Voting from the Heart 

This 2016 presidential election is a big deal. In the moment, it feels impossibly big. To some, it feels end of the world type big. The two main presidential choices currently have approval ratings ranked lower than Mondays and homework. It’s easy to find reasons to not vote for either candidate. It is still utterly amazing to me that we’ve ended up with two completely unlikable people in this position. Yeah, I get that being likable is not a prerequisite of being an effective leader. But it sure seems like a lot of the reasons these two are for reasons that would make them poor leaders.

To be clear, I don’t think either option deserves to be anywhere near the office. But I do take particular issue with Donald Trump. He’s got a sexy slogan. We all want to be great. And the good old days always feel too far away. Recency bias is at play here too. Today’s problems look greater, yesterday’s good times are remembered a bit sweeter. I’m definitely faulty in that kind of thinking too. I don’t see many of the qualities I’d like to see a leader in Trump. Honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, humility all seem to be lacking in him. Part of me here is wanting to tell you how lacking I can be in those qualities too. I find myself playing apologist in many arguments, finding fault with myself or the side of the argument I’m weighing in on. But the problem is that I’m not running for the most important job in the entire world. The standard I should be held to is high, but the one I have to be held to isn’t that level. Luckily, my inability can’t cause wars, lose lives, create economic turmoil. There are lots of policy reasons to consider on both sides. Lots of things to be angry about.

I won’t apologize for wanting more in a candidate. Someone who’s respectful of those they disagree with. Someone who’s view of women, minorities, and those who can’t help him isn’t less than. There are many examples of his words displaying that kind of thinking. I could post them all here, but the truth is probably that as you’re reading this, your mind is made up. Instead, I want to get to the heart of it. Not the most central point of dissension, but the point that is most central. Where I always want to land with my writing. That we’re all human. That we need to be viewing everyone as if we’re all in this together.

I forgot that for a moment while posting something on Facebook recently. A friend pointed out that I lost my way. I let my disdain for a candidate emotionally get in the way of me viewing them as a person. A person that needs love, forgiveness, and is made in the image of God just like the rest of us. I still won’t be voting Trump (or Hilary for that matter, Johnson isn’t great but the only place my conscience can rest). He doesn’t show off the qualities that say he values others in that same way. I just can’t put my faith in that.

When the Talking Heads Get Too Loud

“Forget cocaine or heroin, there is no drug more dangerous than being right.” – pastor Jonathan Martin.

Louder.

The world that we live in can get pretty loud. Everyone has an opinion and a burning desire to share it. Politics, religion, family structure, the environment, race, taxes. These are heavy topics that will have emotion packed behind the words used to articulate feelings on them. It seems more and more, there’s a call to put more emotion into our words we use to disagree with others on these and other topics. The internet has surely made this worse, adding a layer of anonymity to further distance us from the power our words can wield. The call to mix anger with our opinion is strong. And the talking heads around us have become very loud. They drone on in concert, like angry war drums.

Louder.

I’m not sure we are even aware of the polarizing effects that culture has on us in the moment. It’s pretty easy to get carried away into the stream of insults, claims, and boasts. Goodness knows that I’ve let myself fall into that mindset. If I can just tell you what I’m saying loud enough, you’ll agree with me. If I’m louder, surely I must be right. And being right feels so good.

Forget cocaine or heroin, there is no drug more dangerous than being right.” – pastor Jonathan Martin.

Louder.

Isn’t that the truth? In an argument, we’ll forgo the idea of getting our point across and aim more squarely at getting the other person to submit to our correctness. Power and not peace becomes the point of the conversation. It’s not enough to be heard and understood, but they must admit that we were right. And if they won’t do it, then we’ll find others that agree with us and rile each other up with the mantras we share.

Louder.

Confrontation can be healthy and lead to a resolution. But discourse seems to rarely lead to that any longer. Our current political climate encourages using a heavy hand when entering into any debate on stance and policy. The war drums want more than polite discussion. They demand us to be loud.

Louder.

And we want so badly to be right. We need it. If it sounds like we’re losing the argument, we’ll change it to avoid the weight of being wrong. And we’ll align our views with those closest to us and join in on the chanting.

The quickest way to find common ground with someone else is by listening. Not just pausing while grasping for spaces to make counterpoints. Society has little time for something so passive. How counter intuitive it must sound to so many. But that’s where we need to start. I have a few ideas on what to do when the talking heads get too loud.

  • Start by listening. There’s already enough noise going around. There are times to speak up for what you believe. But try listening before you do anything else. You don’t have to have a take on every topic.

  • Pause and consider. While you’re listening, you might hear something you don’t like. It can be easy to write it off as someone hating or being argumentative. But just because someone says something you disagree with, that doesn’t make it wrong.

  • Don’t trust your opinion too much. If the other person has space to not be wrong, that creates room for you to not be right. That’s actually a freeing thing to not have to trust our own judgment to be perfect. Trust in the things you know, realize the rest is just your opinion, man.

  • Think about how you sound. You might be completely right. The other guy might be totally in the wrong. But he’s not going to listen when you’re badgering him and attacking his character. People don’t respond well to hate.

  • Know that there’s almost always some middle ground. Okay, you’re right. And you’re even being nice in the way you discuss it. But the other guy still isn’t buying it. The thing is, there’s basically always room for both sides to have some ground to stand on. They might be coming from a good place too. Rarely is a situation black and white. Be okay with exploring the nuance.

I get it. It’s not easy. I can be pretty difficult and cling tightly to my own perspective of correctness. But that’s what it really is, my perspective. And perspective changes everything.

A Legacy of Love

Legacy isn’t really a thing I’ve lived most of my life concerned with. I spent the majority of my days content to simply dwell on daily pleasures. And there is definitely merit in learning to enjoy the moment. I just found myself too often caught up in it, unable to look ahead. But the steps in my daily walk have ripples beyond what I can immediately see. I am now more aware of that. But it’s tough to tell what kind of impact your actions will have without the benefit of hindsight. ​I think it’s often right after loss we come the closest to fully realizing the personal legacy others leave behind. It’s sad that it can take a broken relationship, a friend moving away, or the death of a loved one before you can come closer to framing what they mean to you. It’s not like we’re not aware of loving the person, but that shock of the loss has us thinking about all the small and large ways in which they actually changed our lives. I’ve had several opportunities to experience that and I bet you probably have too.

 ​Recently I attended the visitation for one of our church elders. Ron Wagoner had been ill for a while but it was still a surprise to hear of his passing. I drove alone and sat out in my car for a moment before entering the building. My grandmother’s passing was the last time I’d been to something like this. And it was a very emotionally tough time. Immediately I noticed a different feel than other visitations and funerals I’ve been to. It wasn’t a party but did not feel like a somber event. I filed in the line that snaked around and out from the main room and into the entryway with a few friends from church. There were pictures posted by the door, celebrating the life of a good man. The line bent and curved near itself over and over, so I was always close to several others I didn’t know. People who had been impacted by Ron.

 ​What I overheard aligned with what I knew of him. He and his wife Brenda would always take time to invest in my life. They made to sure that I was okay, wanted to know how my sister was. Ron was a man who was always ready to help. A man who carried a great faith. A man who cared. I was in line with people who I shared a connection with because of his and his wife’s love. It took well over an hour to get to the front of that line to hug Brenda. There are never any good words to impart to someone dealing with that kind of loss. And I didn’t have to try and come up with something. Brenda made sure to pour into me and comfort me that day. She told me how good life was because she’d married a man who loved God. She told me to make sure I’d find someone who does the same. I noticed that the people after me got the same treatment. They’d arrive, looking to comfort her, instead they were lifted up by her words. It was pretty powerful.

 That night has weighed on my mind since then. The idea of living and leaving life with a legacy of love. That possibly living in a way that stores up treasures in heaven still leaves a big impact here on earth. I want to live in a way that builds others up. Even after I’m gone.

A Race To Be Heard

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a race to be heard. 

Like the deafening drone of voiced opinions is beckoning me to keep up.

 

This nameless, faceless voice is all at once scary and alluring.

It tells me things I want to hear and places I should be.

It tells me that I cannot pause in contemplation on difficult topics, to do so would be to sit idle.

That there is no room to wrestle with my doubts and struggle to see multiple sides of the issue.

 

Instead, it calls me to quick response.

That what’s important isn’t finding the truth or at least a common ground.

Instead, it calls for me to be loud.

Because surely I cannot be heard, much less correct if I’m not shouting.

 

The chorus tells me that I must be heard.

That if I am not the first, not the loudest, not the one with a definitive stance,

Then I must be worth listening to.

And who am I then?

 

To punch a ticket anything other than blue or red must mean I’ve done something wrong.

And that the next thing to do after voting one of those hues is to hate those who didn’t.

For this symphony of voices doesn’t care which way I vote,

Only that I make sure everyone knows.

 

Oh, but I don’t just feel the pull when it comes to the tough subjects.

It tells me that even how I look should tell others about me.

Or what I find for entertainment and how it too should speak out loud.

So that not quiet footfalls, but loud statements are who I must be.

 

Sometimes it tells me that that others do not appreciate me,

Unless I collect a lot of little blue thumbs.

That if I join the race and try to keep up,

My validation will be found in the approval of others.

 

Most of the time I don’t even realize I’ve wandered onto the winding, twisted track again.

But invariably, I’ll glance up and notice someone else and wish I was in their position,

Not remembering that this course crisscrosses itself into insanity.

That the only true path to victory lies in bowing out of the race completely.

 

Of course there’s no way to be self reflective as I use this words,

and not still be knowing that I’ve got one foot back on the pavement.

And the road always does look smooth enough to travel.

But the sun beats down.

 

And I always get burnt.

The importance of mentors

I was only thirteen when my father died. 

Old enough to have memories of him, still too young to have a wealth of time invested. On that day, I remember an anger I had no idea what to do with. Or at least that’s what the emotional roller coaster I was captive on usually settled on.

I honestly don’t recall a lot about myself before the day he passed away. 

I do remember spending nearly every recess period made available to me proving to others that I could run faster than them. Except the girls. I would bet them that they couldn’t catch up to me and kiss me. I’d then somehow run out of steam just behind the big tree where the teachers couldn’t see. I feel like that trick must’ve worked a hundred times. The actual number is probably far smaller.

I do remember hanging around in my backyard, probably saving the world as I climbed all over our swing set, listening to Adventures in Odyssey on my little portable radio. I’m certain that I struck fear into any would be invader with the way I’d come flying out of the slide with an impressive array of kicks and punches towards imaginary foes.

I remember being able to read bigger words faster, and with better comprehension, than pretty much every other kid. Which made me pretty successful when it came to Pizza Hut’s Book It Program. The only problem was that somehow my younger self didn’t care for pizza. I have no idea what I was thinking. My mother didn’t complain. I got to read, she got free pizza.

One thing I’ll always remember from right after my dad died was what my Grandpa Reed said to me. He was sitting in my dad’s chair by the front door when he told me that, “you’re the man of the house now.” I’m not sure that I even replied to that. I do know that those words were sharp. I remember being swiftly angry at the idea, then a weird feeling that may have been the concern of it being true weighing on me. How could I accept this role? And even if I could, what would that even mean?

I didn’t ever bring up what he’d said to me around anyone else for a long time. But as I look back, I know that it affected me. Seeing myself now as a man while barely a teenager, I had to stick to what I thought I knew. Because if the rules I knew weren’t true, then I had nothing else to hold on to. That part of my identity was fragile. Without my dad around, I didn’t have a lot of up close examples of what it meant to truly be a man. And with that, not a lot of intimate knowledge on how to be the other roles a man should be. A big brother. A friend. An uncle. A loving husband.

There are many, many ways in which I’ve failed at all of those roles at different times. And I’m learning more and more that my previous views on exactly what failing meant need a lot of updating. Because I’ve failed in large and small ways. But I’m not really aiming at listing all the ways in which I’ve gone wrong. Or even to explain away my mistakes as anything other than being the fault of my own. Instead this post is more just me sifting through a mix of emotions swirling in me, though this time for a different reason than that day so many years ago. 

Over the years it’s become apparent as I’ve learned to be open to seeing it, that God did grace my life with men who could speak life into me. Men who had valuable lessons to teach me about what being a man really means. About grace, forgiveness, temperance, kindness, and love. Sometimes it’s still pretty hard for me to even accept that I could use some help, let alone absorb the lessons. But I’m grateful that even my stubbornness doesn’t always outpace the lesson as it comes my way. I am more certain now that there’s so much I’m uncertain about. I am glad for that perspective. That uncertainty looms large as I now continue in this life without one of the men who has meant more to me than I’d ever really known how to say, not being a part of it any longer.

This part should be the whole point and yet this is the part that I have no idea how to write. The prevailing feeling is probably one of confusion. But spikes of uglier stuff are there too. Even an excited curiosity for the future and joy for the good fortune for a loved one are both mixed in there. Eventually, I know that these things will come into focus, and I will know that God uses all things for my good.

I am more equipped to handle rough patches now. I’m not sure that I could quite call myself content through all circumstances but I can at least see where Paul is coming from.  Still, unlike the younger versions of myself, I’m well aware of the benefits of growing in knowledge and wisdom. I seek out ways to improve by gathering insight from those farther along than I am. And right now I can’t help but lament losing a close relationship with someone who wanted to see that same growth in me. I do desire someone who could check me when I need it, or pray with me, or just show me how love is lived. But it’s not something I just toss an ad out for on Craigslist. And I’m not really sure the best way to find that.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the long term and short term mentors I’ve had, it’s that my Father is always there with me. I guess I’m now just praying He’ll send someone along to make it a little easier. Sometimes I feel like I’m still just that scared thirteen year old, facing life’s problems headlong without any real shot at taking them on myself.