“A lot of us are just a few steps away from a breakthrough. Maybe all of us are just thirty seconds away from being different people today.” —Hannah Brencher, If You Find this Letter
This blog will likely take more than 30 seconds to write. In fact, I’m sure of it. I’ve written variations of it in my head, adding and cutting things over the Chinese food I ate for lunch. I know that I will edit it obsessively before I share it, because I feel like this one, in particular, has to be just right. So, it will probably take hours when all is said and done, but like Hannah Brencher’s quote, I want this to be a fairly minuscule period of time in the grand scheme of things that actually changes my life.
Many of you are probably thinking, “What is the big deal? Why is she taking so much time to confess to us that she has snuck a piece of chocolate here and there on Lent?”
The truth is, telling you about how Lent is going right now isn’t the hard part. I have abstained from fast food since it started. My tendency to compare myself with others is always a struggle, but it is going fairly well too. I have messed up with chocolate once or twice, but it is going much better than last year when I tried to forgo sweets all together and gave up midway. I’m happy with the improvement.
The hard part is telling you about the additional fast I am taking on and exactly why I am doing it. At the risk of outing myself for all to see, here it is… I plan to stop engaging in discussions about politics online, with the exception of sharing deprecating Donald Trump memes (because they are hilarious). This is a fast I will continue well beyond March 24, 2016, the day that this year’s Lent is over. But, before I get to the nitty gritty about how or why I came to this decision, let me digress for a minute.
As frustrating as politics are, I am fascinated by them. They are complex and intellectually stimulating, especially when we consider political realms on a broader spectrum, outside of the United States. I love talking about them with like minds or others, but only if it can be civil. Last semester, I had a Civics class that was all I could have ever asked for. One day, one of my students said something that will forever be engrained in my mind. I don’t even remember what we were discussing, but it was something the class was fairly split on (I had students all over the political ideology spectrum). Before he gave his opinion, he said, “I have something I’d like to say, but I’m not sure if I should say it. I like you people, and I would never want to offend you.”
I swear, my kids teach me more than I ever teach them. What kind of world would we live in if this sort of political dialog and empathy was the exception rather than the rule? We might actually have a functioning congress!
The reason I sometimes share politically-pointed posts (say that three times fast) on Facebook is that I believe thoughtful consideration of every side of an issue is so incredibly important. In addition to being a political minority for the area, I usually dissect parts of issues a lot of people don’t consider; my brain is wired that way. The teacher in me is always looking to make moments an educational experience, even talking about politics on Facebook. I’ve never wanted to argue or offend; I’ve wanted merely to educate.
Another reason I share things (or “used to share them,” I should say) is that there are some political causes that I’m genuinely invested in. I care about humanity, and I want people to be able to have access to all they need to live healthy, full lives (whatever that looks like for them). I typically get behind issues and candidates that promote that ability for everyday people.
One of the biggest reasons I’ve decided to stop talking about politics on Facebook is that it feels terrible when people invalidate something you care about, especially for people like me who wear their hearts on their sleeves even if they don’t want to admit it. Our ideas and beliefs are such a huge part of our identity. After all, God gave us the ability to reason and believe, and it is what sets us apart from other species. So yeah, it hurts when people rip out such a crucial part of us and stomp on it. It hurts even worse when people do that on a screen for the world to see.
This has happened to me before, and here was my reaction: I got angry at first. I thought things like, “I see your crap and keep scrolling; why can’t you do the same?” But, beneath the knee-jerk reaction of anger that comes naturally to a spit-fire with a temper, there was indescribable hurt that people could really feel that way about me and post it for the world to see. I would rather someone call me fat, tell me they hate my clothes, or do just about anything else than tell me my ideas don’t matter. I don’t want to feel that way again, and the last thing I ever want to do is make others feel that way about themselves. I know there is always a risk of people disagreeing with controversial opinions, but disagreement isn’t what hurts. When people disregard all of the good things about you to nitpick one are they believe is flawed (an area that you might be perfectly comfortable with) and they do so publicly, that’s what hurts. It is a hurt I don’t want any part of.
But, that’s not the only reason I am “fasting” from election talk online. There are a few others.
A huge problem with America’s political landscape is “activism” on social media. A status, tweet, or Instagram post will never replace a warm body. Facebook did not exist when Bernie Sanders marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. or got arrested for his civil protests. But, I have an inkling that he would not have stopped in the middle of doing something so important to take a selfie and share it with the webosphere. Regardless of how people feel about Senator Sanders, I think we can agree on one thing about him: we need more of that… action. I want to make a commitment to be more presently involved with grassroots movements, write letters to my representatives more than I do now, and volunteer for causes about which I care deeply. Since I won’t have to walk on eggshells online, wondering what I can say without going too far, maybe I’ll have more time on my hands to do so!
Speaking of time, I want to start being a lot more intentional about how I spend my time and energy, because I don’t have enough of either. I want to work out every day, plan engaging lessons for my students, and work on the memoir about which I eventually want to send queries to literary agents (excuse me while I vomit from nerves; sorry for the visual). I want to watch Netflix with my husband, and cuddle with my furbabies, and daydream about my next adventure, hopefully with playlists that make me nostalgic for the adventures I’ve already had. I want to do something with my time that makes a lasting impact, even if I’m tired. And, I am tired. Most days, I am exhausted. I’ve decided that I’m too exhausted to read or talk about politics on Facebook any longer.
The final reason is the kicker. It is more important to me than any of the other reasons, even than avoiding the hurt that comes when people make us question the parts of our identities we’ve already wrestled with the most. It has to do with Jesus.
Conviction slapped me in the face this morning at Church (not in a legalistic way, because that’s not what Village is about). Our message was discussing the launch of Village’s first formal members, which is something I’ve been excited about since Colby and I realized Village is our place. As Andrew, our pastor, was outlining Village’s mission and “DNA” he calls it, he brought up a scripture about the early church that really spoke to me. It’s Acts 15:19.
Quick translation and history lesson: members of the early church, including James, Jesus’s little brother, came to the conclusion that they should never stand in the way of someone getting to know Jesus. Period. They laid aside a lot of religious tradition and dogma in the name of reaching people, and how different would the church be if they hadn’t?!
I don’t want to ever be that blockade between someone and Jesus. I might care deeply about education, income inequality, and mountains of other political issues, but I won’t flash them all over my Facebook wall at the risk of nullifying my credibility to talk about Jesus. I want my life to be like the Hawk Nelson lyrics: “Let my words be life. Let my words be truth. I don’t wanna say a word unless it points the world back to You.”
So, from here out, I am fasting from almost all election talk online. I will only share Donald Trump memes (I was so serious when I said that) and political posts that have a direct, immediate, and significant impact on my community (for example, Western Carolina University and the Koch Brothers debacle, and how much it is hurting one of my favorite professors). I’m finished with everything else. I obviously will still have opinions that I’d love to share. I’d also love to hear your opinions too, so we can learn from each other. But, I’d rather talk privately, preferably over good coffee or Mexican food. Until March 24th, however, we cannot talk about politics over chocolate.