Why I Marched For #NobodyIsAboveTheLaw

When I was in elementary school, I learned about our system of government and its checks and balances. I knew that our democracy had its problems, and we have corrupt politicians and whatnot, but I believed in the system. I think of our government as being resilient, and that as our society and people grow and learn and improve, that our countries policies would too. That’s how we expanded voting rights, and improved equality, and so many other things.

I don’t know what I’m going to teach my son. The next few months and years will determine that. But right now, I see our checks and balances being undermined. The highest court in the land is being stacked with pro-Trump justices, gerrymandering has contributed to Republican majorities in federal and local positions, and now the person overseeing the investigations related to our president has been replaced by a person who is avowedly pro-Trump.

Marching probably doesn’t do a lot of good. At least, not in Springfield. But it is better to do something than nothing, and it gives me the opportunity to write about it. If nothing else, I can teach Simon about why we fight losing battles. It is important that we communicate our ethics, morals, and values.

Culture change through collaborative storytelling

I was dismayed by the results of the presidential election. I wasn’t upset just because I dislike President Trump and pretty much everything that he stands for, nor was I only baffled because the majority of people polled said Trump wasn’t qualified to be president and yet at least 16% of those people voted for him anyways. I’m not disappointed just because my side lost and the other side won. I recognize that the other side felt that way the last two elections, and we have some core differences of opinion, and I’m OK with that.

I’m mostly dismayed because this election feels like a repudiation of my beliefs and values. I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, cis male, middle-class landowner living in Missouri. I’m practically the poster-child for the Republican party. And at the same time, my wife and I both have master’s degrees, and we believe that education should be higher quality and more freely accessible, and that healthcare should be universal and provide both for physical and mental health, and that people in disadvantaged situations (such as the disabled, those suffering from domestic violence, or abuse, or neglect) should have social services to which they can turn for aid, and that we should, as a society, work to improve the lives of individuals because that will in turn improve the state of our society, and that we should all be treated equally regardless of sex, gender, race, or identity. And it feels like the majority (of the electoral college, anyways) said, “Nope, we don’t want that. We disagree with that. We want the opposite.”

So what can I do? I believe in democracy. I think our system, as flawed as it is, is still the best form of government that humanity has devised thus far. I believe that, following an election, we as a citizenry should coalesce behind the new president and give them a shot. We should hold them accountable and speak our minds and write our representatives, but there’s no going back. Not for four years, at least.

But if I think that the direction we’re going politically is a bad one, what can I do to change that? The standard advice is to be active at the local and state level. If we change local politics, we’ll change national politics. Except my local and state elections all sided with a man I find morally reprehensible and who advocates policies that I perceive as anti-American. I don’t feel like I have any power to change local politics because, again, the majority of people appear to have repudiated what I stand for. Nearly every down-ballot election in Missouri and Greene County went to the GOP, frequently by a landslide. If the majority has said that they disagree with me, what can I do about that given my support for our system of government?

I was walking yesterday and thinking about how I manage culture change at businesses, and my preferred method is through collaborative storytelling. I believe that we become like the stories we tell ourselves, both individually and culturally. If we tell ourselves we are weak and incapable, we will become those things. If we tell ourselves that we are strong and righteous, we will live our lives that way (for better or worse, for we may not actually be right, but instead tyrannical).

We have been told a story of fear. There were a lot of factors at play in this election, but a common thread over the last year of campaigning has been fear, abandonment, and oppression. People are afraid of losing their jobs and their rights. They’re afraid of terrorists. They’re afraid of change. They’re afraid that the political system has abandoned them and their beliefs. They’re afraid that a party will be elected who opposes their views. And a majority of people got out and voted for the person they think will best address those fears.

I can understand that. I totally get it. And I’m not going to speculate on whether those fears are right or wrong. I think some of them were justified. But I also know that God does not want us to fear. God does not call us to live our lives that way.

So what can I do to fix things? How can I change our society? I am very limited in what I can accomplish. I am not a political scientist or politician. I’m not particularly charismatic. I don’t have billions of dollars. But what I can do is be positive and encouraging. I can tell stories that highlight the good things happening in our society.

I haven’t figured out what this looks like yet; I’m still processing. But I may start writing poetry again, because I don’t think people really want to read my long-winded blog posts, and I’m not fond of the idea of writing in to the newspaper regularly (for myself personally; other people do well at that). I don’t know much about journalism, but I think I need to learn a few things about it. How can I tell stories with which people will connect? How can I encourage people given my limitations?

If we change the story that we tell about ourselves and our nation, and we make it a story not of fear but of hope, and a story that highlights people who are different from us and yet so very similar, and stories about people’s families and hopes and dreams and loves and losses and fears and their journey to overcome those fears… well, maybe that’s something I can do. I don’t know, but if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got. Voting isn’t moving our country the direction I want to see it go. Neither is posting on Facebook and trying to have conversations with people about the things our politicians do. Maybe telling stories about the good things happening around us will help. Maybe it won’t, but I think it’s a place to start and a thing to try.

Voting Against Discrimination – Vote No on April 7th

On Tuesday, Springfield has an opportunity to vote on the Sexual Orientation and Transgender Anti-Discrimination Ordinance (SOGI) that was passed by city council some time ago and which some people now want to repeal. Voting no means we won’t repeal it, and the ordinance will remain. I will be voting no for a few different reasons that I want to share, but I’m not looking to convince anyone about how they should vote with this post. Rather, my hope is that people who agree with me, and who also think that we should not discriminate against people as a general rule, will be reminded and motivated to go vote on Tuesday.

It is tempting to remain silent and to not vote. A lot of people I know are conservative Christians who believe strongly that homosexuality is a sin, and while they may not be comfortable with the idea of discriminating against people, it’s so much easier to just stand on the sidelines. I feel strongly that God calls us to speak out. We cannot remain silent. Jesus surely did not, and while he was clear about what he viewed as sin, he welcomed sinners and lambasted those who sinned sexually far less than those who persecuted others.

One of the arguments against this ordinance is that there’s no proof that discrimination has happened. I agree, there isn’t, but the debate and furor that has arisen while this ordinance has been under consideration demonstrates two things. First, there are clearly negative feelings towards homosexual and transgendered people in our community. Not long ago, I don’t think people would have thought about discriminating against a gay or lesbian person in a normal store (by which I mean, not a church or a church-affiliated business, like the Assemblies of God Credit Union or a Christian bookstore), but they surely are thinking about it now. All the town hall meetings and public displays have demonstrated to me that there are a lot of people who want to discriminate, even if they hadn’t thought about it before. That’s unsettling to me.

Second, all of this has to feel threatening to members of our community who are homosexual or transgendered. Like harassment, which is defined by the person experiencing the harassment, I think when the actions of our community make a people group feel threatened, we need to address that publicly and loudly. We need to say, as a community, that we will not tolerate our neighbors feeling threatened.

My job, as a follower of Christ, is to go and make disciples. I am called to love God and love my neighbor as myself. Some might say that holding people accountable and making sure they know their actions are leading them to hell is part of love, and I suppose a case could be made there if you think homosexuality is a damning sin. Except that none of us know the state of a person’s soul. C.S. Lewis writes that we cannot know if a person is Christian or not, only if they are good or bad at being Christian, and we know that by the fruits of the Spirit. And I will say, as someone gifted with discernment and prophecy, as a Christian for the last thirteen years or so, and as someone who has studied the Bible critically and academically and prayerfully, I have met gay and lesbian people who are bearing fruit.

What do you do, when you think someone is a sinner, and yet God is investing in their life, gifting them, loving them, and working through them? I suppose only two reasonable conclusions are possible. Either God is more gracious than me, and I ought to learn to become more like God, or maybe I’m wrong about this act or lifestyle actually separating people from God.

All of that is in the back of my mind, but it’s beside the point. More important to me is that I’ve had LGBTQIA friends since before I became Christian. I have watched a transgendered man struggle for years with gender dysphoria who is an upstanding person, wonderful to his husband and two children, and struggling with a society both offline and online that insults, marginalizes, and discriminates against him, inflicting more suffering than I know my Lord and Savior tolerates for any of the people for whom He died. Jesus came to build bridges, bring healing, and help us learn to be in relationship with one another.

Check out the links below for the full text of the ordinance and for a great article in our local newspaper that explains some of the nuances of the ordinance. If you read the ordinance itself, though, you’ll find it’s not very nuanced. It’s really quite straightforward. Religious organizations like churches can still discriminate all they want. Pastors aren’t going to be fired for preaching against homosexuality. Landlords and realtors cannot refuse to work with homosexual people or rent/sell them property. Non-religious businesses in general have to serve homosexuals, just like they have to serve Jews, and Blacks, and Italians, and the Irish, and Catholics.

The only negative about voting for this ordinance is that businesses and individuals can be challenged if they are discriminatory. That’s the only thing being taken away: non-religious businesses can’t act like homosexuals aren’t human beings. That is a very fine thing to stand up for, in my opinion. All people deserve dignity and respect, and to be treated with love and care. We have a Servant King, and we should not hesitate to serve anyone. Instead, we should serve them with prayers in our heart and songs on our lips. We should serve people smiling and joyous that we get the opportunity to be like Jesus.

Mark it on your calendar. Set a reminder. Vote against discrimination on Tuesday, April 7th by voting no on question 1.

Divisions in the Springfield Church

I probably don’t follow local politics as closely as I ought. I met the council member who represented my zone of the city once. I will occasionally hear about stuff that the city council is discussing, and I vote regularly, but I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of the city. If the city had low blood pressure and an arrhythmic heart, I might not notice for a while.

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Cut and run, or commit to change?

I have now had my current job for two years. The first year was pretty rough: all of my new employees had previously been co-workers, and several had interviewed for the position that I got; a lot of change was needed, and change is generally an upsetting thing to people; we were starting a new and much more intensive professional development regimen, which caused a lot of stress; and there were some other personnel matters that caused difficulties.

Despite that, it was a very successful year. Most everyone got certified on Windows 7. We fixed a lot of things and drastically improved training of both part-time and full-time staff. We made some huge leaps in our technology and setup. Overall, I was tired but happy. It had taken a lot of long hours and hard work, but we were pulling out of a slump.

And despite that, my end-of-year evaluation was pretty negative.

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The politics of natural disasters

So, apparently Friday is a challenging day for me to blog. I’ll just write twice today and that’ll make it all better, right? Right?!

The eastern seaboard is nowhere close to recovered from hurricane Sandy, but knowing our great country as I do, I suspect we’re close to done hearing about it. We lack the attention span for any one disaster, and the looming disaster of the election will take all the attention we can muster.

But before we switch focuses, I want to point out one thing. I think this is sort of the thread that ties all the controversy around Sandy together, which will probably go down in history as the second most politicised natural disaster in our history thus far. Beyond Romney buying cans of food to give to supporters to give back to him for a photo op despite the Red Cross telling him not to do any of that, and regardless of all the great press Obama has gotten from palling around with Chris Christie, there is a more theoretical criticism floating around that I want to address.

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