Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Get Better Soon

I read this thought provoking and convicting essay about "Virtue Signaling" today which dovetailed so nicely with what I've been struggling to work out in my own writing. Virtue signaling is the practice of talking, talking, talking about how much we care, which is often frowned upon (the whys are explained more in the article). The main point of the article, however, was that more than the annoyance of being bombarded by causes and gut-wrenching cries from the non-oppressed, we no longer trust that our friends or celebrities or the average person on the street actually does care about what they're talking about, writing their sentiment off as a means to make themselves look better.

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In reality, most people do care. But for me, I experience this chasm between genuinely caring and having any sense that I'm actually involved in bettering anything that I care about. I've been dedicating a lot of thought about why this is, and how I might change it.

I feel disconnected from what's happening; Charlottesville, or the tension that exploded there but is certainly not new. Pick your social disturbance - it bothers me, but I'm disconnected as things stand now. Why is that? I don't know many black people (zero close friends), few of my close friends are LGBTQ, I know very few Mexicans considering that my city is 70% Hispanic, and I know very few Muslims. It's been bothering me for ages that my Church is one of the most racially diverse churches I've been to here, with 2 Hispanic families attending the service I go to.
Why is this? Well, I rarely come in contact with anyone who isn't like me.
Why is that? I live in a neighborhood with people like me, my kids go to school with people like me, and you can only be meaningfully integrated into our church at this point if you speak English.

A Jehovah's Witness lady has been visiting me for several years now and I'm always amazed by the range of age and ethnicity in the people she brings with her (surely to show me off as the one person who takes her pamphlets ;)). She's picked up on the fact that I'm curious about the diversity of her organization so she brings it up often. I truly am amazed and put to shame by the lengths that JWs go to spread their message. Here in Santa Maria, they have members learning Masteco (a very difficult indigenous language spoken by many of the Oaxacan Mexican migrant workers) and Tagalog at the least. They have a Masteco church (?) plant here! I deeply envy their commitment, even while I know that much of their preaching must be motivated out of the fear that comes from not resting in God's grace.

At any rate, she really got me pondering something extreme. Far be it from me to be out-missioned by a Jehovah's Witness. As I've been thinking about this and struggling through learning a language myself (very poorly) for my degree and in the wake of Charlottesville, I saw one of those little Instagram motivational things that read something like, "Your life will not change unless you change something that you do daily". Initially it made me feel guilty about my iPhone use, but it stuck in my mind and I'm trying to think bigger.

We - I - don't stretch ourselves because we don't need to. We already "have it all", so there is little motivation to change anything. We lay the burden of bridge building on those who are learning our language and trying to get into our schools and neighborhoods, and then maybe we'll end up being friends once they are more like us. These are my observations about my own life after contemplating for a long time why I don't have interactions with anyone that lead me to feel personally invested in the larger struggle going on in our nation, and frankly has been for a long, long time.

Do we really want things to change? I mean, think hard about it, be truly honest with yourself - do YOU want to change? I don't really. I'm pretty happy with what I have and where I am. What's happening "out there" hasn't changed my day to day life at all. But if for no other reason than selfish self preservation, I can see that if I don't take a serious interest in the Gospel - which is meant to be shared - and being loud about what I believe my country should be, then the life I've been resting on will not be available to my children. Some of the harm that is befalling our country is because we have wronged others. Not only do I need to stop wronging others, I need to actually start being proactive about reaching out to others.

For me, there is danger in making my civic duty a box that I can check - I cared (check), I wrote an essay (check), I made a statement (check), I gave some money (I'm not thattt committed), I called a senator (check), I attended a rally (also haven't gotten even this invested). But for me as a white woman who is not currently scrounging for pennies, those are all reactionary steps and they don't really change my perspective or my involvement in a lasting way. From personal experience, what changes me and what lasts in my life are relationships. So how can I build relationships that really make me "an ally", not simply a bystander with a megaphone?

The number one thing I'm trying to remember is that given my privileges, I can and should choose not to use them sometimes. For me personally, that means that I don't have to be the one talking just because I can talk without getting into too much trouble. I can talk less and listen a lot more, because whatever it is that is going on here is not something that I understand on a personal level. I shouldn't pretend that I've felt the pain that many are feeling right now. But I can listen. And then, I can get serious.

I can learn a language so I can go to them instead of waiting for them to come to me.
I can move to a neighborhood or a city where being forgotten by the government or having to put extra effort into educating my child becomes my problem too.
I can travel (which is certainly a luxury) so that I can remember that there is a lot more to the world than my version of it, and so that my children can grow up with an intense knowledge of the same.
I can send my children to public schools and hopefully a dual-immersion (English-Spanish) program so they grow up with slightly less of a barrier between the world they were born into and the world that many other Americans experience.

I'm not saying these steps aren't drastic or hard - I'm saying that anything less than drastic or difficult isn't really going to change our hearts. Is the Gospel worth that trouble to me? Because it is going to be troublesome, but I dare say we are not called to mediocrity.

In asking you to care more and care harder, I'm not trying to say that you don't care at all as things stand now. There are important things that I don't care about enough to do or say anything significant about - I believe in at least some version of climate change, but that's not a battle I've chosen to invest in. I believe that life begins at conception, but I will never picket Planned Parenthood and don't plan to write so much as an essay on my views on the matter at this point. Those are not the fights I'm choosing to pick. It's taken me a long time to realize that no amount of berating can make other people care as much about the things that I have chosen to care deeply about. In a spiritual context, God lays different things on different hearts, and it's really none of my business to judge you for not doing the things that I'm called to. I trust that there are things you care about that you're thinking about and trying to do something meaningful about. But, if you are like me and expend energy talking about how torn our social fabric is and are wanting to support people who are not as well off as you, may I suggest that we - I - need to step up our game and get better soon on a day-to-day basis. 

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