(63) not what it seems

“Listen to me, Derek. It’s not what it seems! It’s not what it seems…”

This line came to mind (without the Derek bit) as I scanned Facebook tonight and at first (because I lack the lightening-quick movie quote identification mental directory that my sisters have) I thought it might be from some really profound source. You know, C. S. Lewis or something. But no, this line is from a children’s animated film called The Swan Princess. Go figure.

This is the line that came to mind, though, as I was sort of trying to process some of the Big News Items of the day via status posts and vehement comment interchanges in the context of my earlier conversation with my brother-in-law and all the other thinking I’ve done on the pertinent topics without any real conclusions.

This line, “It’s not what it seems!” stands out because it’s partly why I’m hesitant (read: terrified) to take a stance. I just feel like I don’t know enough. And I’m strict about who I’ll mentally allow to take a stance. Everyone else, I’m happy to just be mad at. Myself included, really. I don’t know what I think and I’m mad about that. It’s laughable, really. But the thing is, what I’m trying to get to is, it’s not what it seems. I am certain that I don’t see the big picture here and I’m even missing a lot of the nuance and detail. And I’m also painfully certain that the Supreme Court (along with a good deal of other people, both strangers and friends who I love and respect) are missing aspects of the big picture and details here too. I suppose that selective blindness might just be part of being human.

But what if the pieces that we’re missing may lead to a society in 50 years in which speaking out against certain practices or relationships could be considered hate speech and could result in an organization losing tax exempt status or being shut down or worse? What if by trying to affirm the “rights” of all we are diminishing our future constitutional freedoms, like that of religion?

Or what if my starting point in understanding a Biblical perspective is too fresh, too recent? What if Sola Scriptura is, in fact, not really enough to fully understand this faith that I long for and adhere to? How am I to love my neighbor in truth, in total compassion, and yet in total integrity and faithfulness to a God who never changes even when I’m surrounded by a culture that never stops changing?

Or what if I really don’t even get what marriage is about, even when I am in the middle of trying to live it out? Should I be concerned with other marriages that form the fabric of my society? For a long, long time, I think, we’ve heard this cry of “be what you want to be! do what you want to do!” But that way of living can go on for only so long before my being/doing will be at odds with yours. Can we weave our societal fabric together? Or will we quietly tear ourselves apart?

The other thing is that Facebook is a simply terrible place for these kinds of conversations. (I would be happy to buy a friend coffee and have a real conversation about anything, truly. But I absolutely do not like to enter into Facebook debates.) Which is why I came here to blurt out all my unfiltered angst and scrape together shards of my big unmanageable questions, just so they are outside of me and maybe I’ll begin to understand better.

On the one hand, I am anxious because I just don’t know how to live the right way in this crazy, upside-down world.

And on the other hand, I am tremendously hopeful. I mean, did you see my niece smile earlier this evening? God knows, she could save the world with that smile. And I am a little less blind than I used to be because I know that it isn’t about living the right way, but about living like, in, with, filled by Jesus. And He is expansive and broad and endless. Which is a very, very hopeful thing to remember.

But I still want to understand. I still want to know what I think or what I perhaps ought to think, if there is an ought.

So besides that thing about Jesus that I wrote a couple sentences ago, I’m sure of one other thing right now: It’s not what it seems.

 

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(28) voting is important

We’ve set aside time this morning to cast our vote. We’ve been putting it off for weeks, a couple weeks anyway. He says it’s not that important because we’re moving away from Washington in a few months — these policy changes won’t affect us. But I insist that voting is a privilege that we should take advantage of, no matter what. And we both want our voices heard on the few issues that we’ve heard about and really care about and on the much-publicized presidential election.

So we sit down with coffee and pumpkin bread, he grabs the 20121104-114311.jpgnewsprint voter’s guide and I’m equipped with two ballots and a pen. (I know, votes are supposed to be secret, but considering all we know of each other, it seems silly to vote separately when it is so much work!)

And our extremely scientific voting method goes something like this:

We start out being very thorough with the initiative measures and referendums. He reads the explanations, the “for” and “against” arguments aloud. I criticize the phrasing and grammar. We examine the list of who prepared and supports each argument. We have no children in the public school system, we don’t really understand how the tax system works, we own no property, but we scratch in our opinion just the same: approved, yes, no. We talk about the risks of state universities investing in the stock market and I point out the weakness of fear-mongering arguments. We talk about the legalization of marijuana and the importance of a freedom of religion clause in the gay marriage bill.

We get totally hung up on the mysterious advisory measures, which, as our voter’s guide explains, won’t change the law, but simply let the State Legislature know whether we approve of their (past) decision or not. Crazy. The voter’s guide offers virtually no helpful information about what the measure actually means. I look up additional information online and after reading it aloud for a few minutes, Zack stops me. Yep, you lost me already. Do you understand what you’re reading? Not really. Not at all. We leave those spaces blank.

Moving on to actual people, some of them candidates for positions I’ve barely heard of. Some of their names are familiar from all the campaign signs that line the roads and crowd the intersections.

Most likely Washington will lean to the Democratic side in the presidential election and our vote for president hardly matters. But we cast our votes for the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, hoping that someone will notice that we are sick of the two-party system that dominates the political landscape.

And then the fun begins:

I: So this is for Senate, him vs. her. He looks nice. Lots of international experience. She’s been in office for a long time.

He: Career politician. Ugh. Let’s give the other guy a chance.

I: Skip the next page. Okay, between these next two. That guy is currently in office.

He: The other one’s a veteran. I’ll vote for veterans any day.

I: (On to the next office up for grabs) I’m going on pictures for this one. This guy looks like a creep. His PR person should have found a better photo.

He: I agree. The other one looks much nicer. Done.

I: And for this position? The incumbent has been in office for like 12 years or something.

Again we decide to go for the new guy. I had this conversation with a friend last year. Why is politics one of the only fields where experience in the field is seen as a bad thing? Maybe because we all know from experience that power corrupts.

And so it continues. When one candidate has failed to submit any information for the voter’s guide, we vote for the other guy. Because seriously, as Zack says, if you aren’t organized enough to submit your information for the voter’s guide, can we trust you to handle this office? I have virtually no idea what an Insurance Commissioner or County Commissioner does. I prefer female candidates or the friendlier-looking male. He prefers candidates who aren’t affiliated with a mainstream party (or any party), then typically opts for the Republican Party.

In truth, it’s an overwhelmingly full ballot. We just put in our opinion on government offices ranging from President, to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, to State Legislature, State Attorney General, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and all the way down to whether the city should levy a tax to provide for the local pool and fitness center. Good gracious. It all seems so important and yet we have so little to go on when scribbling in those tiny boxes. I think (as I always do) that I should start earlier and do more research.

Shouldn’t I spend hours combing through the research, the “for” and “against” articles, the candidates’ web pages, the articles describing their past record in business and government? Instead I trust the little blurbs that someone writes about them for the voter’s guide, and then when those don’t help, I depend on my intuition based on their photograph, their educational background, their military service, their community involvement.

For anyone reading this, I don’t intend to start a discussion about the politics behind the candidates, although I’m sure you can guess some of the candidates I’m talking about if you’re familiar with the Washington elections. If anything, it just makes me thoughtful again about the process of electing, decision-making, voting. That’s the conversation I’d want to enter into. And even though I didn’t vote for either of the likely-to-win candidates, I’m quietly apprehensive wondering the outcome of the presidential election this week. Although I suppose it’ll take 4 years for us to truly understand the outcome.

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The voter’s pamphlet reassures me that my vote does indeed count for something. Phew!

 

(22) “by this everyone will know…”

A Facebook friend posted a photo of Billy Graham with a statement regarding the upcoming elections. Apparently Billy Graham did authorize these ads, in which he encourages voters,

“I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this Nov. 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.”

I have such deep respect for Rev. Billy Graham. But I felt very unsettled, flustered, concerned, even angry after reading this. A week later, after much thinking (and several rousing discussions about it with my dad and husband), I know why I don’t fully agree with these ads. We’re satisfied with a broken function machine: Put in Christian or biblical values and politics in one end and you will get anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and pro-Israel political stances out the other. Really? Are these the three things we ought to be known for as Jesus-followers? Graham isn’t alone; Huge swaths of American Christianity have made it their (our?) mission to stamp out abortion and gay marriage and support the nation of Israel.

But I think we’re missing out on something. This thing Jesus said comes to mind:

Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:34-35 MSG)

Ah.

The NIV says “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples…” referring, of course, to love. Elsewhere, Jesus pointed out the greatest commandment was two-fold: Love God and love others. It seems to me this is the primary biblical value, then, the guiding principle around which we build other values and practices and choices.

I’d love to talk with Rev. Graham about this, actually, because I am sure he knows these verses inside-out. Surely he is taking these also into consideration when he encourages us to vote with biblical values. But I feel that limiting our political footprint to the “big three” mentioned above is potentially so harmful to the Church’s mission, since it doesn’t clearly represent Jesus’ heart of compassion for people. Instead of people who are defined by love, we’ve developed this reputation of being people who hate gays, hate abortion doctors and hate Palestinians.

I want to be a person defined, driven, shaped, spilling over with love. Someone who, out of this deep love, is passionate and concerned about helping the poor, ending slavery, rescuing prostitutes and child soldiers, setting captives free, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, ending genocide and war, caring for widows and orphans, housing the homeless, loving, loving, loving people.

May we be that kind of person, a Jesus-looking people, a people identified by how much and how deeply we love, not by the way we vote on a few hot issues.

(20) debatable

I caught a glimpse of the first presidential candidate debate last night. I watched clips on my phone while at work, read the CNN live blog feed, read my “friends” comments in Facebook, browsed editorial responses in the media this morning…

Obama looks much older than he did 4 years ago. Why on earth would he want this crazy difficult job for another 4? Both candidates wore the cheery smiles and color-coded ties and firm handshakes that we’ve come to expect from our politicians. An acquaintance of mine, a young man who struggles with developmental disability and depends in large part on social security and disability and Medicare for his well-being, commented that he wasn’t sure he even wanted to vote, it seemed too tough a call between these two shiny-slick candidates. My sister told me she applied for Medicare for their as-of-yet-unborn daughter. Neither she nor her husband have health insurance (or the finances to purchase insurance) that will cover this child. And of course we know the stories, that for every person who truly needs the assistance, there is another taking advantage of “the system.”

We know the stories, but do we know the people? I think this is my greatest discomfort in all of this election process. We complain that the candidates are unrelatable, too wealthy, too far removed from our daily experience. Would it really make us feel better to read through Mr. Romney’s tax returns? I doubt it.

This is what I really want to hear from these men (and where are the women anyway?). It seems so simple to me:

I don’t have all the solutions to all of your problems. I am not sure if I can create policies that will keep your husband employed. When I say I will create jobs, well honestly I won’t be able to take credit for that because it’ll take Congress and corporations and small businesses and tax reform and an act of God to really create the jobs you’re dreaming of. I hear your anger and your disappointment. I hear the heaviness of your heart with the loss of your children and parents in faraway places you’ve never cared about. I know you’re concerned about immigration and the economy and I know that you aren’t even sure what you want or think sometimes. I am not certain I can solve all of these problems, particularly since it’ll take me a while to get started, my opponents will try to slow me up and I’ll have to spend most of my last year campaigning to lead you again. But I would like to try. I want to lead you because I care about you and I think I can help.

If someone would say this from the stage, that man or woman would have my vote. As it is, I feel as conflicted as ever, tempted not to vote, but leaning towards voting with my conscience, even if that means voting for a candidate that will not win. I think it feels sometimes like none of this will affect me. Until I think about my niece’s pediatrician visits and my husband’s military paycheck and my grandfather’s taxes and my friend’s disability and the sweet immigrant families I have met and my own dental care… Do these men realize how much we are counting on their signatures, their decisions, their judgment calls?

And I realize, reflecting back on what I wrote above, this is one of the main aspects that draws me to Jesus. He promises to fix things and he really does it. Or when there is trouble up ahead, he straight up says, In this world, you will have trouble… He makes no empty claims about who he is or what he is about to do. He is someone to hold on to when I’m concerned about these possibly petty issues of world leadership shifts.

In this work you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.