Monday, February 13, 2017

On Being Political

I've been in a major funk the past week or two, which is why all has been quiet on the political opinions front. ;) There's no shortage of things to talk about, but it's also incredibly overwhelming to try and process the current political scene. Ever since reading that February is the month in which the most people commit suicide each year, my mild depression has been almost a self-fulfilling prophesy. No small part of this funk is due to politics. But still, one of the things that's been gnawing at me the most is the prevalent attitude on Facebook that anyone talking about politics is a thorn in the side of everyone else. It's so smug, and I hate it.

Image: me feeling smug about other people being smug. Meta, baby. 

I'm often afraid that I'm losing readers between the ending of one paragraph and the beginning of the next. As always, I'm sort of working through my own thoughts as I write, but hear me out if you can.

I know that this prevalent dismissal of political rhetoric comes from a place that is well-meaning. Plenty of people can't talk about politics on social media without becoming despicable and plenty of lies are perpetuated with a simple "share". There's a completely valid option to just say nothing at all relating to politics on social media, and I've definitely taken that option more than usual lately. But saying "let's not be political" or "I'm so tired of all the politics" isn't really necessary if what you really want is to not engage in anything political. If you're "tired of all this talk", take a leave from Facebook quietly. We need not announce how exhausted we are by other people's lives crumbling, because that's more often than not what's at the heart of politics.

I know that some people are willing to have political discussions in person or with people they have safe and respectful relationships with, and just avoid those topics online. Even so, there's this rule I hear voiced all the time in in-person situations to "not talk about politics". Indeed, preserving relationships is more important than debating opinions, and I respect that, but I have two main reasons that I think the call to be silent on politics is *thumbs down* (can't think of quite the right word). First, there's an oft-cited myth that sharing your opinion never changes anyone's mind. Personally, I change my mind all the time. There is nothing more valuable to me than a well argued, well substantiated point of view that differs from mine. It's nice to have friends that post stuff I agree with, but it's even better when I come to understand that other people see the world differently than I do.

I recently heard that 25% of people on social media are set in their opinions to the point that arguing with them is pointless and a waste of energy. These are the ones that are the loudest and that we naturally want to argue with, no matter what "side" they are on or we are on. Perhaps they are also the ones who post the most obnoxious and polarizing political opinions. I think it's perfectly fine not to engage with that group if you're looking to free yourself from exhausting and fruitless political banter. Another 25% already agree with you. The middle 50% are the quietest. They may be considering changing their minds or becoming active about what they believe in, but they need encouragement to get into action. That 50% may find real value in your political or spiritual views, but we must approach this opportunity with gentleness, not disdain.

The second beef I have with the "no politics" attitude is that being "above politics" (even if you don't label yourself that in so many words) is a luxury that basically only middle-class white people have. Most people in this world and even in this country don't have the option of not being political, and so for us to refuse to be political is to ignore the things that fundamentally alter other people's lives. I'm not saying that God isn't above politics, but I think you will notice that when anything we hold dear is threatened by those around us or those in power, we quickly become political (whether or not that's on Facebook).

So what does it mean to be political? I've loved Rufus Wainwright since basically forever, but I love him for this all the more:

When I looked it up, the definition was: 
Politics (from Greek: Politik√°: Politika, definition "affairs of the cities") is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a human community, particularly a state.
Can you imagine if we made love and truth political in this sense? An affair of our cities? Concepts that informed our decisions that apply to all members of each group? That is, in essence, the Great Commission. 

If your family is divided by borders, you become political. If you can't save your child's life because you can't access healthcare, you become political. If police kill your baby under dubious circumstances and face no consequences, you become political. If your wife is a police officer and can't do her most basic duties without fearing for her life, you become political. If the government is trying to strip you of your last ounce of dignity on the last plot of land that you can call your own, you become political. If you can't feed your family without a job pumping oil, you become political.
If I may dare to say it, if you are brave, you become political. If you want to take the words of Jesus and put them into practice in a world full of humans, you probably have to become political in some sense. The words and example of Jesus demand that we care for people cast aside, and it's almost impossible to do that without being political in a world that operates under the authority of governments.

If you've never found yourself that forces you to become political (I haven't!), than consider yourself extremely blessed and be aware that most people aren't as blessed in that way. The reason that we are exasperated by politics is because we are not threatened in our areas of identity.

This slide from a conference I was at recently stuck out to me.

Being political isn't just about having debates on Facebook or re-posting memes. You don't have to engage in political conversations, but important conversations often have political roots and ramifications. Doing much of anything of consequence will often arouse the ire of at least a handful of people, but that shouldn't be condemned. Sometimes it's entirely necessary. Taking a stance means that you're drawing a divide between you and something or someone else. We're not meant to be neutral in all situations. The good Samaritan's actions had political meaning. The Underground Railroad was political. Corrie Ten Boom was defying her government by harboring Jews, which was political. In light of this, we should not shush people from being political, even if it's on Facebook. Talking the talk is a good stop on the way to walking the walk. I suspect that life is going to get a *lot* more political before our work is done.

Again, I completely get it that a lot of people who post political things on Facebook aren't there to have a meaningful conversation, they're there to feel right-er than everyone else. Brush it off. Let that stuff roll off you like water. Unfollow if you must. But don't demonize politicism, because politics are part of real life, and Facebook is an avenue by which many people share their real lives. Instead of saying what you're against ("being political"), find something that you're "for" and get involved.

To my Christian friends, I understand that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. But that doesn't mean that we sit back and ignore the practical calls to action that Jesus gave to be enacted in this world. Jesus did not come to Earth to overthrow the Romans who were oppressing the Jews during his lifetime. He did, however, send his disciples to witness and love Samaritans, and that was a hugely political issue at the time. Preston Yancey said, "If you don't see Jesus as decidedly political in the Gospels, put some blame on your Sunday school teachers for not being equipped with the historical context necessary to see them in that light. " 

I take comfort in knowing that my God is bigger than politics, bigger than the refugee crisis, bigger than President Trump. AMEN. But my hope in my God should never remove me from struggling for goodness and justice on Earth, even as I am fully aware that man can never redeem himself and that we will never be able to fix this world.

If our faith is genuine, it must drive us to action. If our brothers and sisters both in the US and abroad, both Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal - if they are suffering and can not avoid being political, we must rush to be political along side them. This means treating "rednecks" with dignity, because they feel deprived of it. This means advocating for Christians who are being massacred by ISIS. This means advocating for Muslims who are being massacred by ISIS. This means praying for our brothers and sisters who are members of ISIS, because they too are created in the image of God. We live in a political world, and to refuse to take part in any political actions means to refuse to stand by those who are suffering and do not have the luxury of avoiding political situations.

A note about marches - I have yet to participate in one, but on the day of the Women's March, I could not shake my regret at not taking part. I think peaceful protest is very important. Even if it has no affect on our president, it speaks to the marginalized, whether that is women or immigrants or other groups. Seeing hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom you undoubtedly know, pouring out into the streets sends a message that many of us are not okay with the actions our government is taking, and we are so not-okay with them that we're willing to say so in public (even beyond Facebook!). That is worth something. It also helps us to see with our own eyes who are our allies and who we may serve. I'm not saying that the people who didn't march or who opposed the march are my enemies, but it seems incredibly empowering to stand with so many people on a physical street instead of liking a post on Facebook (which I did a heck of a lot of during the women's march). It's empowering to see that even as we feel frustrated and helpless, we won't give up on one another. People are donating their time and money and talent to causes on both sides of the aisle in numbers seldom seen before and it feels like the very most American thing.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a racist. I really try and avoid calling anyone a racist anymore, because being accused of racism shuts the accused down immediately. Furthermore, I have come to see myself as a racist. Furtherfurthermore, as the ever quotable MLK said, "for evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men [and women] to do nothing." Our complacency - our unwillingness to be political, our unwillingness to get our hands dirty, our unwillingness to be disliked - does nothing to stem racism, and therefore allows it to thrive. What is that, if not racism? Racism is refusing to see someone else's suffering as your problem too.

I'm learning that my politics are worthless without love. I have a lot of [what I feel is] righteous anger over what's going down in this country right now, but as I advocate out of righteous anger, I must also practice radical love. That's not something I made up, that's Biblical. Love does indeed trump hate, and that includes hatred for those who have stood in the way as I've sought to do what God is calling me to do. The specifics of what I'm feeling called to is a separate conversation, but it is communal so I welcome private messages from anyone who wants to know more or get involved.

It's a struggle, a daily struggle, to balance righteous anger with overflowing love. People think I'm too young and naive to talk about the things I do or act on the convictions that I have. It stings, but it's really none of my concern. The more we are resisted, the fiercer we will love. Not everyone who loves Jesus is called to serve in the same ways, but please do not thwart me in what my God has called me to do. Please do not ask me not to talk about these things in public, either.

Sometimes I get people warning me that I'm on the brink of "falling away", or something. I try and listen critically so I can be open to knowing what my faults are, but overall, on the contrary to falling away, I am leaning in. I am putting my money where my mouth is. I am putting my foot into the Red Sea, which God did not part for His people until their toes touched the water. Quite honestly, I do not care what most people think of my politics, I care what Jesus thinks of my actions.

If you thought I was political before, buckle up my friend. I am coming out of my shell. Maybe talking less, but striving to DO more. So with moderate respect, I request that you get behind me, ye mansplainers, ye who take it upon yourselves to tell me that I've misinterpreted God's calling on my life, and yes, ye politicians who care nothing for Truth.

Rarely, if ever, have I felt more patriotic, and I'm also in awe of how relevant the Bible is to a political life. It's driving me to cast aside political labels and consider fewer people my adversaries, even as I grow stronger in my convictions. There are innumerable opportunities presenting themselves in which we can be ambassadors for Christ's name, regardless of religion or politics or documentation status. Jesus never asked those questions of people.

What a wonderful thing to see shaky pillars of our government bring lovers of good, lovers of kindness, lovers of truth out of the woodwork. I know many great men and women who have shifted from talking on Facebook to reaching out to their neighbors in tangible ways. But let me add, I still see a place for sharing politics on Facebook. I see it like this - Step 1: saying it on Facebook (it's somewhat safer than IRL and involves a lot less commitment), Step 2: taking your Facebook opinions to the street (or more IRL conversations), testing out how much you really believe in them, Step 3: committing to working with and for real people for the long haul in your home community, Step 4: inviting people to join you, perhaps via Facebook ;). For pushing me to take steps 2 and 3, I thank you, Mr. President!

As a follow-up to the implications of getting political on behalf of those who are suffering, I was struck by reading one journalist's observation that "marching is a seductive substitute for action." In this country, marching hasn't cost us very much yet. I think it is good to march in some cases, but what's even better is to incorporate your convictions into your daily life. Seek out ways to help in your own neighborhood. Tutor immigrants to help them in school. Invite Muslims to your home to share a meal with you. Invite your neighbors with the Trump sign still in their yard to your home to share a meal with you. Ask your church leadership how your place of worship can incorporate the Latino community in your midst. Listen to the stories of war veterans. And if your school or your church or some other group can not act quickly, just start it yourself. The concept of Church (as in the body of Christ) does not cost money, does not wait for permission, does not have to get a degree first. Jesus has already commissioned us, so GO!

Here I am, Lord. Send me. Make me political for your glory. 

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