I Didn’t Register to Vote Until I Was 28

I fought with myself as to whether or not I’d post this because this is more of a confession and almost more of myself than I’d normally be so open about. But, in the end, I’m trying to break myself of those kinds of insecurities. This is like therapy to me. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

“I shall tell you a great secret my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day.” ― Albert Camus

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Let me be abundantly clear about something just in case you haven’t already come to this realization. I have never completely fit in. Anywhere. Ever. I’m a strange breed of human being that vacillates between introversion and extroverted tendencies, creative spurts and severely logical arguments, and then there’s the teetering between misanthropy and philanthropy. I deal a lot with dualities in what feels like some very curious ways that has one or two good friends referring to me as an anomaly. I can’t say I disagree. It’s something I’ve grown to embrace over time but, by my very nature, sometimes I’m extremely insecure about it. On top of that I am prone to both depression and anxiety, so I really relate to the words Hunter S. Thompson used to describe Raoul Duke’s lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Something you should also know about me is I’m a Bible believing Christian. I believe Jesus came as God and man in one to redeem the world. I sin a lot but I believe I am saved. It’s the only thing that has kept me from going off the deep end and becoming an alcoholic like my father or done something else to completely ruin my life. I went to college and got my BA in studying scripture and so I like to believe I am very theologically conservative. I attend church regularly (though not recently) but even there, where most people know me and I have friends I still feel disconnected, like I don’t completely belong. In an environment that is, thankfully, the first I’ve belonged to that is mean to be all inclusive, I sit by myself and strain myself to be social with people after. It just doesn’t seem to do any good. Since I teeter between seeking acceptance and not really giving a damn (yes, a Christian who occasionally uses swear words!) it can be really hard to cope.

I used to think I couldn’t get any farther away from belonging. Then I became a Liberal.

This deserves some background. I didn’t register to vote until this month. I didn’t care about politics or the state of affairs of this country until this past year because of something that’s actually rare for my generation: apathy. Nothing I saw politically seemed to affect me or how I lived and I was extremely jaded thanks to the media coverage of the Presidential terms from Clinton all the way up to Obama, and let’s not forget the glorious thing that is the electoral college. Not to mention my own personal demons kept me pretty well occupied with myself and trying to sort through abandonment and depression on and off for the four years I was in Bible college and the year and half that followed. My gaze was too busy looking inward to care about the world around me.

Something happened to me when I came out of what was easily the longest bout with depression I’ve experienced in my 15 years of dealing with Bipolar II and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It may seem silly to some but I needed a laugh and, in my boredom one night after work, I watched an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Hulu Plus. While, admittedly, Jon Stewart is not a journalist but a comedian and a news commentator (like Bill O’Reilly, Shawn Hannity, or Rachel Maddow except, you know, funny and not insane) it made news accessible to me for the first time and showed me political issues I wasn’t even aware of, world news I hadn’t paid attention to, etc. This was kind of like the spark that ignited the flame. Since then, I’ve consumed books on American history, media bias, politics. I started following the news and I started to feel like I was more of a global citizen, hell, a citizen in my own country.

What I began to discover, though, was I was not the conservative I was raised as and I definitely was not the conservative of my early environment here in Nebraska which is a red state through and through.

I watched the conservative side, though, and I couldn’t fit myself into that mold. There are too many issues where I lean heavy on the constitution and heavily eschew the legislation of morality. And right then and there, when I discovered that about myself, I did something I never thought was humanly possible and made myself feel as if I fit in even less in the one place I came the closest to belonging and that was within the realm of the church universal. I can feel the scorn naturally creep up on my face as I write this.

In my experience, and this is not to put anyone down, the evangelical church is replete with registered Republicans. In Nebraska it can come fairly close to the caricature later turned photo sharing trend of holding a gun in one hand, a bible and American deity (excuse me… flag) in the other. I don’t particularly like watching people tote guns around for the same reason a dog licks it’s testicles but it’s their constitutional right, I guess. And while I believe YHWH, the God of the Bible is the one true God, and I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, I draw a very large distinction between the workings of government and legislation and the teachings of the Bible. That is to say the Bible teaches Christians about their faith and how they should live, but the U.S. Government is, in no way, beholden to those teachings because America is not, despite die-hard politically conservative believers, a Christian nation. It was not founded as a Christian nation; it was founded on the basis of religious freedom. To impose the doctrines and beliefs of just one group of a widely diverse nation is tyrannical, unconstitutional, and actually unbiblical.

Why unbiblical? Look at the model for salvation presented to us in scripture. God seeks out his people and makes a treaty with them before they are subject to his laws and statutes, establishing a Theocracy. Then Jesus came and gave up his life so those who believe in him would be part of the same treaty. America was founded by sinners and Christopher Columbus was definitely not the second coming of Christ. He was barely a saint if you know your history.

So, when I found my footing in the political realm I really started with no boundaries or ideas of what I stood for but, as I read, watched, researched and encountered, I found I could not identify with what felt like a staunch hatred, anger, self-righteousness, and even indifference I saw in the GOP’s representation of their constituents. Now, to be fair both sides of the aisle are not without blame. Politicians are a curious folk to be certain so I’m not absolving either party. However, I did find myself identifying more and more with stances, especially on social justice issues, that would put me in the Liberal camp. So, I didn’t really choose to be this way; my convictions led me there.

Would a few examples help? I’m sure.

Let’s start with my favorite hot-button issue: LGBT rights. This was one issue, as far as civil rights are concerned, I did not really have to think very hard to come to a conclusion on. Biblically, I still wrestle with some issues but that’s a whole other blog post. I’ve had gay friends, I have gay coworkers, which personalizes the issue for me quite a bit.

As a country we believe all people are considered equals. Discussions I’ve had with conservatives and news articles I’ve read by conservative “news” sites essentially renders these people as subhuman, undeserving of any rights for various reasons. It depends on the particular issue which, quite frankly, the government is still ill-equipped to fully address. Some of the issues are just too new, like which bathroom a transgender student should use in a public school. We, as a country, are having to adapt.

My conviction here is this: I cannot define people by their sexual orientation, gender, or sex alone. As creations of God they are all on equal footing as sinners in need of Grace. As human beings, we all struggle with pride, lust, idolatry, etc. The sanctity of marriage argument is null and void to me because America doesn’t hold marriage all that sacred anyway. The church, now that’s another matter. But, as someone from the ACLU said to me, “it’s not like we’re going to force your pastor to marry anyone he doesn’t want to.” As long as the rights of the church are upheld, then the LGBT community should get all the rights associated with marriage. Why? They’re people. Ultimately, no one should be allowed to decide who is and is not a person.

I’m a Christian. I should be pro-life, right? I am, yes. I believe everyone has the right to live from conception. I cannot support legislation to see that all the way through. Given the choice, I would vote for a pro-choice candidate over a pro-life candidate. It is inconceivable to think a woman of sound mind gets an abortion because it’s the easy choice. I know women who have had abortions and they count it as one of the hardest decisions they’ve ever had to make. Abortion is not taken lightly. But pro-life beliefs lead to the closing of women’s health centers which also provide contraceptives to women which can help prevent pregnancy and therefore removes even having to think about abortions.

This is where my stance on legislating morality kicks in. Banning abortion isn’t going to stop abortion. There’s a huge crack in that line of logic for me. We tried to do that with alcohol and we got speakeasies and well-funded mobs. We did that with marijuana and we got the war on drugs; a complete waste of US tax dollars especially since we were selling arms to the countries supplying the pot in the first place. Removing a woman’s right to abortion doesn’t then necessitate she take the option but, if she does take that option, it will be done by someone who is qualified, in a sterile environment, with the proper tools thus avoiding complications which could ultimately end another life prematurely.

And yet I’m still pro-life. I think as Christians, if we’re willing to be so adamantly against abortion we shouldn’t be picketing abortion clinics because that just lumps us in with people like the Westboro Baptist Church, we should be working to offer alternatives that protect both mom and baby. I’m still pro-life because I think people should be paid a wage that allows them to support themselves. I think the death penalty is a joke because our legal system thinks money is free speech and rich dudes who molest young girls can’t go to prison because “Do you know what it’s like in prison?!” I think life is sacred and all sin is redeemable in the eyes of God. I believe if you’re pro-life you need to be pro-life for the duration a human is alive.

So, there you have it. I have declared to the internet I am a Christian who is theologically conservative but culturally and politically liberal. That’s been hard for some to accept but it’s how I’m wired. Maybe I’m inconsistent, maybe I don’t have all the facts mustered, but I know where I stand. In Christendom as well as government that’s the best place you can be, I think. And I don’t think where I stand is mutually exclusive because they share one thing in common.

We the people.

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God says, “Slow Down”

 

The last few Sundays I have been going up to a town in Iowa about an hour and a half north of Council Bluffs with one of my Youth Minister roommates. It’s a nice drive up because it’s all interstate and if we carpool we can have some good conversation. The drive is even more relaxed on the way home right now because it’s dark. Something you should probably know about me is that I love driving at night. With the right kind of music it just feels like I’ve been separated from the rest of the world and it’s just me, God and my thoughts.

Tonight I was driving home by myself. My friend had to preach at the church where he is the youth pastor this morning so he just stayed there and I drove up and met him there. Of course, I had to drive myself back too which didn’t bother me a bit. I left the church before my friend did because he had to drive one of the kids home. So, I hopped back on the interstate and drove, reflecting on conversations and other things that been floating around in my mind. It was about twenty minutes into the drive when I noticed a familiar set of headlights. They were the headlights of a Mercury Saturn, my friend’s car. He had somehow caught up with me. Eventually he passed me. As he did this I started to get a sense of urgency, that I needed to speed up and catch my friend. It seemed so important that he not beat me home.

What was so urgent?

In the story of Genesis in the 11th chapter the writer tells us the story of the earth at a point where everyone spoke the same language.

The entire world.

The same language. Imagine.

These people were speaking in the same language to each other after settling in a land called Shinar. And we are brought into one of their conversations about what they should do after having settled in this land. They decide they are going to build a city for themselves. That seems logical, doesn’t it? Once you find a place to settle in, you build a city and live there. This is something that people have been doing for a really long time, so there’s nothing questionable about this idea to us. And then they decide to build a tower “with its top in the heavens”.

So, the people decide to build a city and in this city they will build a really tall tower. Again I don’t think we can find any real fault in the way their thought process is designing and molding the world around them. Building is an act of creation, an ability given to us by God when he built us. The people in Genesis are only using their God-given abilities in exercising their right to build a city and a tower if they want to. But we see later in the story that God interrupted their construction and disrupted their ability to speak the same language and scatters them across the face of the earth.

Why would God ruin the plans and radically alter the lives of everyone on earth over the construction of a city?

If I’m really honest with myself, I just didn’t want my friend to beat me home. The only urgency I felt was the thought that, perhaps, I would get a hard time from my roommate because he left the church after I did and still managed to beat me home. I could hear him in my head telling this story to all the other guys in the house and then them giving me a hard time because I drive pretty close to the speed limit and I’m not rebellious enough to go more than five over. The scene played inside my head and I really just wanted to jam on the gas and show my friend who was the coolest between the two of us. I would not be bested by anyone because we all know it’s always a race when you’re driving home in a separate cars.

I realize how silly this sounds. But these are thoughts that go through my head.

I bring it up for a reason though. Why did I think it was so important for me to beat my friend home?

Why did the people in Genesis 11 want to build their city and their tall tower?

The writer of Genesis provides us with a statement from the people, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth,” (Genesis 11:4 ESV).

They build the city and the tower because they wanted to make a name for themselves and God scattered them.

I realize that, at the heart of the matter, I wanted to beat my friend home to make a name for myself.

We can really get a perspective on these issues by looking at what God has to say about the whole thing:

And Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
(Genesis 11:6-7 ESV)

God sees the heart of the people and makes a decision. They have become capable of building a city, doing what they say they are going to do without faltering. But this isn’t the real reason he is scattering them. They wish to make a name for themselves by tacking their name on to this huge thing they are trying to accomplish. God knows they will finish the city and say they did a good job, the will pat each other on the back and thank each other for all their hard work and all their effort. Maybe there will be parties and one of those ribbon-cutting ceremonies in honor of this great metropolis and people will climb this tower that they built and have great pride in their work.

God says something is missing in this equation.

So, the text says God comes down, confuses their languages and scatters them from their city and tower. It is interesting that God had to come down to the tower.

Wasn’t it supposed to have its top in the heavens? That sounds like it would be tall to me.

God still had to come down to see the city and the tower.

If God had to come all the way down to terra firma to see this city built on pride and scatter its inhabitants then I would hate to see what he would do with a radar gun. Because, in the end, the people had to suffer consequences for their self-seeking behavior and I would have mine as well. Thankfully, I felt convicted of this after thinking about it.

And then I slowed down.

And maybe you should too. Ease off the gas a little when you’re doing anything that can be recognized as great at any level. Don’t get excited and put the pedal to the floor and rush into your own glory because it won’t get you anywhere. Just think about who knew you before you were born and who made you, who rescued you from yourself and a life lived only for the simple reason of serving your own wants and desires or what the Preacher calls “striving after the wind’ because it’s all meaningless without God.

Slow down.

Problem with Prayer

I have a confession to make. You might find this strange or something but bear with me because I feel like I should get it out in the open. Maybe, along the way, you will find somewhere where your story intersects with mine. When I first realized I had this problem I felt kind of strange and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I just feel I need to tell you.

I have great difficulty with corporate prayer.

Anticlimactic? You bet. But then again, maybe it’s a greater problem than we realize. After all, isn’t prayer supposed to be our war-time radio, our means of intercession and our way of entering the throne room of God? So, certainly no form of prayer could ever be disingenuous, fake or anything of that sort is it? There just can’t be people out there who use their pulpit or ministry as a means to put themselves on a pedestal and push their own agendas instead of earnestly pleading or crying out to God on behalf of His children. And if there are they certainly don’t call themselves Christians. People who believe in Yahweh elohim don’t do that.

Or do they?

I came to this question because someone prayed for me during a prayer at the end of class. This is nothing new for me. I’ve had professors pray in front of class before and it wasn’t any big deal. It felt like routine. For some reason my thought process was entirely different in listening to this prayer. I’ll be honest, I first took the things he said about me as a compliment meant for my ears. That was the first thing that went through my head when he said he was grateful I was at that school and my for my refusal to be enculturated by it (Bible colleges have a tendency to reject people like me since I’m “counter-culture”). What a stroke for my ego since I do look up to this professor quite a bit.

But then I thought about it. And I had to choke back the tears.

Jesus talked about prayer. Of course he would. That way we can present very cold and rudimentary sermons on the concept and usage of prayer and give people some formulaic system in which they can bring their troubles to God. And maybe we can feed them some fairly weak and false ideas as to what prayer is and what it can do. So pastors can stand with their hands lifted towards the sky and say “Lord, Lord” and say nice things for the good of the congregations itching ears rather than hitting their knees and groaning with grief as people of their flock are suffering.

Jesus says he has a ready response for those who say “Lord, lord” and do mighty things in his name in Matthew 7:21-23.

In Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) the preacher/teacher says there is nothing new under the sun. I’m inclined to think that’s true since the wisdom in those writings is ascribed to Solomon. He was a really wise dude at least for a time. So, when I say things like I do above I’m reminded that Jesus did, indeed, teach his followers how to pray. It was during his biggest and longest sermon recorded in the gospels. Oddly enough, it’s followed by teachings about people who do works of righteousness but are doing it for the attention:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(Matthew 6:5-8 ESV)

Whoa.

Wait a minute. Jesus says we’re not supposed to pray just to be seen. And we’re not supposed to be long winded and verbose? But there’s something else there besides scripture proving my point. The last sentence says that God knows what we need before we ask him. So, when we pray it’s solely to communicate our feelings to God instead of doing it for show or to show of our oratory skills. In that thought process I have to come back to my professor’s prayer.

He was telling God he was grateful for me.

He entered the throne room of God and spoke to our Father to tell him his true feelings about me. It was inconsequential for me to hear in the end.

The thought of this turned my world upside-down for a moment.

And it should turn yours in all different directions as well. Corporate prayer, to me, seems like an audible cry to God like people did in Acts 4.

When they cried out, the room shook.

So, in reflecting on this whole ordeal I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s not the pray-er that’s the problem nor is it the prayer. Maybe it’s my own cynical judgement and the hardness of my own heart after all of the garbage that I’ve seen done in churches under the guise of well-meaning Christianity. I know there are times when the prayers are legitimate and I should stop analyzing every word that I hear. Maybe I should pray with them and for them and let God sort out the garbage.

It’s his phone to answer after all.