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  • I don't know if I'll ever understand the story of my politics. But I remember what my introduction to the subject sounded like.

    It was the bass line of My City Was Gone - a fat, oozing sound out of the AM radio, followed by the rich, deep voice of Rush Limbaugh on 77WABC. But he wasn’t the only one; Bob Grant was on 710WOR, sometimes Jay Diamond filled in, and Jerry Christopher was the local favorite. My guilty pleasure was actually Phil Hendrie. But my dad almost exclusively listened to these conservative radio personalities. For my sister and I, we had audio cassette tapes of Adventures in Odyssey - a Focus on the Family program that featured moralizing voice actors who struggled with important issues like the danger of role playing games and the importance of witnessing to your friends.

    This was in the nineties. For a conservative christian family, the Monica Lewinsky scandal was all we needed to be against Clinton. But when the bombs fell in Kosovo, something about it reminded my parents how they saw friends leave for Vietnam, and return in bags and coffins. They talked about how if the draft were ever reinstated, I would be sent up to Canada to stay with my mom’s family, an oddly unpatriotic sentiment for a church family that sold fireworks nearly every summer up until the fourth of July. But we remained strictly right-wing. In 2000, I was given a homework assignment by my dad - follow the election. I researched, studied, and collected articles as the Florida recount unfolded. I remember my sources included The Drudge Report and I was 16 years old. Four years later I would write an article for my community college newspaper about the quiet relief of conservatives when Bush was reelected.

    It was 2008, when I was newly married, living far away from my parents in the depths of red state territory, when it all changed. Somebody gave me a copy of Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistible Revolution." I began arguing for pacifism in the adult bible study group I was in - something our church promoted on paper but nobody believed in. The way our beliefs had been manipulated for political agendas became obvious. I was at a midwestern college with my wife, we were both finishing our undergrad degrees. Someone left a copy of Richard Hughes "Christian America and the Kingdom of God." I actually met the author when he came to campus (apparently, the book was part of a theology course for which the professor intended to reward the students with the visit). At his lecture, I had him sign my copy. I was trying to start a Student Peace Alliance, and he wrote "never stop pursuing peace." His book lead me to writers like Leo Tolstoy, John Yoder, William Stringfellow, John Domonic Crossan, Paul Tillich. The belief in peace led me to Thich Nhat Hanh.

    I found myself justifying to my family why I was voting for Obama, only to feel betrayed with other progressives, who felt we'd been catered to. New to the left, I recognized that there was the sense our ideas had never been taken seriously by the establishment, which made the Obama's campaign exciting. When Guantanamo Bay remained open, when drone strikes became commonplace, and when an unarmed Osama Bin Laden was killed with so much fanfare, the liberal patriotism that accompanied these things chaffed at my spiritual values. I had never read a great deal of theology as a conservative, only hearing it preached. Now, finding my own beliefs articulated by those writers, I found the relationship between those thoughts and my politics more authentic, more real and true than it ever was before.

    The music and the picture with this story come from May Day, 2012 in New York City. OWS was exciting, like all those dreams from 2008 come to fruition, but it was a bittersweet moment at each step when I knew it wouldn't last. For a short time, it was obvious that these ideas were alive, that it wasn't some remote fantasy in books and on the internet - people were eager to try something different, at least for a day. It was a nice memory of the initial protests and when you could see OWS changing the discourse. On May Day, one of my grad school classes met in Madison Square Park as part of a "Free University" event where people discussed philosophy, art, theory and science in the park. Afterwards, we marched down 5th Avenue to Union Square. The memory of that day will stick with us for the rest of the year when people aren't as excited about such things.

    Several months ago I was listening to a podcast on identity politics by NYU sociologist Craig Calhoun. At the end of the interview, he stated, “We don’t arrive in politics with our interests or identities settled - in the course of politics we may discover, change, reshape, reanalyze, who we think we are, what we think matters most to us. And that’s a good thing.”

    I still don't quite understand how one goes from being a conservative Christian to - well, whatever I'd call myself today. But I know that I can change. Which means, I know every time I become frustrated, dismayed, upset and aggravated by others, it is partly because I don't remember they can change, and partly because I have no idea how to encourage them.
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