And Now, for a non-political, Political Announcement

I’ve been wading through the issues in this political season trying to decide my vote for president. Not once have I ever leaned toward Mr. Trump. I tried to listen. I tried to make this election about the political issues and ignore the non-political. But I can’t. Because at some point, the non-political elements will become political.

For all those, including some dear friends, who have tried to justify what Mr. Trump says and how he acts, I have just accepted the fact that you and I are in far different places.

Some may even challenge me over the question of grace. Doesn’t it mean anything to you that Mr. Trump apologized and that he says he’s a changed man? they will ask.

First, a non-apology (a statement that sounds like an apology but that is worded to place blame on those who were hurt or offended) is not an apology. Remember, Mr. Trump is the one who told us that he has no need for forgiveness. I have not heard a genuine apology yet. (He’s only on version 2 of his apology as of the writing of this post, so perhaps he’ll improve.)

Second, I’ve heard a lot of locker room talk and locker room talkers over my lifetime. That’s what Mr. Trump says this is — just locker room talk. Locker room talk is not ok.

The inner compass of locker room talkers does not change when they’re not in the locker room. They still objectify people, start rumors, cast blame on others and avoid taking responsibility. They just shift to a more subtle and, some would say, more acceptable mode. I believe Mr. Trump truly feels that he has made some major changes only because he has changed his language for the public. That’s applaudable, but not my primary concern.

Mr. Trump is still a locker room talker. It’s classic bully positioning. He must make others look bad and show his power over them because of his own lack of self esteem. If that means inciting racial violence by espousing white supremacy or trying to downplay the mistreatment of women, he knows no boundaries. And talking has a bidirectional element to it. Talking can reveal our inner selves and it can also mold our inner selves.

Mr. Trump has openly admitted that he has behaved badly. His language and demeanor almost guarantees there is more bad behavior to come.

For non-political reasons, I will never vote for Mr. Trump. For those of you who believe you can, just remember that non-political reasons transform themselves into political realities for us all. This will not make America great.

 

Political Uncertainty

polling the masses

On social media several months back, I made a post that was, by all counts, neutral. (By the way, “by all counts” is code for “in my opinion.”) Some of my readers understood my message to be one of uncertainty and proceeded to try to persuade me to line up behind her or his candidate. So, in a comment, I stated that I would not vote for either.  There was no political uncertainty in my mind because I was aware of what I did not want as a leader.

I still don’t want those things in a leader. Yet, I will vote and, after looking at the third and fourth candidates and their platforms, I will vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. But my political uncertainty is back.

The subject of politics comes up in almost any context I find myself. Three times yesterday. Two times the day before. I even had a discussion with a kind Swiss anthropologist somewhere in the air between Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Zurich, Switzerland last month.

It  has surprised me that I have learned something new in almost every conversation.

First, I’ve learned that a good number of those participating in my unscientific and stealth poll have not spent a lot of time studying the major issues. Among this group are those people who support Mr. Trump and base that support on how funny it is when he says something . . . Trumpish. Also in this group are those who have ignored Mrs. Clinton’s platform with the lofty belief that all-things-Republican are stupid. I wouldn’t classify these people — on either side of the aisle — as deplorable. But they do seem to be woefully uninformed. And, I’m not making a statistical study here, but there appear to be a lot of them.

Second, I’ve discovered that there is a substantial group of voters who will make their decision based on a single policy or issue. They truly understand what is at stake for that particular issue and they stand strongly with their candidate on that basis. Their focus on that single issue justifies their choice — and their decision to ignore all else.

Third, I have had the opportunity to talk with a very few individuals who are making a broader analysis of the candidates and basing their decision on a careful weighing of the impact of the election on multiple issues. I specifically selected some of these people because I had hope that I could gain direction from them — and perhaps I wouldn’t have to do the hard work of discerning all those things on my own. The problem is that I have different priorities and, in some cases, beliefs.

Frankly, I’m frightened by the choices we have — and have been in every presidential election in recent years. We have to reboot our political system. The tried and true party system is largely failing us. We have been sitting back and letting others think for us.

As painful as it has been, political uncertainty has been a tremendous blessing for me. For the first time in years, I’ve been forced to think. It’s not always comfortable. But it’s one of the highest plateaus of freedom.

Diplomacy

it's not just about getting your way

This morning, I was able to hear an excerpt from President Obama’s press conference in China. This trip has seen what appears to be purposeful disrespect from the Chinese, the announcement of North Korean missile test firings, a missed opportunity to come to agreement with Russia about the conflict in Syria, and now an open challenge from the Philippines president as to what our President may or may not address in upcoming conversations. President Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, responded with diplomacy.

No, my right-leaning friends, it wasn’t weakness on his part. And no, my left-leaning friends, it wasn’t genius.

It was diplomacy.

Whether they were well-planned or spontaneous, his answers were appropriate and, well, diplomatic. By addressing the inquiries with calmness, reflection, and a careful choice of words, President Obama assured that he — and thus we, as a nation — continued to have a place at the table. I appreciate diplomacy. It keeps dialog alive.

I am not a fan of all of President Obama’s policies and strategies. Yet, I do respect him and the way that he goes about his work. Among many other good things, he is a diplomat.

Odd, isn’t it, that we have chosen a system of elections that no longer honors diplomacy? Instead, we now seem to appreciate and value violent confrontation. Perhaps it isn’t always physical, yet we have seen rhetorical violence lead to violence. We teach our children that shouting louder, exhibiting anger, and refusing to consider ways to work together is the way to get ahead in life. In polite parenting circles and in our parent-teacher conferences, we decry such behavior. Yet, that’s what we demand of the candidates in our political system. Our children are our witnesses to our choices.

Our current election system is focused on power.

Here’s a short history lesson: When power dominates, over time we push for laws to form boundaries to limit power. When laws abound, bureaucracy grows. When bureaucracy grows, certain groups, empowered by the privilege created by bureaucracy assemble power. You would assume that this would be an endless cycle. But every so often there is a hiccup. Those not empowered become frustrated and desperate. Revolution. Chaos. A new power base is formed — often from an outside force that celebrates this moment of weakness. Rarely is this disruptive force beneficial.

The only remedy for this self-destructive path is dialog, understanding, and collaboration. Yes, my colleagues and my students in conflict resolution, the answer is a focus on the interests of all involved. Diplomacy is an essential part of the picture.

Yet, we, the voters, demand blood.

I left out another important piece of that history lesson. Most often, the voters get what they ask for.

Maybe we should be asking for more diplomacy, longer sessions at the table and fewer knock-out blows.

Remember, most often, you’ll get what you ask for.

Toward a More Contemplative Lifestyle

and why that can be downright scary

I’ve always wanted to be a great thinker. Unfortunately, I have discovered that it requires me to be more contemplative.

Contemplative

photo credit: Matthew Wiebe/unsplash.com

Spending time raking through my thoughts is not always my idea of a good time. In fact, at the end of a trying day I often just go to bed and flip that big switch marked “I don’t want to think about it any more.” The great thing is that God made our brains to restore and renew themselves so some sorting and other helpful things happen when I’m asleep. I’ve often thought that I am much more intellectually effective when I’m asleep. Was it not for my snoring, I think that others would agree.

I do want to encourage contemplation — both in my self and others. Watching political debates and “person-on-the-streets” interviews during the last few months has convinced me that most of us don’t do enough in terms of contemplation. Instead, we use our most primal instincts — those of fear and satisfaction of our basic desires — to take a position and dedicate our very being to it. Some of those positions go beyond just being. Some of them will require our very souls.

I saw a meme on the internet this morning. It went something like this:

The Case for Contemplation
The dead are unaware that they are dead. Their existence continues. The consequences of their deaths are felt only by those around them. In that way, striking similarities exist between those who have died and those who fail to think.

We all face tough decisions. It will take an effort. But let’s all be more contemplative.

The Problem with the Public Debate of Sin

For some time, I have been troubled over the way that we, as a society and as individuals, approach conflict. Civil discourse has given way, in large part, to guerrilla-like tactics and all-out war in the very halls that once were a symbol of maturity and civility. The following post flows from my troubled spirit. As such, much of this is therapeutic for me. I just feel like I need to be transparent and to add what is hopefully a respectful voice to the conversation.

I’ve been on the verge of shutting down all of my social media accounts for about a year.

Why?

Because there is a certain burden associated with standing by and watching a few of your friends – a few of your vocal friends – become those obnoxious, narrow-minded individuals who prove little with their rhetoric, who often react strongly on the basis of misinformation, and who, quite frankly, eclipse the value of their “stand” on a particular issue with their words of bias and hatred. That saddens me.

For example, I am troubled over a young man who I once believed showed great promise in the field of peacemaking. But his online posts revealed bias, bigotry, and almost total disregard for anyone who thinks differently. I am certainly tough enough to hear his opinion and rancor, but it is just painful and embarrassing. And I often wonder what damage he is doing to others and for the peaceful cause of Christ.

I have other friends or acquaintances, both personal and online, who have taken far different positions from me on political matters, theological matters, health and lifestyle matters. They have stated their opinions and made their arguments. Respectfully.

The quietness of their voices belies the volume of their message. By speaking appropriately, at the right time, and with a humility that comes from valuing others, their words were heard.

On a number of the issues these friends address, I don’t find myself persuaded. Yet, I do experience a deeper understanding of both them and of myself. And I’ve found that when I respond in kind, our conversations and our relationships grow stronger. In many cases, we find true resolution to the challenges that threaten to separate us.

People are finding a lot of issues to fight over in the political realm. The economy, gun control, immigration. In recent days, with the United States Supreme Court considering cases involving same-sex relationships, the bile vomited from both sides of the issue is revolting at its occurrence and the stench it has left behind is stifling.

WARNING: The following is a statement of my beliefs.

I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

I believe that God tells us through scripture that homosexuality is a sin.

However, I also believe that God has made it clear that

  • Adultery and fornication are sins.
  • Murder and covetousness are sins.
  • Lust, lying, and idolatry are sins.
  • Personal promotion over the needs of others and anger are sins.
  • A good portion of my personal motivation is worldly and, thus, sinful.

And I believe that God makes no distinction between sins. He despises them all because he sees what sin does to us, his beloved. God loves us even though we are sinners.

I see no need to enter into public debate of my beliefs because of the inherent problem with the public debate of sin.

The problem with the public debate of sin is that sin is not debatable or negotiable. It is what it is. We don’t have the option of deciding what is sinful and what is not.

Therefore, I also believe that God has made it clear that

  • I am to love all people, regardless of their beliefs.
  • I am to respect every one.
  • I am to converse and work with others in an effort to build relationship and, where needed and available, reconciliation – regardless of their belief.
  • I am never to do anything that drives others further from God because of my weakness in conveying God’s spirit and being.
  • I am never to do anything that soils the image of God with others by acting like . . . well, like me. I am called to walk in God’s steps and take on his demeanor and spirit of love.
  • I am to challenge my own beliefs, ferret out errors in my thinking and behavior, and seek a brighter understanding. While God is all-knowing and wise, I am only a work-in-progress.
  • I can have hope in a God who loves, who listens, and who provides grace for my failings.
  • God will make the judgments about people. That is not my job.
  • I can, with a desire to obey God, become a person who others see God through — even when I set clear standards and expectations and disagree with them.

And, I also believe that my failure to seek the things on this last list is just as sinful as the things on my first list.

Right now, we are confusing the concept of sin with the concept of public opinion. We seem to believe that the Supreme Court’s decisions on this issue or that issue will be a blow to the kingdom of heaven. How shortsighted can we be?

You can’t legislate or litigate morality. You can’t make people accept God’s invitation to holiness and a joyful life. You can’t publicly debate sin and expect to see large scale conversion as a result. In fact, you most likely will see the opposite.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Live in accordance with our understanding of God’s hopes and desires for us.
  • Encourage others to come to know God.
  • Encourage each other in holy living.
  • When we disagree, never let our personal motives or feelings derail the hope for reconciliation and future relationship with others.
  • Exercise our voices appropriately. Talk with humility. Speak truth. Explore questions with integrity. Vote. Stay engaged and remain helpful when the vote goes against us.
  • Love every single person – family, friends, strangers, and especially our enemies.

DI LOGOGod asks us for very little because God has everything covered. Let’s quit debating and begin meaningful conversation. We can accomplish far more by pursuing peace than we can by waging war.