly what those around you think then, well, majority rules. 🙂 Congrats. (but maybe have a little grace with the person you meet who came to a different conclusion?)

Of all the social settings in which I’ve lived I can say that my college campus, Lee University, felt like that sweet spot of intellectual autonomy + Christian tradition. I felt very little anxiety about voicing my convictions there.

Some of the things I appreciate about my country are democracy and the freedom to express any opinion or belief. In theory we say we can respect differing opinions but we often consider a person with an opinion in contrast to our own to have some sort of character flaw. (or in evangelical circles… a crisis of faith)

Democracy depends on majority rule in the midst of dissenting voices but what happens when the majority conforms to the loudest and most obnoxious voice(s)? I hate to say that more than once I have fallen prey to psychological bullies trying to reason or guilt me out of my deeply-help opinions. Other than these less-than-desirable methods of persuasion I do appreciate having such diversity of belief in my circle.

5a20ce32c8aed4bb9feb267dcf376a65--my-life-quotes-a-quotesI would venture to say that if every one of your friends and acquaintances agrees with you religiously and politically then you probably live in a bubble and are lacking some factors that would help hone your critical thinking skills. Maybe you’ve created that bubble intentionally (I certainly gravitate toward likeminded people) and that’s your right but I’ll probably pass on having a political conversation with you. When entering into any kind of discussion over policy my first thought is, “Who is someone you know personally affected by this?”

Something else that keeps us in bubbles, and has surprised me recently, are our search engine biases. Online algorithms used in everything from our social media accounts to email to the ads on random websites we visit to what we search for in Google often keep us from venturing out of our idealogical sphere. Ever searched for something then all of a sudden see it pop up in ads with every new window you open? Same concept. We typically see what we want to see, literally and figuratively.

Our society, in its ideal state (of being), would be free thinkers and give themselves permission to dig a little deeper than their party and the news clips and sound bites and viral memes. We would graciously admit defeat when our candidate loses and we would have the integrity and humility to admit when our candidate or party is wrong. We wouldn’t assume someone’s entire idealogical makeup based on one position they hold nor would we attack someone’s opposing viewpoint with all the built up force of a lifetime of political frustration.

i.e. I share a heartwarming story about an undocumented immigrant I know who is struggling to make ends meet (unqualified for state benefits contrary to popular belief) and faithfully serves in her local church congregation. This is obviously personal and emotional to me but I am not attacking any opposing view or, believe it or not, trying to promote an agenda. I’m simply sharing a FACTUAL story from a compassionate perspective of an issue about which I care deeply.

This opens a can of worms where others (who in fact have no personal ties to an individual who had to make the difficult decision of leaving their home to provide for their family) assume the right to verbally attack me or the protagonist of my story. My question is, how did this incite such fervent refutation? Why is a popular tactic of arguing politics to take the humanity out of the debate? – and it’s done so passionately?

For the very reason that we usually bring a little too much baggage to the debate, I am very hesitant to share specific political beliefs online. We rarely understand the context, nuance, or background of the person posting the comment. There still exist many who don’t exercise as much deliberation when posting or sharing. Occasionally I’ll entertain a friendly discussion of politics from behind the screen but mostly I feel it is best reserved for personal conversation. (which isn’t necessarily always friendly either, haha)

I could get a variety of reactions to this blog post (assuming that even a handful of people read it) due to the diversity of my friends list. I don’t even know how many might actually relate to my story. My social network includes nominal evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; devout evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; atheists; agnostics; Republicans; Democrats; international friends who don’t know the meaning of either political party; heterosexuals; members of the LGBT community; so many races and nationalities I couldn’t count them all; police officers; active military; veterans; pastors; addicts; teachers; documented immigrants; undocumented immigrants; professors; missionaries; feminists; doctors; lawyers; etc.; all who are human beings with their own experiences, stories, passions, struggles, and beliefs.

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture Concept

Of course we’re going to disagree on things. Hopefully we can learn from each other without compromising our core values. As Christians, may we use scripture as a pruning tool for ourselves and not as darts to throw at “the opposition.” May we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts… as well as our tongues. Can we vow to put down our weapons of divisive speech and approach each difference of opinion while waving the banner of kindness instead? We are on the same team after all.

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In Light of their Suffering – Immigration

I wrote this a few years ago while I was living in Panamá and it was published on a couple different websites. In the wake of President Obama’s recent announcement about immigration reform in this country (FINALLY!), I felt I should share it again. I in no way am interested in provoking a heated political discussion or engaging in senseless cultural wars. I know that I serve a King not of this world and He has broken my heart for a forgotten and misunderstood people. IMG_5465 This was written after my home state, Alabama, passed one of the strictest immigration laws a couple years ago which has since been partly repealed/amended.

The following is in reference specifically to undocumented immigration from Latin America.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a grassroots advocate for immigrant rights. This great love and passion for the immigrant began halfway through my high school career after I had taken several mission trips to Honduras and was given a book about a boy who travels by train illegally to the U.S. to reunite with his mother. (Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, http://www.enriquesjourney.com/) I remember the first time I spoke up in defense of the immigrant was during history class in my small, Christian, southern high school. I knew the odds were against me but I felt a courage welling up inside, like this was something for which I was born. Somehow, I felt that the traditional way I had been taught to see undocumented immigration was wrong. I started questioning my old mindset that made me believe that these people were “less human,” or “undeserving.”

Now, almost seven years later, I am more dedicated to this cause and more sure than ever that Jesus Christ has compelled me to love and serve the undocumented immigrant. I have continued in my travels to Latin America and have seen unfathomable poverty. I have built relationships with immigrant families here in the U.S. and learned the richness of diversity and the beauty of God’s grace. I see the kingdom of heaven being built and it makes me wonder, “How is it that followers of Christ are more quick to identify with earthly territories than with the construction of an eternal kingdom?”

What truly baffles me is the hostility toward immigrants that can be found in circles of believers. I am amazed at how often I hear dislike being expressed toward “illegals” (a word I, personally, never use to label a human being) by the very Christians with whom I have served in third world countries. It is as if we muster up enough unconditional love and grace for the Latinos who live in their own country but when we return we treat the undocumented Latino down the road from us like our enemy. Is a person’s very presence in the U.S. without legal papers the unpardonable sin? Is it our job as believers to play the “us versus them” game?

I think Jesus accounted for the fact that we would sometimes misinterpret our neighbors for our enemies. He said, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) but just in case our neighbors really were our literal enemies or we had a temporary case of paranoia and thought that those around us were against us, he covered that by saying, “love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44) We can’t really get around that one… it pretty much covers all the bases. My hope is that our vision would not be obscured by the ugly blindfold of entitlement but that our eyes would truly be open to see others the way Christ sees. I love how Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

I have several friends and acquaintances that reside in this country without proper documentation. Their stories are all different. They are mothers, fathers, students, brothers, sisters. They preach on Sunday mornings and lead worship; they clean our hotel rooms and construct our office buildings; they pick our produce and serve our meals; they win science fairs and are awarded community service ribbons. They give, they take, they hurt, they fear, they need and they love.

The most recent legislation passed in my home state, Alabama, breaks my heart. It is already creating an atmosphere of chaos, mistrust and fear. I hope that somehow the supporters of this law may have personal encounters with those whom it affects and that their hearts may be changed. Even after years of researching this topic and following the legislative proposals, no amount of data or statistics can persuade me toward either side quite like knowing the immigrant can. You can never go wrong by cultivating human relationships.

This issue has really become much more personal for me in the few years since writing this article to the point that even engaging in a conversation about it is exhausting and can often turn hurtful – although everything I wrote then rings even more true now. If I were to sit down in front of my laptop with one of my undocumented immigrant friends and start scrolling down my Facebook news feed I would be embarrassed and saddened for them to see what many of my Christ-following friends and family members have to publicly say about “people like them.” (of course, undocumented immigrants aren’t the only subculture of people who get publicly bashed on my social media feeds by Christians)

It might be easy to assume that undocumented immigrants are here for a “handout” or a “free ride” to get an “easy way out.” Let me tell you – nothing about their lives here in the U.S. is easy. I would invite you spend just 24 hours with me as I travel to medical and school appointments every day interpreting for them – just to meet one or two personally and hear their stories of hardships and sacrifices they’ve made for their children. Or to be with me when I get a phone call from my friend who lives in another state and updates me on her process to get protection under the Violence Against Women Act – because for so long she was scared to report abuse because of her legal status.

*And if you are one of those people who has a hard time truly grasping the reality of how difficult actually obtaining a visa (permission of entry) is to the U.S. for a person in a third world country, I invite you to take a look at this info graphic that explains the process:

arizona39simmigrationlawgeniuspage2straightdope_4e60963eaf8de It isn’t new to quote scripture from the Old Testament – what God commanded Israel to do or not do regarding foreigners, and take it as a command for us today. But the other day the President referred to one of these Old Testament scriptures in front of the whole nation:

“You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” -Exodus 22:21 NLT

*For the record, I agree with the President (and the majority of America) that border protection is a priority and that we must know who is entering our country. (because not everyone is hardworking and respectful like the many immigrants I know) I have had multiple personal conversations with individuals wanting to come over illegally from Central America and never once have I encouraged any one to do so. What I want is to see a broken system get fixed. That way we all benefit.

Tolupan Indian update

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*click on the image to see a larger version

This a before and “during” of the house construction project for the Tolupan Indians in Honduras. If all goes as planned, the first two homes will be completed within the next couple of weeks! Thanks to those of you who have contributed to providing healthy homes for this impoverished indigenous tribe in Honduras. Two down – eight to go. We still need your help! Contact me on the home page or in a comment.

Tolupan Indians: How Can I Help?

Following up on my post about meeting the Tolupan Indians in Honduras, I want to share about the current project that New Life Honduras Non-Profit is initiating along with the local pastors and missionaries in this region of the country.

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Healthy House Construction Project!

New Life Honduras is raising funds for the construction of healthier houses for the Tolupan indigenous people. This ethnic group is in the process of extinction and one of the main goals of our holistic development work with them is to prevent this extinction process while also helping them preserve their customs and language.

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The total cost to construct each new home is a little under $2,000. The new houses will feature metal roofs, better walls and floors, and better location and ventilation for the stoves. It will increase the overall health of each family member and provide separate sleeping areas for adults and children. The homes will not be built for the tribe… The homes will be built by the tribe members with guidance from Honduran ministers/missionaries.

We need your immediate help!

We are asking for monetary donations to contribute toward the cost of these healthy houses. Here are ways you can help with that:

  1. Donation drop boxes. If you or someone you know owns a business or is a leader in a church, contact me about setting a donation box in your lobby or front desk to collect change. 100% of donations will go to build houses for the Tolupan people.

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  1. Jewelry Display Gift for Donation. The day I met the Tolupan Indian tribe I bought several handcrafted necklaces and bracelets from them. They are made from seeds found in the forest they inhabit. I have arranged them in shadow boxes with a photo and description and will give these displays to those who make donations to the Healthy House Construction Project over $100.shadow box
  2. Contact me (via email, phone, or message from the home page) about sending a donation and/or writing a check.
  3. I am scheduling visits to talk to church congregations, Sunday School groups and youth groups. Please get in touch if you are interested in hearing more about our community development work in Honduras!

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“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9

The day I met the Tolupan Indians

I have been procrastinating in writing about my experience I had a little over a month ago with the Tolupan ethnic group. I hardly have words to describe what I saw – the most extreme poverty and unhealthy living conditions that I have ever witnessed with my own eyes. After much processing, I am gathering my thoughts and trying to express what I felt that day and continue to feel so deeply. My heart is bursting to share with you about this trip. This indigenous group maintains the majority of their ancestral customs. They are polygamous, they answer to their chief, and they speak a dialect called Tol, although most adults also speak Spanish. tolupan children inside

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We started out in Honduras’ capital city, Tegucigalpa, bright and early Friday morning. 5:30 a.m. We loaded into Brother Orestes’ extended cab pickup truck, the New Life Honduras Non-Profit team – a Honduran missionary couple from Tegus with their newborn baby, my boyfriend Natán, a local pastor, Brother Orestes and me. It took us a little over four hours by car to reach the base of the mountain where the Tolupan people live. On the way, we stopped by a small village where a new church had just been planted – the first in the area – and visited the pastor and his family and prayed with them. (this pastor’s daughter and husband were the missionary couple with us) We took the opportunity for a bathroom break (lean-to style outhouse) and to stretch our legs. The pastor asked if I had ever visited the Tolupan community before and when I told him no he told me to be prepared. I thought he was referring to the physically challenging hour and a half hike up the steep mountain to reach their village… but he put his hand to his heart and said, “prepared… right here.” We parked at the base of the mountain called Montaña de la Flor, as far as a vehicle can reach, and all piled out. About half an hour before arriving we had approached a Tolupan couple walking along the side of the road headed home so we offered them a ride and they hopped in the truck bed. They had already been walking for hours and it would have taken them several hours more to reach their community up in the mountain. couple Then we started the hike up the mountain… I would probably include it in the top 5 most strenuous physical feats I have ever attempted. Of course, considering my drama queen, wimpy nature, it only felt as if I were going to pass out and die in the moment.

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Through the huffing and puffing and swearing, I mean sweating and complaining and accelerated heart rates and breaks to rest, I really didn’t have much of a desire to record video or take photos on the way up. (I seriously question that theory about exercise releasing happy endorphins) We finally reached the clearing where several Tolupan families of one particular tribe have made their homes. Because of the extreme isolation in which these people live I had no idea how they would react to me, a tall white female with reddish hair and blue eyes. (other than one child screaming and running when he saw me, all went pretty well) I was accompanied by 5 Honduran males so I was definitely the odd one out. When we approached the clearing with their little huts set all around, I felt as if I had been transported into a movie. It felt staged or something other than real life. Children and their mothers began to pour out of tiny, poorly-constructed mud and stick huts. It would be an understatement to say that everything was dirty… because how do you really clean a dirt floor? Or dirt walls? Or a bed made of tree limbs? house Every house we entered was entirely empty of food. One mother told me that was her greatest need – food in the house. (They live off the land and were a hunter and gatherer group until recently when diminution of land affected their ability to hunt sufficiently) Their large stone stoves inside the house with little to no ventilation often cause health problems. Chickens and dogs sleeping, eating and leaving waste in the same living space as humans also contributes to many health risks. There are countless other risk factors such as moist dirt floor, unhealthy hygiene practices and their thatch roofs which contribute to parasite problems. A lack of access to common medication has even resulted in death from sicknesses as simple as the flu and diarrhea. This father had recently lost his wife to “the flu” and was left to care for his children in their tiny hut without walls. father hut

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people. May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy. May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. – Sr. Ruth Fox

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My next post this weekend will be about the holistic development that New Life Honduras Non-Profit is doing with the tribe, how I am involved, and how we need your help to continue. Please pray for these families and that their hearts would be open to Christ. Pray that their physical and emotional needs would be met. Pray for the Honduran missionaries who are diligently and humbly serving the tribe, making sacrifices that go unnoticed with a silent faithfulness that goes unrecognized.