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.

Sermon archive

I’ve finally put the sermons that I have preached at Springfield Vineyard on this site. I’m using the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, almost exclusively because it provides a media enclosure for the audio file (so you can just click “play” instead of clicking a hyperlink or downloading the file), and I have set the date for each sermon post as the date on which it was delivered. It’s not ideal–the podcast “category” is its own separate thing, so sermons don’t show up in the Categories widget, and I had to use the podcasting widget and style it a bit–but it will do for now.

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Let’s get this out of the way::

I’m not entirely sure I want to blog, a word I’m using as a verb rather than a noun at the moment, and it’s mostly because I’m feeling content and happy and no particular pressure or impetus to reach beyond my immediate surroundings and speak. Except… except that there is something that needs said, and this is likely the best platform to say it from, which leaves me in a bit of a quandary.

And then, when I think about saying those things, I remember all the other things I haven’t said, and I feel like I must say those things first. So, this isn’t a rant about not blogging enough, nor is it a promise to blog more. I may blog exactly twice in the next month, including this current post. But the next post is important. This post just needs to be written so I can get it out of the way.

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National November Blogging Month

This blog has been pretty vacant for a while, so you may not have browsed it much. You may not have visited the About page to learn that I don’t really write much anymore. You may not have read some of the older entries from a year or two ago in which I struggled with college, work, and writing.

Let me sum it up: I used to fancy myself a writer, and starting in high school I took writing kind of seriously. Not serious enough to practice at it, but I certainly wrote a lot even if I didn’t craft it to the extent I should have. I had a few things published in very low-end anthologies, I blogged a lot, and I finally began learning to not make basic, amateurish mistakes once my college professors started tearing apart the things I called sentences.

Writing was something I had to do. I wasn’t happy, and writing didn’t make me happy, but it made me happier than I would have otherwise been. It was a creative outlet in an uncreative life. It was something I could control and own.

And then I became truly happy. I met April and stopped writing poetry. I got a good job and stopped writing altogether, at least during my personal time. I lack the interest and passion to craft fiction. I just don’t care enough to write poetry. I think that I have some thoughts and feelings I could share, but I prefer just talking with friends and with April about those rather than blogging about them.

Thus ends the summary. This blog post is to communicate that I think this may be changing. I have to include words like “think” because I’m not entirely positive, but I’ve had this simmering feeling inside for a little over a year now that started around the time the current election cycle began. I can’t call that feeling “discontent,” because it’s less passive and more angry. I can’t call it fury or rage because… well, let me unpack this a bit.

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What I might do with a degree in religious studies

Since I’m graduating this year, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do with all my glorious free time when I don’t have classes anymore. People also regularly ask, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” What they mean is, “Are you going to get a new job using your degree?” to which the answer is no. I like what I do, and something using my degree would be less enjoyable and would pay less. But I have thought of a couple of things I can use my degree for.

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God as Divine Therapist?

From CNN:

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

Check out the article and let me know what you think. Are parents watering down Christianity for the sake of their children’s self-esteem, or is it a natural progression of Christianity as people come to understand God better?

Comment below to share your thoughts!

What religious questions need answered?

I have been working on a book off-and-on for about five years now. The work began when I was asked a theological question and needed to do some research to find the answer, after which I blogged about it and sent the link to the questioner. That spawned more questions, and more people started to read, and before I knew it I had a regular following going where I was writing daily to answer questions. I managed to do this for about a year before I burnt out.

A couple of years later, I returned to review those essays and begin again. Realizing what rubbish they were, I began rewriting and coming up with new topics. I did this for a while before getting sidetracked with college ministry, school, and work.

Now I’m returning to it for perhaps the fourth time, determined to make some progress, and I’ve already got a couple of chapters in first draft form. As I began my research for the next chapter, though, it occurred to me that the subject has already been clearly answered. An honest reading of the Bible outlines the proper Christian doctrine pretty simply, and a ton of fairly straightforward essays have been published online that deal with the subject matter.

This leaves me with two thoughts.

Thought the first: Why bother?

It has already been written about, and written about well. Why should I repeat what has already been done? This sort of also raises the question, “Why do other people repeat what has already been done?” because the same subjects come up again, and again, and again. I don’t want to waste my time writing what has already been written.

Thought the second: Why do people still not know this stuff?

The second is the more interesting question, and one I find both intriguing and troubling. I learned last year that some of the long-standing questions I had about Christianity had mostly been answered by the Jews thousands of years ago in their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. Doctrinal questions that Christians and non-Christians alike wrestle with on a regular basis have been laid to rest for millenia, but we never caught on.

Why don’t we learn these things, and why aren’t they taught in our churches? I want to make the connection between these two people groups, these two pools of knowledge, to get the answers to the questioners. I just have to figure out how.

Send me your questions

What’s been bugging you? Bothering you? What passage seems to stick out like a sore thumb? I’m just curious.