Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Quit Politics

I quit politics on January 3rd, 2012. That was the night of the Republican caucuses in Iowa, a night on which Rick Santorum bested Mitt Romney by a mere 34 votes in the first contest of the 2012 primary season to see which Republican would challenge incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

OK, so maybe that’s not quite factual. But it is a true narrative, nonetheless. Facts and truth are not always the same things, nor should they be. Yet both are vitally important, each informing, correcting, and shaping the other – and they usually intermingle with each other to such a degree that it is hard to tell one apart from another. There are very few things in life that are immoveable, unchangeable data, or facts. There are many things in life that are flexible, changeable narratives, or truths. As a Bothandian, I believe each is important, and that we must chart ways forward that successfully navigate and embrace, while not confusing, both the reality of facts and the reality of truths.

Technically, I was done with politics one month earlier, on December 3rd, 2011, when business person Herman Cain suspended his campaign for President amidst patently false allegations of sexual harassment and an affair, and very real threats of violence against his family. I was a Cain supporter, and in fact had become a volunteer with his campaign as part of his Media Action Team. It was the first time I had ever become anywhere near that involved with a political campaign. I did it because I believed in the principles and solutions to problems that Mr. Cain was espousing, and that he was the kind of person USAmerica needed as a leader at that time. To illustrate that, I give you a line from an internal e-mail from Mr. Cain himself in the wake of his campaign suspension that summed up his character and why I supported him so fervently: “Family first, as you know.”

Putting family first is costly. Very costly. I know this firsthand from a number of life experiences, whether it be losing a job (more than once), losing a house (also more than once), or ‘losing battles in order to win wars,' all because I am committed to putting the best interests of my family first. During my last Associate Pastorate (which was one too many, illustrating that no matter how committed we may be, we can and do still make mistakes, but that’s a rabbit trail if ever there was one…), when I would preach, I was fond of using the phrase, “First Church of Family” to describe the ecclesia we experience in our family units, however those might be constructed, from the most “traditional” to the most “non-traditional” among us. Community is vitally important in every arena of life, none more so than the ecclesia, which is the body of Christ. We are meant to live in community, both together (‘commune-’) and unified (‘-unity’). And that community begins first at home. While we must open our families to fellowship and relationship with all peoples, from the ‘greatest,’ to ‘The Least of These,’ that cannot and will not happen unless it begins at home, in our families, with those to whom we are the very closest. When Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” he was right.

Technically, I didn’t quit politics entirely. I did go on to make an ‘endorsement’ of Mitt Romney for President in 2012. And then…I checked out. There was a lot of that going on at the time, apparently. I truly did not pay attention to what was going on, politically, for several years. I am sure I had some sense of what was going on (headlines and red flags are both hard to avoid, especially in the digital age), but I was either in denial, choosing to live in checked out ignorance, or both. In 2015, I chose to check back in. Fully. Completely. Without reservation. I remember the first debate I watched with my family in October of 2015. I was stunned by how much had changed and the craziness of the multiple, confusing options in front of us. There were too many people on the stage, too many cooks in the kitchen, as it were.

By the late spring of 2016, as the fields finally narrowed in the major parties and no one who truly appealed among the smaller parties or independents emerged, I had come to a decision, the only thing I had really stated publicly, although not really ‘announced’ per se, since 2012: #NeverHillary #NeverTrump

There were no good candidates, no good options, and certainly no great ones, at least, not in this view. So what to do when it is impossible to get what you, or others, would actually want?

I chose to vote, to take action. It would have been irresponsible, in this view, to not do so.

I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

I did not vote for Donald Trump.

I voted Republican, straight ticket, something I had never done, nor do I ever expect to do, again.

Not because of blind loyalty to a party – my goodness, I am long since over that way of thinking. Not because of the ‘party platform’ (there is as much, as a Jesus disciple, that I disagree with in both of the major party platforms, as whatever I might agree with). And certainly not because of the virtues (or lack thereof) of the person at the very top of the ticket.

I voted because a hard decision had to be made, and no matter how distasteful being put in the position to have to make such a decision was, it was my obligation, responsibility, and conscientious duty to make the best decision I could make at the time, with the information I had, in the best interests of everyone.

If I had gotten what I wanted, Herman Cain would be the President of the United States today. I believe that was the best option. I did not, very decidedly, get what I wanted. But it is not about what I wanted, or would want now. It is about making the best decision possible given the circumstances with which one is faced. We cannot control circumstances. We cannot control others’ choices. Nor should we try, because that would be unloving. And love does not, indeed cannot, control the other. Love comes first. And love wins. Every. Single. Time.

So…the Bush/Clinton/Obama era is, mercifully, finally, over. It has been going ever since George H.W. Bush was elected Vice President in 1980, when I was just 4 years old. In essence, my entire lifespan, politically, has been wrapped up in Bush/Clinton/Obama. And now, as of two thirty something in the morning, whether we like it or not, a new era has begun.

While I can’t find the exact quote (I’ll update this later if it becomes available), someone on the news coverage last night said something I think is vitally important about Trump, and if we take the words to heart, we should recognize it should be said about all of us, not long before it was announced Trump would be the President-elect. It went something like this: “People have to give him the opportunity to make things right.” Of course, people don’t literally have to do so. But that would not be the most loving option. Not even close.

In this new era, then, may we all make the best, most loving choices possible, in every arena of life, be it politics, family, the ecclesia, or any other. May it be so in me and in you and in everyone.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Failing Faithfulness

It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is not where I had planned to be at 5:30 in the morning. Funny thing about plans…and plots…and planes…

I’m on my way to Peru, Indiana in the passenger seat (never fear…I don’t blog-and-drive...which I hear is illegal now…) of a slightly rusty, dirty-brown 2003 Dodge Caravan (technically I believe it is red…next time I wash it I will verify).

While in Peru for about 3 hours I’ll make a side trip to Kokomo to get the oil changed and tires rotated so that this 252,000 mile mode of transportation affectionately known around here as B.O.B. (Bucket Of Bolts) will, hopefully, quiet down and behave for the weekend so we can get to Rogers, Arkansas and back, followed by a trip for Seth and I to Michigan and back to Indiana on Sunday to pick up Ian and Miah.

Actually, one of Seth’s birthday presents was a new side mirror for B.O.B. It may sound odd, but let me explain.

Seth turned 16 yesterday. When I envisioned what my firstborn’s 16th birthday would look like, even before he existed, well…let's just say this wasn’t it. Not because of my son, mind you! While he isn’t perfect, and I am not even ashamed to admit that in public, Seth would be the first one to tell you the same, so I have no fear of offending him here – and that is just the point. You can envision what you want to do with and for your children, but you cannot envision who they are going to be. Because it isn’t entirely up to you. You aren’t God. And even if you were, that’s not how God works. We are free creatures. God guides our steps…we make plans…and in the end the best of our co-creative work together is what lasts. God’s guidance and our plans are often thwarted- by ourselves, by others, by culture, by random events, and by both good and evil forces at work. The vast majority of the time – perhaps all the time – we will find ourselves in a place of plans, plots, and planes gone wrong. Most of the time, as it turns out, “this 747 can’t go fast enough.” Lesson learned…and being learned…

Humanity, all of us, in one way or another or a whole bunch of ways (that’d be me…), have abused our God-given freedom. In theological conversations, we hear much about the “problem of evil.” But I wonder if we have neglected to give attention to “the problem of freedom.”

I have come to believe that the answer to this problem, that freedom can be abused, is not to shut down our freedom and control everything (many believe in a God who controls everything, and this is, in one form or another, their answer – follow the rules and do not use your freedom but rather give it up…preferably to the one who has the gold power (either real or perceived) to attempt to tell you what to do and how to live).

Nor is the answer to this problem to throw off any inhibition and to do whatever we please. In other words, the answer to abuse of freedom is not even more unrestrained, uninhibited abuse of freedom. My spouse often likes to quote Augustine, “love God and do as you please…” – but when she does she always includes the remainder of the quote - “…for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Doing whatever we please is not license to sin; it is choosing to accept God's invitation to cooperate with God in bringing about the fullness of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

I find it interesting that in the Scriptures, Paul the Apostle does not write to the ecclesia in Galatia, “do not use your freedom” but rather, “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (5:13). Paul says that we are “called to be free” (5:13). I believe Paul is right.

And what is his answer? How can we live out the balancing act of being free, yet not abusing our freedom? By living freely within the bounds of this one guiding principle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As I often say when speaking on this subject, you simply cannot love your neighbor if you cannot love yourself. There are some things you just can’t do. And that is one of them. There are some things even God cannot do. And you’re not God, anyway.

Paul goes on to say that the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other – “so you are not do whatever you want” (5:17). Paul doesn’t contradict Augustine with this – in fact, he goes on to confirm it: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (5:18). There is much more I could say about this…but you are probably still wondering why I bought Seth a new side mirror for B.O.B. for his birthday, so I had better finish explaining.

So I can’t afford to put a brand new car in the driveway for my son’s 16th birthday. That’s one part I would have envisioned many years ago. Actually, only a very, very tiny, privileged few kids ever get the idealistic new car in the driveway. A slightly higher percentage get a used car. In USAmerica and a few other places, maybe half (maybe) get use of their parent(s) car…if their parents have a car…when their parent(s) say they can use it (this was my case when I turned 16). And the rest of the world (the majority, the least of these) just has to wait.

So what I could afford, thanks to the help of others, was a new side mirror – which I have needed since I accidentally cracked mine 4 years ago on a cold night in Peru. It was a very, very cold night. I had no idea just how cold. But that’s a story.

By getting this side mirror, we finally have a vehicle in good enough shape that I feel comfortable training Seth to drive. He’s been waiting longer than I, or he, had hoped. Some kids get their license on the day they turn 16. Others have to wait a few months (that was my case…I was still in driver’s ed when I turned 16…), still others even longer. And some never learn. Now Seth can learn. It wasn’t perfect. But life is messy. And that’s OK.

I gave Seth all I could, and in fact, more than I could (without the help of others, I wouldn’t have been able to do even this). In the Scriptures, there is a poor widow who puts in the offering all she has, and Jesus says she gave more than all the others who were giving, because she gave out of her poverty, and not out of her wealth. Did her giving change the world? It would appear not. But her story is still changing me, and many others, today.

Maybe it is time we start giving out of our poverty – out of what we can’t afford to give, out of all we have, as great or as little as that might be; and not out of what we can afford to give. There are some things we just can’t do. But we will never know what those things are until we attempt them. Some call that failure. Others call it foolishness. I call it faithfulness. I think Jesus would agree.

So this day…what once upon a time was the worst day of my life (as opposed to the worst day of the year that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago)...I choose to reclaim this day as a day that the Lord has made, that I will rejoice and be glad in, content and at peace whatever the circumstances. As a wise person I am close to once said, “Love is a choice.” She could not have been more right. I choose to give all I have, and all I can, and even what I think I can’t, failing my way to faithfulness. I choose love.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Worst Day of the Year

I am pretty sure everyone has a worst day of the year.  By this, I do not mean, 'the worst day of your life.'  Sometimes those two things coincide.  But they can also be quite different and separate occasions. 

For some people, 'the worst day of the year' is what most people would consider a good day.  Some really do not like having birthdays.  Some do not like particular holidays.  For others it makes ‘more sense’, at least from the outside looking in:  The anniversary of losing a loved one, or an emotionally difficult or tragic event in one’s life.

The truth is, I have had enough of those over the course of 40 years to nominate any number of days, quite legitimately, as “The Worst Day of the Year.”  And yet…somehow… every year…since 2003…it always comes back to this day.  The last day of August.  The last day of so many things.  And the first day of so many others.

The thing is, you never know when and where the seed of hope has been planted.  And even when we are certain of the impossibility of a situation, when all has clearly and irreparably been lost…there is yet hope, unseen as it may be.  The author of the letter Hebrews in the Christian Scriptures writes this: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (11:1).

I wonder what she may have been hoping for personally and for her community…and I wonder what it was that she did not see.  And I wonder how it was, in the midst of whatever it was she had hoped for and longed to see, that she was able to be inspired by the Spirit to write those utterly rebellious, defiant, foolish words.

Perhaps it is because sometimes what matters most is not what we do know, but what we don’t know.  Were we capable of knowing everything…would we really want to?  I suspect the answer to that is something along the lines of, “not as much as we think we would…”  There are things that are very important to know in this life.  As a person who always favors having more information rather than less, no matter how distressing that information may be, I certainly get that.  What I need to remember, though, is that there are also things that are very important not to know in this life.  Sometimes it’s better not to know, because it is in the not knowing that we become more sure of what we hope for and more certain of what we do not see.

*           *           *

It has been almost a year since I tasted the first sip of coffee…in my life…ever…it reminds me of an old song by Caedmon’s Call, “I Just Don’t Want Coffee.”  For 39-1/2 years of my life, this song resonated with me…and for many, many more reasons than just the fact that I was not a coffee drinker…

…but now…I do drink coffee…in fact, even on the worst day of my life it has become, as we like to talk about all the time in my family, one of my “favorite parts of the day.”  Now, I do want coffee.  Perhaps I even need it.  And that’s OK.  Especially if my motivation is to share it with my world and my community.  And, it is. It is good.  And it is well.

But there is another old song by Caedmon’s Call that has endured around this place for almost as long, “Faith My Eyes.” And today…it is the song that resonates most:

As I survey the ground for ants
Looking for a place to sit and read
And I'm reminded of the streets of my hometown
How they're much like this concrete that's warm beneath my feet

And how I'm all wrapped up in my mother's face
With a touch of my father just up around the eyes
And the sound of my brother's laugh
More wrapped up in what binds our ever distant lives

But if I must go
Things I trust will be better off without me
But I don't want to know
'Cause life is better off a mystery

So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
Keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

Hometown weather is on TV
And I imagine the lives of the people living there
And I'm curious if they imagine me
'Cause they just wanna leave, I wish that I could stay

And I get turned around
And I mistake my happiness for blessing
And I'm blessed as the poor
Still I judge success by how I'm dressing

So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
Keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

So I'll sing a song of my hometown
Breathe the air and walk the streets
And maybe find a place to sit and read
But the ants are welcome company

So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load
To keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

*           *           *

On this, the last day of August, 2016, I would do well to remember that what was true 13 years ago is just as true today:  A seed that was yet unseen, unknown, and undiscovered had been planted.  There is always faith, always hope.  And always love.  Because the greatest of these is always love