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.

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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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When Grown-ups [Indirectly] Hurt Your Feelings on Facebook (or in real life)

*Disclaimer: Maybe this is common sense for some of you. If so, GREAT! Unfortunately, from my Facebook newsfeed this is still an issue among people I know.* :/

Dear oblivious friend, family member, angry and bitter Facebook acquaintance,

Your comments hurt. Yeah, remember that time you thought it was funny to joke about those illegals or those violent Muslims? Or, maybe because you feel as if the government or the media is unfairly slanted toward “anti-American values” (and due to the fact that you don’t have any diversity whatsoever within your Facebook friend list) you thought it would even the playing fields by lashing out at an entire group of people by reposting a cruel meme. You justify your hate speech with scripture and make biting comments and sarcastically wish ill on “those people” all in the name of patriotism or religion or whatever twisted combination of the two you pledge allegiance to.

Those things hurt.

Personally.

And it makes me question if there are any loving Christians still out there. 😦 (I know there are because some of my best friends still represent the very best of Christianity)

I know I’m sensitive. I get emotionally involved in situations and people’s lives too easily. I feel drawn to outcasts and misunderstood people. My worldview (read: politics) is determined by my faith in Christ + personal experiences and friendships NOT by talking heads in the media who supposedly share my faith.

(I don’t want to get on the subject of politics but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, why are so many Christ-followers supporting a clearly arrogant, bitter, angry, unloving, anti-grace bigot this election season? I am appalled.)

“I see the confusion of politics and religion as one of the greatest barriers to grace. C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of UNgrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.” – Philip Yancey

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I do believe that God has given me a burden for marginalized people. I confess that I am not always the best at loving people consistently but oh, how I feel a heavy burden. I have been an advocate for immigrants for some time and just recently I have made a couple dear friends in the Muslim community not too far from where I live. I am consistently amazed at what we have in common. Why had I never noticed our common humanity before?

Maybe because most of the voices I hear paint these every-day people as a murderous, revenge-seeking caricature. That is so far from my personal experience. I choose to believe that my friends are not the exception to the rule, just as I hope they choose to believe that I am not the exception either. And I hope I’m not.

(Funny, random story: the other day I was giving some friends a ride home after the ESL class that I teach. It sounds like the start of a joke but we were… a white girl, a Latina and a Muslim lady all in one little car. A group of people was on the corner at an intersection where we stopped and they all had posters offering free hugs. I honked and waved and a black girl ran across the street and reached into my car to give us all hugs! It was hilarious! I don’t know what that group represented or if I would even personally agree with them on what they stood for but it didn’t matter, I’ll still take a free hug! All four of us had such distinct backgrounds and stories. That to me looked like such a lovely picture of diversity. I wish someone had actually taken a photo. ❤ )

Some people would rather live their lives looking at others with suspicion and fear. That doesn’t sound like a nice way to live though.

If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.” Luke 11:35-36 Message

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..unless it is actually just you because “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” …or the fingers post.

Action step: Let’s try to be more considerate with what we post online. Have a little more discernment before sharing that hilarious thing so-and-so just posted.

We can all THINK before we post. Is it…

True

Helpful

Inspiring

Necessary

Kind?

And I am certainly not saying all of this out of political correctness. Could there be a more nauseating topic of conversation?? How about we all just try not to be *rear ends* in general as we interact with one another. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being patient and kind and loving and gracious. I don’t know if Jesus would be too down with your redneck renegade rant you just posted offending half of His creation. Let’s be gentle in our speech.

For the most part, this is me while scrolling through social media…

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But sometimes I want to sit down with the person and have a good coffee (or Yemeni chai tea) and ask what kind of horrible experience they had that made them so hateful toward another person… maybe that is a conversation we should have?

Road trips, politics, recent ponderings and anything else I can cram into one blog entry

Road trip

This past weekend some girl friends & I took a road trip up through Richmond to Virginia Beach while also spending a little time in Norfolk. I met new friends along the way and had the wonderful opportunity of visiting some old family friends who had relocated to the area a few years ago. We four girls spent our twenty (plus) hour round trip drive singing, laughing, eating, dancing, switching drivers, reading books aloud, reflecting on life and relationships and just enjoying time on the road. It was a great getaway.

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Politics

  1. I have decided that I will not be guilted into or made to feel obligated to vote for a candidate in this year’s election if it does not sit well with my conscience. I am thankful for the right to vote, the right to voice my opinion and the right to let my local and national government know if I do not agree with something. I absolutely take advantage of that right but I also have the right to abstain from that right. If my personal convictions do not align with a particular person, I will refrain from voting period. A common reaction to that is “well, you’ll never find a perfect human being anywhere.” (implying that our options will always be limited to less than ideal candidates & we just have to grin & bear it) But “the lesser of two evils is still evil” and I will only give my vote to someone who I think really deserves it. I agree with Derek Webb when he sings “we’ll never have a Savior on capitol hill.” So, just as much as I don’t count on a perfect president, I also don’t feel as though I am grieving the Holy Spirit by not casting my vote this election year. Personal conviction. For those looking for a simple and helpful way to see which candidates hold similar views to you, a friend recently posted this awesome interactive website.
  2. There have been some awesome people that I have had the privilege of working with over the last few months taking action for the rights of immigrants in Alabama, particularly by pushing for the repeal of the recent anti-immigrant law, HB56. So much has happened, it will be a challenge to recount everything. I have participated in several rallies and marches at the capitol. (Montgomery) You can view my photos of those events on my Flickr page.
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    Me at the Valentine’s day “One Heart, One Alabama” rally in Montgomery.

    As an evangelical community organizer, my goal was to mobilize evangelical churches to engage in dialogue about what it means as a follower of Christ to welcome the stranger. We hosted an event at Samford University in Birmingham called the G92 South Immigration Conference. This day-long event facilitated thoughtful, compassionate and Biblical conversation among pastors and church leaders and college students from the area. What an exhausting day it was for us organizers! I can honestly say that until G92, I had not participated in the planning of such a large-scale and important event. It pushed and challenged me and I know I gained invaluable experience. I co-lead a student session with Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners called “Engaging Effectively.” This session was planned for the end of the day as a call to action for those students who had just received all the info and wanted to put it into practice. As prompted by Lisa, our first step of action was to confess and repent of the ways we have believed the core lies that perpetuate such laws that oppress vulnerable people. A Samford student wrote a beautiful reflection of this time in the day. (this was probably my most favorite time as well) Lisa shared some thoughts on this as well in her blog.

Read some of the great articles and reviews of the conference:

(Other great resources are a study showing that HB56 is costing the state over $2 billion and a wonderful film portraying real-life struggles of immigrant families, A Better Life, whose director is also working on a project called Is This Alabama?)

Recent Ponderings

Well, for one… I am on the job hunt. And I am considering several options. In and out of the country. 🙂 But I won’t prematurely spill anything on those plans… just yet. We will just have to see how everything comes together. All I can say is that I am working on translating my resume to Spanish.

Thankfully I have had pretty consistent freelance video editing projects in the meantime. And I can’t lie, I pretty well enjoy making my own schedule and traveling for work and never knowing where I might be a week down the road. Who needs routine? Job security is for suckers.

AND, lastly, the group with whom I travel to Honduras for missions and I are preparing for our next medical trip coming up in July. We are currently fundraising and ironing out the details. I’m already pumped to be back. 🙂