Beyond The Talking Points: Last Tuesday’s Election and America’s Silent Majority

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Like many of you I have spent the last week trying not to read too much about the election while reading everything that flits across my tablet screen.  Trump’s victory has been hailed as a major victory for everyone in America, except of course the Democrats.

In fact, if I had a favorite article from the last week it would have to be this one from CNN which compiled the 24 often conflicting reasons Trump won.  It was social media but it wasn’t social media.  It was the millenials but it also had nothing to do with them.  It was the Democrat’s fault but not really.  I loved the subtle humor and satire there.

If you have read as much as I have you know this election defined the reemergence of uneducated whites or probably not.  And if not them, then certainly rural farmers had their day.  .  .or didn’t.  And if not, then certainly white supremacists are now, well supreme, or really not at all.  If not them then the Evangelicals but not really.  And if not them then definitely the Republican party won.  .  .or maybe just conservatism in general.

None of this has convinced me.

It seems to me that in an election when both candidates had approval ratings below %45 and when the deciding states were all within 50,000 votes and when one candidate won the states and another candidate won the popular vote and when half of eligible votes sat the thing out that this wasn’t an election that was about anything except the huge leadership failure in American culture that has been building up for years.

I want you to hear that last stat again, half of eligible votes did not vote!  And yet I have been unable to find one article in the deluge of information about them.  HALF of Americans said “NO!” to the entire system but nobody is talking about them.  Who are they?  Where are they?  Why are they?  These questions are being entirely ignored by the media.

But these are the questions that defined the election right up until Tuesday.  I found scores of articles about the non voters before Tuesday but after the victory, they seemingly have disappeared from my news feeds.

Yet they are still out there.  And they sent a powerful message to the country, a message far more powerful than the 18,000 or so voters in Wisconsin or wherever.  Their message was, “no confidence.”  They have no confidence in the Republicans or the Democrats or the Libertarians, or the Green Party or even pretty looking Independents like Evan McMullin.

They have no confidence in any type of Republic style government.  They don’t believe in the value of voting, whether it be for a President, a Congressperson, a State governor or down ballot measures like sales taxes.

This should be alarming to us.  It certainly is to me as one who pastors these people.  I should add I am not one of them.  I did vote and I took every ballot measure seriously including the one that changed two words to the city constitution to make it more intelligible.

But the fact I am surrounded by people who don’t have any confidence in this system scares me to death.  It means a far more serious revolution than the victory of a reality TV star President may not be far away.  Donald Trump’s victory probably did nothing to pacify their strong antipathy.

And if I were a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian or the Green Party or even a pretty Independent I would use this election as a mandate to start listening to those %50 of people.

Let’s hope the entire media, from the mainstream to the “new” to my friends who insist on posting ridiculous memes, gets their act together and starts listening to them.

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Why I Am Not Writing About Which Lives Matter or Who Should Be President or The Weather

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When I was a kid there was an old proverb going around that I think had been going around for a good century.  It went something like this, “Do not talk about politics and religion in polite company.  Better to stick to sports and the weather.”

I’ll never forget the moment I realized the last sentence in that tidbit wasn’t true any more.  I had moved to a small town in Eastern Oregon from the Midwest.  I was sitting in the local sandwich shop that sat a block from my church.  I was trying to get to know the owner, a bright woman with an entrepreneurial spirit and fun personality.  Somehow we got to talking about the weather, probably because we were polite people.

I made some statement about the fact that I was glad that I wasn’t in tornado alley any more.

She stopped and stared at me and said, “Oh, we get tornadoes here” as if she was genuinely concerned that I had been misled.

I almost laughed out loud.  Northeast Oregon is surrounded by 9,000 foot tall mountains.  They do not get tornadoes.

“Well I suppose you get little dust funnels out on the farm fields but not like Missouri where people’s homes get destroyed.”

The tone of the conversation changed drastically.  Her concerned expression turned to a glare.

“No, you need to know here that the wind blows pretty hard.  In 1967 a tornado knocked a single wide trailer right off its cinder block foundation!”

I suddenly realized I was in an argument I didn’t even want to win and so back tracked and said, “Oh really?  Thanks for letting me know!” and changed the subject to sports which she gratefully knew nothing about.

I could list thirty more conversations I have had that are very similar to this.  When I started my current assignment I made the horrible mistake of asking my worship team to pray right before our worship service.  I thought, “Everybody loves prayer!”  I am still paying for that horrible request.  Right after that I suggested to the wrong person that we look into painting our fellowship hall.  He let me know in no small way that I was not to touch that fellowship hall and still, a year later, won’t meet with me outside of Sunday morning.  I can’t open my mouth about anything any more without some unexpected backlash.

This illustrates that keeping polite company any more is a brutal chore.  People don’t value civility any more.  Instead they value their own opinions and how right they think they are.

Some of my friends have given up entirely.  They seem to adore the national and theological arguments that are destroying politeness.  Every time something goes down regarding guns, the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, or national elections their Facebook profile is instantly water marked and their statuses hashtagged with activism.  Whether conservative or liberal, they seem to love the chance to post divisive cartoons, tired talking points, angry blogs and partisan articles.  They seem sincere in this, like they genuinely believe they are doing society some good.

You older, anti technology types should not be fooled.  This did not start with the invention of Facebook.  I know a lot of people I meet with face to face who are just as boisterous.  They yell and share their opinions with anyone who will listen and they want to bait you into the argument so they can drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience.  They have succeeded to do that to me more times than I can count.

But don’t get me wrong, I am envious of their freedom.  I wish I felt like I had the freedom to just post whatever opinion I wanted to.  In fact sometimes I feel guilty for not chiming in and joining my “side” with my carefully informed and well formed opinions.  I bet I could even articulate them better than half the internet and that alone might do some good.

Or it definitely won’t.

Because every time I do chime in, whether online or in real life, I instantly feel guilty.  I cried for days that I had let the color of our fellowship hall come between me and a beloved parishioner.  I am still in mourning over insisting my worship team pray during a time that just would not work for them.  I should have reversed harder and quicker.  I definitely did learn my lessons though.

When I do chime in on my opinions, it is almost like I had just smoked my first cigarette.  There is a rush of rebellious satisfaction followed by nothing but guilt and a hacking cough as I wonder:

What will my church people think?

Will I lose my job over this?

Does that person still love me?

What will my liberal best friend or my conservative uncle think?

What if this new couple who has just started attending our church disagrees and decides our church isn’t right for them because of it?

Then I delete, delete, delete.  Or if it is in person, apologize, apologize, apologize.

In today’s world having and sharing opinions is just too costly.  The price is too high, especially for pastors.  In ages past you were allowed to think differently than someone without losing your salary, your position, even your ordination and definitely your friends.  This is not true any more.  People care more about the weather and what color their fellowship hall should be than they do about each other.  I don’t want to be one of them.

My friendship with you is far too important to me.  If you are going to terminate it because I think Oregon doesn’t get tornadoes than by all means, “watch out for those funnel clouds!”  If you want me to liberal, I will be liberal for you.  If you want me to be conservative,  I will be conservative for you.  If you love our fellowship hall just the way it is, than it is the most beautiful fellowship hall I have ever seen!

You can call me wishy-washy but know that I am not.  I know what I believe and I do act on it.   My best friends and wife will certainly attest to that!  I just try really hard not to let you know what I believe because I would rather keep being your friend.

Rather, you can say I am a coward because I am.  You can say I care too much about what people think because I do.  You can say I like having money to feed my family more than I like “the gospel.”  That is fair, though I would argue my opinions and your opinions about national affairs are NOT the gospel.

Ultimately we now live in a world where pride is alienating us from each other and I desperately crave true, civil, Christian friendship.  And if the price of my friendship with you is letting you have your opinions while thinking (most times wrongly) that I agree with you, than so be it.  I want to be your friend and that is worth the price of constantly biting my tongue and not clicking the “share” button.

Getting Rid of Some Opinions

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One of my very first blog posts was about the burden of having too many opinions.  Way back then I wrote that one of the unfortunate side effects of education was that you end up having opinions about pretty worthless things.  I reread that post this morning and realized that there is one thing I would add to it, that being opinionated isn’t just a product of education.  It also comes with personality types.  One of my best friends has no opinions, not because he isn’t educated but because he was one of those saints gifted with apathy.

I envy him horribly.  I was not given such a gift.  It is really easy for me to be decisive which is a great word that actually means “arrogant” in most situations and a “jerk” in some others.  One of my greatest flaws is that I am tempted to care about things that are not really worth caring about.  Sometimes there is great pressure from other people to care about these things.  Sometimes the pressure is more internal and pride based.

Over the last couple weeks I have begun a new “deopinionating” cycle with the hopes of getting rid of some of the more burdensome and pointless opinions I have.

So this morning for your humor and amazement, here are some opinions I am throwing away:

White Boards Vs. Brown Chalk Boards Vs. Black Chalk Boards: You wouldn’t think people would still care about this but oh boy do they!  But from here on out I don’t.

Theories of the Atonement: We have spent 2,000 years arguing about this one and the smartest people are the ones who say, “There is some truth and some falseness in all of them.”

The Best NBA Team of All Time: ESPN.com has dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of articles on this very topic right now.  I accidentally read two of them and started to be angry with those who think this year’s Golden State Warriors are better than Michael Jordan’s Bulls but then I remembered I didn’t care.

How to Interpret “Faith of Jesus”: This phrase only appears seven times in the New Testament but it is one of the current hot button issues in biblical interpretation.  Does it mean faith we have in Jesus or the faith that Jesus had in God?  Nobody knows or will ever know.  More than that, I read one article that tried to explain why it matters and it turns out it doesn’t really.

The True Meaning of the Word “Easter”:  There are scores of internet memes trying to argue that the word “Easter” has something to do with the pagan god “Ishtar.”  It actually doesn’t at all and I wouldn’t mind pointing that out to all the uninformed nitwits who post those memes every Holy Week but in the end who cares?  I officially don’t.

Is Strengthfinders a False Gospel?: Don’t get me wrong, if it isn’t than it is almost.  Actually I have written on this before and received resounding accolades for my opposition.  However, my opinions about Strengthsfinders are greatly influenced by the fact that I worked under a pastor who threw the Bible out of the pulpit and replaced it with Gallup’s books.  I am now willing to admit I may have over reacted and that there might be a little merit in Gallup’s personality assessment tool, but only a very little.

And finally:

How Quickly Donald Trump is Destroying America: I get it.  We all want to have an opinion on Trump’s resounding success in the early primaries.  We all want to prove we can find the next best insult for either him or his followers.  We are in a competition to see who can denounce him quickly enough.  And if you don’t know the latest ridiculous thing he said or did you are looked at as being a neanderthal.  Any more we are just overreacting to Trump’s overreaction.  And maybe for that reason I have decided not to play that game.

If you are getting rid of opinions you can post in the comments below or to my Twitter under the hashtag #deopinionating or to the Gobeforegrace Facebook page.

Have a great third week of Easter y’all!

 

 

When Coin Flips Decide Presidents: Something’s Gone Wrong with Democracy

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I am not going to lie, I have spent a crazy amount of time over the last six months reading politics in preparation for Iowa.  And last night did not disappoint!  In fact, whether you hated or loved the results, you have to admit that Iowa is fascinating.  By law they get to have the very first turn at picking the President, but only because they caucus.  The candidates have to campaign in Iowa in very unique ways.  They have to go door to door like your average county commissioner.  They have to pretend to like ethanol and to talk to Jesus on a regular basis.  They have to open booths at county fairs right next to the free donkey rides and they have to shake hands outside of pizzerias.  It is a lot of fun to watch.

They do this all summer and autumn until it all culminates in one night where hundreds of local communities get together and try to decide which candidate to support.  I loved every minute of following Iowa these last few months, right up through the results last night.

Then I woke up this morning with a nasty hangover whose primary symptom was cynicism.  There was something wrong and fishy about this whole thing and I am not sure I like it.

First of all Iowa’s population is 3 million.  3 million people is actually less than %1 of the US population.  More than that, only a bit more than 300,000 people actually went to the caucuses last night.  That is about 10 percent of Iowa.  So we are letting 1/10th of 1% of our population have an incredible amount of say in how the nomination battles take place.  That makes me a little uncomfortable but I still understand that someone has to go first.  Might as well be Iowa.

But then another story broke.  Hillary only “won” the caucuses because of six coin tosses in six different places.  It seems that the caucus model doesn’t leave room for ties, so the local commissioners had to figure out a way to break it.  And what better than a coin flip?  This wouldn’t have been a story if the election had not been close.  If it had been a landslide, we would all be rolling our eyes at the silly Iowan hicks who flip coins.  But the election was a tie and six coins gave Clinton the “lead.”  So now those coins are headlines as is her incredibly arrogant press release at 3am this morning before the official results were in.

Some are using the coins to critique the caucus system.  Some are using it to critique Iowa’s over inflated importance.  And still others are using it to say something more critical and profound about the state of our democracy.  I am in that last group.

Because this whole thing disturbs me.

The caucuses are not to blame.  They are closer to representing what the founding fathers of the US envisioned.  To them, democracy was not a group of people sitting in private booths pushing out chads and pulling levers, or even worse sitting at home weeks before the election with 8 envelopes that must be folded and “enveloped” just so in order for the vote to count.  (I misfolded mine in 2012 and my presidential vote for “Stephen Colbert” went uncounted.)

No, to the founding fathers democracy was about getting everybody together in a room and forcing them to work together.  This is why we elect our President not through popular vote but through delegates.  The original idea was that communities would gather together and pick someone from their community that they respected and trusted.  That delegate would then go to Washington and meet with the other delegates from around the country.  They would all bicker and argue about who the President should be but then the majority would rally around someone and the delegate would report back to the constituents who the President was.

The hope was that if we chose someone we trusted, we could trust them to pick someone trustworthy to be President.  We hoped trust would trickle up to the high echelons of power.

We are very far removed from that system and I see no hope of going back.  In fact, what disturbs me most about the primary process is that I will not know one thing about my delegate to the national conventions.  There is a high chance this year that both conventions could be “brokered” which means that on the second vote the delegates will not have to vote for who I tell them to vote for.  This means someone I do not know or trust might pick my party’s nominee.  I should spend a lot more time figuring out who that person is than who the candidates are!

If that doesn’t disturb you, then this will.  There is absolutely nothing that guarantees your state delegate to Washington D.C. for the general Presidential election has to vote for who you tell them to vote for.  Every Presidential election has had at least one delegate jump ship and vote for someone different than who their state told them to.  I live in Utah which will almost certainly vote for a Republican President but that doesn’t mean the Utah delegate has to choose the Republican.  They might go Democrat or even abstain from voting.  This happens all the time but so far hasn’t changed the outcome of the election.  The minute it does (and that day is coming) the foundations of our shaky democracy will crumble.  Be that as it may, there is some more info on national delegates here.

We are a far cry from what the founding fathers envisioned.  Their vision was about people getting together in rooms and choosing trustworthy local leaders to represent them at the state and national levels.  Currently we do the opposite.  We isolate ourselves from our communities and climb into tiny little booths.  When we do so we are quite arrogant, assuming that we think we know everything about the candidates when in fact we know next to nothing other than their appearance and party.  You can’t really know someone until you have met them face to face.  But we assume we are little gods who know everything and we pull our lever of power and then spew vitriol at those who disagree but we do it from behind closed doors.

This is not democracy.  This is arrogance.

What we should be doing is far more humble.  It is gathering together with our neighbors and having honest but confrontational dialog.  We should sit in a room together until we can all agree on a delegate whom we know.  Then we should trust that delegate to make the right decision about who the President should be.

Therefore the reason the coin flips in Iowa bug me so much has nothing to do with the caucus format.  It has everything to do with the reality that the coins were the easy and lazy way out.  Those communities should have lived into the spirit of the Fathers and argued until there was a majority.  That is how democracy is supposed to work and I pray, without much hope, we can get there again.