the urban-rural divide.

Yet you Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

My imagination has frequently run wild as I’ve imagined God’s hand shaping all of us, like a potter perfecting their craft.

I say “all” because without a doubt in my mind, we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The pads of His fingers shape us, smooth us, even as muddy clay gets underneath His fingernails. We are formed, created, unlike anyone that has ever come before or will come after us.

For years, I think, this has given me a hidden joy as I have met and made friends with all kinds of people.

I think to myself, “what can this person teach me?” or more directly, “how did God make this person unique?” These questions have made me a bit gentler, a bit softer even, when a person annoys the hell out of me. Let’s be real, we’re human.

With the same, intense curiosity though, I’ve often also thought about the formation we experience through the lives we live. This references the old “nature vs. nurture” debate in some ways; to what extent are we formed by biology and also by the experiences we have as we age? We are born with a set of circumstances, and our lives ebb and flow differently, based on the culture we are surrounded by.

Culture is a large word – and there is a big chunk of it that is invisible to the human eye. About a year ago, I stumbled upon this chart that outlines the construction of our culture through the lense and degree of visibility.

Foundations of Culture

 

Genuinely, I think this could be a transformative tool in entering conversations this year – particularly in light of political strife, tension, and emotion.I happened to review this chart a couple of weeks ago as I was creating curriculum to use with refugee and immigrant populations in Denver. It also so happens, a week later, that I traveled to middle rural America – seemingly another country, far from my safe haven in Colorado.

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For the first time this year, I saw “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” signs and I got a bit nervous. On the back of my car, I have a couple key bumper stickers, namely one from the Human Rights Campaign and the US Peace Corps. As I sped through vast grasslands and corn fields, I held the steering wheel tightly and thought, “oh gosh, they’re gonna think I’m some hippie.”

I was traveling to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents and honestly, it was a nice, lovely escape from the city. It also, metaphorically speaking, woke me up. 

As I settled into this small pan-handle community for a week, I took lots of walks thinking about what it would be like to live life here (or in any other rural community in the United States).

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I began to consider the urban-rural divide. Lately, we’ve hyper-focused on the racial, economic, or political divide in the United States, but I would also argue that the urban-rural split is the root of these other fractured conversations and movements in our country. Frankly, living in an urban or rural area can be like living in another country altogether.

The American Communities Project has put together a map that illustrates the divisions of our country and alludes to the potential impact this has on education, age, and opportunities available to different populations.

I took a screenshot so you can get a sense of what they have tried to capture – communities ranging from “Aging Farmlands” to “Graying America” to “Evangelical Hubs.”

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Let’s consider the urban and rural divisions.

In the marked urban areas there are 153 counties with 140 million people.

In the designated rural areas there are 936 counties with 30 million people.

Y’all, that’s a difference of 110 million people!

And that’s not all.

Completion of higher-level education (say, a Bachelor’s degree) is at 35% in the suburbs; 32% in big cities; 20% in rural America; and finally, less than 15% in “working class country. (citation was found via a story by “Meet the Press”)

This results in a proverbial ceiling for higher-paying jobs, resulting in less investment by both the public and private sectors. Essentially, what happens, is that because of a lack in education completion and job creation, economic growth is stunted. Communities are slowly, but surely, dying. And, because they might be underrepresented and also less exposed to other parts of the country (and world), these populations are relatively isolated. This happens in Rwanda too – this definitely, is not just an American problem.

To be sure, this is not my world. It’s the opposite, actually. I live in Denver – perhaps the fastest growing city in the U.S.A. right now. I also went to one of Colorado’s best school districts as I grew up, could attend any college I wanted, and because of the high-attention to critical thinking emphasized by my small, liberal-arts college, I was able to explore and consider issues in the world that others may not have the opportunity to do.

I’m not better, I’m privileged. And there is a difference. Sometimes, it might take some time away from your own boundaries to understand this a bit more fully.

I have really struggled to understand the anger that some Americans feel right now, namely in their preference for Trump in this circus of a 2016 election. It seems many individuals and communities feel slighted in some way; namely in the relation to the economic circumstances of their lives – and honestly, I don’t blame them. So, in turn, this anger is funneled into the hope that a political giant (read: Trump) can “save” them. As I walked, drove, and spent time away from the confines of my American country (ahem, Denver), I can see how people might think differently than me. Look at the cultural chart again: the deepest parts of our formation come from where we live, what we do, and the development of our perspective of the world. And so, perhaps my push for civil rights and human dignity doesn’t strike a chord with other populations because they have been busy trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

It’s not an issue of being more “enlightened” than other people either– it’s just recognizing the opportunity (and yes, privilege you’ve had in your life). Perhaps, we should all step back, and take time to consider the kinds of privilege we carry around with us. We don’t have to always feel guilty, but we do have to be aware.

Because awareness, at its best, should propel us to action. Action means trying to understand each other and developing initiatives, policy, and movements that benefit Americans. All of us. Each and everyone. Not that top 1%. Not the middle class. Not the poor. Everybody, y’all.

I’m privileged in my skin color, in my education levels, in my economic status, in my job, in the family system I have always had, and in my place of birth.

However, because of other areas, like gender, or orientation, I have been slighted or under-represented.

We all have these dichotomies; areas of both privilege and lack thereof.

I’m not saying I agree with the rhetoric of a particular political candidate. What I’m saying, is that our political ties run deeper than just what appears on the surface.

Our country has big problems, y’all. They extend to the tensions we have in race, in money, and certainly, in the places that we live. Until we begin to re-work a system that does not work for all of us, I’m not sure how our country can keep moving forward.

I didn’t leave Oklahoma without hope, however. At the United Methodist church in town, I had the opportunity to talk with church leaders who cared deeply about their communities and how to represent them and serve them – in and out of their church. One woman, an immigrant from Mexico, talked through tears about her journey as an immigrant woman in this country. She alluded to being treated terribly, horrifically, and yet, still believing in what this country has to offer. This, my friends, is what makes America great. When people, different from us, can still hold optimism close to the pursuit of American ideals of equality and freedom. We can do it. My, my, I hope we can do it.

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and now, for the rest of the story.

In case you have been living under a rock, it’s an election year. As to be expected, things are crazy. Especially if you have different, opposing viewpoints from your parents, loved ones, and family members.

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Things are so crazy, in fact, that my dad and I had a re-conciliatory moment recently when we both laughed out loud throughout various moments of the RNC (Republican National Convention). When Trump hardly acknowledged his VP candidate; as Colorado delegates walked out of the room; and when reporters remained obsessed over the Trump family – we found this all to be rather, I don’t know, hilarious.

This struck me as pleasant surprise. You see, my dad is an unapologetic Republican.

I am not.

From the time I was a young girl, sitting in the back of his truck during traffic, I would hear Paul Harvey‘s famous segments called “The Rest of the Story” in between “thought-leader” radio-talk such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Indeed, Republican rhetoric was a part of my upbringing.

Grandma threw her curve balls as we grew up, however, when we would spend the night at her house each Wednesday. Unlike dad, her newscasts were usually NPR related programming. Interestingly, progressive talk radio had little national exposure in my childhood (read: the 90’s). It wasn’t until later in the 2000’s that “Air America” and shows like it really held any potency.

Political news updates in her car were interspersed also with frequent commentaries on how Reagan had changed her politics from leaning “right” to the heavily liberal part of the spectrum.  Without a doubt, if grandma was still here, she would be giving a big “thumbs up” to Hillary Clinton.

Jokingly, I remember her once commenting on her three Republican-voting sons, “I’m not really sure what I did wrong..”

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This election has felt different than any of the other elections I can remember thus far in my life (2012 (Obama), 2008 (Obama), 2004 (Bush), 2000 (Bush), 1996 (Clinton), 1992 (Clinton)). The Bush election of 2000 conjures images of deflated Florida ballets; Bush’s second run kept me up all night – I had wanted him to win. Badly. Obama’s election in 2008 reminds me of the screaming, crying crowds of Hendrix College in our school ballroom shouting “Yes We Can! Yes We Can!”. The 2012 election was welcoming simple; I heard campaign updates on BBC Radio while in my small Rwandan village.

Elections seem to really just take on a life of their own.

Perhaps, as my dad and I sat together, in a country poised for economic development, racked with violence, advancements in social policy, foreign entanglements, and a need for a massive overhaul in education, tax, and gun issues,  we both needed a moment of reprieve.

Politically, we don’t agree on much, but we did manage to have relatively reasonable civic discourse because we are able to recognize the validity of our viewpoints and ideas.This doesn’t always happen – I’m sensitive, he’s stubborn. But on this day, it was okay.

It’s helpful, I’m learning, when conversing with a person with a varying viewpoint, to have a mutual recognition of knowledge resources. My dad has been a high school educator for nearly 30 years – he knows his stuff. Alternatively, I am well-read, active in the civic community, and have been intentionally engaged with American policy during my young adult years (this is the benefit of being an American Studies major, I suppose).

Between the both of us, we have been blessed in our education, and this can greatly affect the political efficacy of a person – good or bad.

It’s also critical to respect the arrival points of an individual’s politics.These are heavy, meaty issues. Between the nuances of economic policy and the pursuit of individual rights and liberties, politics is personal. Belief alone doesn’t necessarily make something right (i.e. I think Chipolte is better than Q’doba – does that mean it’s a better company? Maybe. Maybe not.) but belief does imply a need for respect. Frankly, when it comes to your parents, it can be hard to do, particularly if you are stepping outside of their constructs and viewpoints. But do it. Please do it. Engaging in a diverse political conversation enacts what really does make this country great: diversity. Listen. You might learn something. You could teach something too.

Finally, ask questions. Not with a smart-ass, pompous attitude, but in a genuine desire to understand the construction of a person’s ideology. Honestly, it’s insanely interesting, and it shows that you care.

Asking questions necessitates listening which involves respect which invites knowledge. 

Politics, I don’t think has to tear us a part. We can remain vigilant to the relationship itself. Love, I think, should and ought to come before our political views. Ultimately, it’s healthy, helpful, and encouraging that we have the opportunity – especially with our parents and elders – to engage in a dialogue about the frameworks of our society.

Veer away from the sensationalized articles promoted by the media. Grab a drink, sit, and chat. Maybe it won’t be so bad as you think.

Because, I promise, if dad can laugh at the Republican National Convention, anything can happen.

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“we also ought to love one another”

Read here: New York Daily News – Racism at Trump Rally

This story – and many others from Shaun King – have left me sick with heartbreak, tears, and speechlessness. This particular one, however, has also brought me to my knees tonight. In prayer.

This story (videos & pictures, too) showcase the penetrating, undeniable evil of HATE.

I am posting something of a “political” nature because I want to encourage ALL OF YOU to pray. Pray for reconciliation, unity, hope, and love. These are tall-orders, but NOT impossible. God is with us, and the madness of supremacy, bigotry, racism, violence, and hatred CAN be overcome – through the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

Even in tears, I refuse to lose hope.

Our political opinions, thoughts, and parties matter. Certainly. Experience life, proclaim your right to think for yourself, and because of the FREEDOM America offers (a blessing itself!), express it. We WILL be different – that is how God made us. Unique.

However, our humanity is infinitely MORE important than our ideologies. And frankly, when ideology begins to spew a spirit of hatred, THAT is when the right to free speech becomes a weapon. This spirit is often what creates terrorism.

I have so many words, so many thoughts. But, I think Scripture says it best.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through hum. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…

GOD IS LOVE.

WHOEVER LIVES IN LOVE LIVES IN GOD,

AND GOD IN HIM. (1 John 9-12; 17).

Amen.

mt

 

stories matter.

I’m a pretty cool person.

So cool that on any given night, I am either reading Alice Walker, discovering the best ‘Hello’ covers, or attending the Posner Center for International Development Lecture Series. Yes, I may in fact be 85 years old at heart.

This week, it was all above.

On Thursday, I gathered in my new office building (“the horsebarn”) to listen to a short educational piece from Diana Hess, the Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She co-authored The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education and Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion. It was sponsored by Facing History & Ourselves, an educational organization that seeks to educate the population on racism, prejudice, and history to prevent hatred from occurring in the future. Props.

I had been working all day and frankly, I didn’t want to go. I would have rather gathered my blue, flimsy lunchbox and head home. But something told me to stay. I’m glad I did.

The discussion was a “Community Conversation” to answer the elephant-in-the-room sort of question – “how do we live together?”

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In a time where Donald Trump is running for President and our political world is a chaotic mess (I think that’s being nice), it’s important we take a step back and reconsider: how do we exist in a time like this?

Diana Hess began her presentation by talking about polarization. Political polarization refers to cases in which an individual’s stance on a given issue, policy, or person is more likely to be strictly defined by their identification with a particular political party (e.g., Democrat or Republican) or ideology (e.g., liberal or conservative).

After showing us a representation of our ideologies as an American people from the 1950’s until now, our political climate is more polarized than ever. A big cause of this, really, is due in part because of the “echo chambers” we create around ourselves. That is, when you google the very same thing your friend does, you will get different results.

Somehow, technology has advanced in such a way, that the information that is provided to us is tailored and customized to our already existing belief systems. Our choices in radio, television, and reporting is the same too; if you are a Republican listening to Fox News, than the reality is that you are only going to hear the headlines and news in such a way that supports your belief system. The same could be true of a Democrat following MSNBC too; it’s not limited to one side of partisanship.

The presentation went on to ask some pretty interesting and contemplative questions.

Is it right for educators’ to reveal their own political leanings in the classroom?

Should parents try and influence the political beliefs of their own children? 

Or more boldly,

Do you regularly talk about political issues with those who have beliefs different from your own? What are the consequences or results of doing so? 

These are hard questions. I can admit, I do try and engage people that believe different things than I do. But I typically do one of two things – either I become extremely sensitive when they disagree with the way I see the world OR I try to conform my own beliefs to what the other person is saying.

How do we “own” our own worldviews and ideas without feeling like we have to change simply to please the other person OR staunchly defend so much so that we are offensive and stand-offish?

I know the answer, but I’m not so good at implementing it.

The answer is in the stories we bring to the table. Our experiences shape us. They are ours, and ours alone. Nobody can take those away. It’s important, in a time like this, to respect people who think differently. I suppose my goal this year, this very important election year, is to not enter conversations expecting to change the minds of people I encounter. But also, it’s going to involve and challenge me to stand up for what I think too.

As a relatively moderate liberal, I may have to explain why I think our immigration policy needs to change, why taxes need to be graduated and fair according to income levels, why gay marriage is welcomed, and how racial injustice should be recognized. When it comes to foreign policy, I might have to share my opinions that our meddling has only been concerned with our own gains and has propelled ISIS into the limelight. It might get murky, but my hope is that someone might be more concerned with why I believe what I do, and less about criticizing me for where I might be wrong. You see, our stories will fill in the gaps. Our stories inform why we do what we do. That’s what we should be concerned with. Even for those that are the polar opposite of me; I want to know why you think a certain way; you matter, therefore your ideas should matter too.

Let’s make this kind of respect possible – please.

Somehow, I might have to have the humility to admit that I don’t know everything and yet still acknowledge that as a human, I have ideas, and they matter. Stories matter. I hope that everyone adopts that attitude, so that maybe we can share our ideas, collaborate, and find our way in these uncertain times.