Politics on a mountain: Reflections from Oregon

It’s often said you need to get above and away from issues to truly understand them. There’s a certain objectivity that comes with distance, a fact noted by a favorite author of mine, Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk, cloistered away in the hills of Kentucky during the activism and social change of the 1960s. In an odd way, it was this isolation from the world that lent Merton such a clear perspective on the political situation of the time (and of our time as well). Merton wrote convincingly of the need for nonviolent solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Far from being just another voice, Merton’s writing had real impact, even given what appeared to be an insurmountable division in the world.

He wrote letters to civil rights leaders, helped influence the Church’s position on the issues, and helped begin and develop a real Christian definition of nonviolence. Given Merton’s example, it’s less than surprising that up on a mountain in the middle of nowheresville Oregon, I became more politically involved than ever before. As part of the Oregon Extension, a program dedicated to stepping out of the mainstream, I spent the fall election season cloistered in the mountains without cell service, chopping wood and (unsuccessfully) milking goats. But, far from the kid who left half his ballot unfilled during freshman year, in those lovely isolated woods I became politically conscious and began to take action.

Through the encouragement of friends and the many conversations we were all able to have thanks to our slower, simpler lifestyle, I wrote to Congress and voted thoughtfully for the first time. I emailed my Congressmen about pressing issues and debated their reasoning. What’s even crazier is that I wasn’t alone. Almost all 26 of us students sent for our absentee ballots and blocked out an hour to sit down and think about our options. One would think that of all kids our age, we’d be the least likely to vote. We were disconnected from the world in so many ways—we were almost an hour from the nearest town—and yet our voting rate, even with its tiny sample size, was out the wazoo.

Through the magic of intentional community, time and great professors, we talked through pressing issues and took decisive action. When the whole Kavanaugh bonanza was going down, we spent a week discussing what it meant for feminism, how it made the women with us feel and what the political implications of it all were. Later, through a professor’s connection with the Quaker community, we learned about the danger of a nuclear world and wrote letters to our Congressmen expressing our concern. My trip helped me realize that if I could do political involvement there, I could certainly do it here at Hope, where internet and cell service make things much easier.

Upon my return, I don’t want to be active in a desperate way. I realized in my time away that we do too much in general and too little fully or well. We don’t have enough dialogue about the deluge of news. We hear so many views, but we act on so few of them. We see so much wrong, yet we do so little. So I’m taking a measured approach in my time back. There’s a truthful irony in the words that too much is not enough.



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