I’m Frustrated (A Post for Super Tuesday)

When I wrote the first edition of this post, it was a rant because I was frustrated with politics.  As I woke up this morning – this Super Tuesday morning – I realized that I could reign my ranting in and make an actual attempt at describing the real and mature frustration that I have with the current political climate.

I am a centrist, and have been for quite some time.  I believe most truth lies somewhere in the middle, but being in the middle doesn’t mean being true.  Nor does lying on the right or the left (or the top of the bottom) make something true.  A good centrist (or moderate, if you are feeling that today) seeks the correct action, period.  There is no narrative or agenda beyond finding the truth and seeking what is best.

The only agenda that I follow is the Christian agenda.  And by Christian, I mean the example of Christ, which is radically important for what is to follow.

(For my non-Christian readers – all like 2.7 of you – read this as a thought exercise in morality that you can take with the grain of salt that you would any other morality thought exercise.)

There are two absolutes that most Christian doctrines take from the words of Jesus: love and unity.  Most non-Christians have those values in their personal theologies.  They are pretty universal to human morality and help the survival of our species.

I am going to put the greatest commandments up again, with an emphasis relevant to our political situation:

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.  40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
– Matthew 22:37-40 CEB

“…[y]ou must love your neighbor as yourself.”  I want this to sink a bit, and then I want you to judge your potential candidates using these words.  All politics aside, if someone is using hatred to garner support, they are not supporting a Christian agenda.  Period.

I could spend a great deal of time seeking other examples of how Jesus commanded us to do things – and I could specifically point out candidates who don’t do those things – but any hatred used to garner support should be enough to disqualify anyone from the Christian vote.  Period.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has a very flawed understanding of Jesus.

That’s the part that’s relevant to today.  What follows is relevant to the rest of the election cycle.

Christian unity is a big deal.  Christ’s sacrifice on the cross did, amongst other things, unify the Israelites with the Gentiles.  As Christians, we are one body united under one savior.  It doesn’t matter what the doors of our churches say or which theologians we follow; we are all one under Christ.

As Americans, we have built an adversarial system that is designed to work by division.  By designed, I mean the same way that Pugs and English Bulldogs were designed.  We didn’t design what was best for us – and we certainly didn’t design what Christ would have desired – but rather we designed what felt best and played into our human inadequacies.  As that selective breeding continued, the bad characteristics continued to grow while most semblance of what is good disappeared.

This is not the way that Christ envisioned things.  This is the exact opposite of unity and love.  The biggest problem, though, has almost nothing to do with the politicians.  I hate politicians, and I will likely always hate them, but they are a product of the voting public.  We’ve turned political discussion into a lynch mob and a hatred-filled meme war with deceptive infographics and every politician being compared to Hitler and Jesus at the same time.  If a politician doesn’t participate in the political mudslinging*, they are weak against their opponents.

Why are the other opponents?  Why aren’t they just people with different ideas?  Why does it need to be a battle instead of a debate where the best candidate in the eyes of the voting public graciously wins and the lesser candidate graciously loses and then the winner works for the good of everyone, not just those who voted for them?

Because it just wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t tear each other down and judge each other and place ourselves on pedestals of being right while condemning everyone who disagrees.  We think that we are absolutely right all of the time and anyone who disagrees with us is just too stupid to figure it out.

Why have we done this to ourselves?  Every Presidential election cycle I lose friends.  Literally every time.  Why do we allow ourselves to get drug into this like pawns fighting the battle for political overlords?  Why do we forget that we love each other and that other people can disagree with us without being stupid or evil?  Why must we condemn the other?

I know this election cycle there is a candidate or two that people feel very strongly about – as do I – and I am not discouraging you from pointing out why a candidate would be very bad for our country.  What everyone needs to stop doing is making it about party lines.  If there is a candidate that is absolutely the worst potential president we could possibly come up with, stop condemning those who like that candidate, acknowledge that there are reasons why they support them, and respond to what is absolutely wrong with the candidate.

Please, stop tearing each other down for disagreeing.  Stop calling people stupid and evil because they support someone who don’t.  Stop comparing everyone to Hitler and/or Jesus.  Actually show love and compassion for each other.  This isn’t radical talk, it isn’t complicated, it isn’t even hard; stop dehumanize and demonizing each other and our politicians and act like the adults that you are.

Breathe in, breathe out, good boy.

– Robby

P.S.: Sorry it’s a bit rough.  I’d let it stew, but it’s half useless after tonight so…

*If this wasn’t a Christian blog, I had a much more colorful phrase for this.

A Moderate in a Radical World

I just listened to this podcast and at the very tail end, when discussing why young protesters are more effective today than 20 years ago, one of the qualities of young protesters were described as was, “More radical.”

It stopped me in my tracks.  The whole episode is worth a listen* but that one little bit about current protesters being lauded for being “more radical” just stopped me.

A few days later I read this blog post** and again, I found myself stopped.  Instead of staying stopped, though, I got indignant.  I found myself wanting to scream at the culture of “radical or wishy washy” and being told the only way to be a force for good in the world, or a Christian, or even just a loving person is to be radical in a direction.

I’m not radical, and I will never be radical.  I am very strongly moderate – not moderate because I won’t make a decision but moderate because I believe the middle ground contains more truth than the fringes – and very passionate about extremism being the cause of so much of our world’s problems.  I’m that person who gets accused of being a bleeding-heart, communist liberal (stretching there) or heartless, gun-toting conservative (not much of a stretch) depending on who I’m talking to.

As a moderate, I have always valued discussion from all sides of an issue.  Opinions may be misguided, anecdotes and experiences may shade observations, and your personal feelings and desires will always bias your thoughts, but the truth comes from analyzing everything.  Politics should stop removing the “science” from “political science” and start treating the discussion like a scientist, observing everything, collecting as much information as possible, and then moving forward.

I try to live in the gray.  I fail sometimes, sometimes I get indigent over people not living in the gray, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy to fight for the middle, but I firmly believe the gray contains the most truth.

This nation has become black and white about everything.  Race.  Gender.  Sexual orientation.  Religious and Non-Religious.  Political Ideology.  Pro-Pot and Anti-Pot.  The idea of having conversations to find a common ground on any of these things used to be an uncomfortable necessity; now it doesn’t feel uncomfortable because impossible things aren’t uncomfortable

It is impossible to have a conversation because everything in our lives – politics, church, even our marriages and families – have become adversarially two-sided.  Nothing is a discussion; everything is a battle that must have a clear winner.

Does it bother anyone else that we treat our politics like a damn football game?  Does it bother anyone that we worship the letter that we put behind our name more than we worship Christ?  Does it bother anyone else that if they have the wrong letter behind their name – or, God forbid, they don’t have a letter behind their name – that we demonize them and make them out to be monsters who want nothing more than to kill your children/kill all the people who look different?  Or for those of us who aren’t on a side, we are “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, [and God] will spit [us] out of [His] mouth?” (Revelation 3:16)

We do this at church, too.  Any time a controversial topic is decided, the losing team – because it is teams fighting each other in a game at this point – prays for the winning team to find God again and stop denying the teachings of scripture/the love that Christ taught us.  Why do we Presbyterians have a new denomination?  Oh, because the PC(USA) no longer follows scripture.  We all know that isn’t true, but that doesn’t stop us from saying it.

If you can’t tell, I’m pissed off.  I’m tired of being told I don’t love enough, I don’t care about safety enough, that I’m not allowed to mourn violence, that I’m not allowed safety because I’m not violently preventing violence (take a second to unpack that one), that I’m being to literalist or I’m ignoring the teachings of scripture.

I’m tired of being condemned because I’m not radical.

And I’m tired of us worshiping those who are.

I posted a comment on the Facebook wall of the seminary classmate who posted the article and his comment went to the motivation or pushing Presbyterians to action and “loving radically” and though I agree with him, I think, especially as pastors, we need to be intentional about what we said, and the article compared middle-of-the-road to being lukewarm.  It did, absolutely, and the comments basically echoed the ideal that we can’t be moderate and do any good.

Again, everything about this being more radical has nothing to do with loving more – or following Christ more – but moving closer to a side of our adversarial division.  No one has said that we need to give ourselves completely to loving our neighbor – all of our neighbors – but they certainly tell us how we are loving them wrong.

Personal politics have no bearing on loving neighbors as self.  You want radical talk?  You don’t love as much as Christ commanded you to.  I don’t love as much as Christ commanded me to.  It doesn’t matter what American political ideology you subscribe to, you are not loving as much as you could nor as much as you are commanded to.

You want to love radically?  Forget your own needs and desires and love at a personal loss to yourself.  Love even when it hurts or is uncomfortable or you cannot help but hate the person you love.  Show love to Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton and Kim Jong Un and ISIS and the drug addict down the street and the husband cheating on his wife and the hacker who stole your identity and the guy on Facebook who’s political posts make you sick.  Show love to people who have killed, to people who have harmed children, to people who have left God completely, to people who rape and murder, to people who enslave and torture.  Show love to people you hate – all of them – and people who mean to harm you.

That’s radical love.  Spouting off about how much someone you disagree with isn’t loving enough or isn’t Christian enough isn’t love; it’s battle and it’s war.  Christianity is neither of those things.  Christianity is submission and sacrifice and love despite our own desires.  Christianity has no political affiliation because both completely ignore the call to act outside of your own desires and your own needs and to love all your neighbors, evil and good alike.

That is not lukewarm, but that is moderate.  That is the middle of the road in our two-sided, adversarial culture.  That is loving both sides more than you love yourself, and showing love to both sides despite their hatred of you and calling you “lukewarm.”

My prayer – my ultimate prayer – is that we can put aside our narratives, our political ideologies, and our need to win, and we can instead take that truly higher ground of loving everyone – literally everyone – and showing that love even to those who desire us jailed, tortured, and dead.

I am passionately moderate, I am passionately in the middle of our two artificial sides, and I am not lukewarm.  Stop interpreting scripture in the midst of American politics and interpret it as love, not war.

Now my head hurts, I killed two hours I didn’t really have, and my blood pressure is up.  Need to breathe a few breaths and do some work.

Out of Love and In Peace
– Robby

* I will make one remark about the second half of the episode talking about the race protests around the country.  It is wholly uncritical of the protests, making out that their methods and ideologies are absolutely correct.  I don’t want to make this a forum to discuss race relations in the country, but I do want to be fair and make that observation.

** </pastor hat>As a side note, Donald Trump isn’t anything other than what he can convince you of to increase his own power.  He is super-pandering, working to combine people’s irrational fears of people who are different, rational but overblown fears of terrorism, and legitimate desire to be not-crazy.  I will, without fail, vote for an other candidate, even the ones I fear most, to prevent him from becoming President.<pastor hat>

Responding to Senseless Tragedy

My soul weeps at every senseless death, and stands horrified if that death is intentional at the hands of another person.

Period.  Nothing I say after this has any influence on what I just said.  I will draw a line in the sand and make sure that everyone knows what they are responding to.

I want to make sure that I am heard, and what I say is understood. I want to make sure that no one can accuse me of placing my belief and understanding in the 2nd Amendment above human life.  I want to make sure that everyone understands that my shotgun is not being placed above the effects of tragedies like the one Umpqua Community College.  I want everyone who reads this to know that I am in shocked horror that yet another senseless mass murder has happened.

I stand in horror and mourning, and yet I was told I’m not allowed to mourn, at least not with that person.  Not that I would consider myself a great “gun lover” but rather a hobbyist who enjoys hunting and killing pieces of paper.  But having any sort of belief in the second amendment is evil, so I have been lead to believe today.

There are two things about me that should be readily known and accepted as I write it that I am a vocal moderate – not luke-warm but vocally and passionately in the middle of most everything – and that, in times is crisis, I value logic and rationality over emotion.

And if everything that I have read is true, then we are in a crisis of mass murders in our country.  This is an active crisis, current and ongoing, and we, as a nation, have not entered into the post-crisis part where emotions are addressed and mourning, as a nation, can happen.

(To all those directly effected by the events, this does not apply to you.  Personal crisis trumps national crisis, and you should be in a state of mourning.)

We need a cold, thought out, rational course of action to stop mass murders from happening.  We cannot dive head-first using our sadness, our anger, or our frustration as our guide.  Emotional responses as not going to fix the problem, no matter how much we want them to.

What we first must do is stop tearing each other down.  We cannot fix anything if we refuse to work together.  Stop telling me about conservatives valuing guns over human life or liberals trying to destroy the second amendment.  Stop telling me that people I love are responsible for this tragedy, both those who believe in gun ownership and carry and those who believe in gun-free zones.  Stop telling me that someone is evil because they disagree with your, or a particular political party is responsible.  All you are doing is stopping the conversation.

We must approach this as a problem with a solution, not a horror to be stopped.  We must detach ourselves from the horrors emotionally and look at facts and figures.  Not all of us are called to be the emotional strength and comforter of those who have directly experienced this tragedy, especially including our elected officials.

We must approach this issue with humility, accepting that we may be wrong.  Both sides need to stop placing themselves on a moral high ground and demonizing each other.  Because both sides of this debate have the same goal: stopping senseless tragedy.

And no, no gun owner I have ever known – and I have known a lot, including gun shop owners and political activists who work towards increasing gun rights – would ever place their gun above innocent human life.

The problem is that their resistance of change is not placing guns above innocent life; it’s that they believe that their guns and their rights changing would have no effect on the innocent life.  Period.

Everyone involved in this discussion needs to put their emotions aside.  Period.  Much the same way a doctor cannot save a life if overwhelmed by emotion, we cannot prevent these deaths if we act on our emotions.  We need cold though, period.

Can you do that?  Because if you can, absolutely you should be suggesting ideas and thinking about how the laws and funding can be worked out to prevent these senseless deaths.

But if you can’t, if you can only think emotionally or selfishly politically when a tragedy strikes, you need to remove yourself from the conversation.  Mourn, even publicly mourn, but rash, emotional responses – especially those condemning others that are not responsible – are as useless to national tragedy as they are to surgery.

I wrote out a plan to fix the problem, but it doesn’t work, either  The other half of this crisis is that no solution can be written in the days after a tragedy.  This is going to be a long and painful process, one that will not win any political points and will absolutely make people mad.  It will either go too far or not far enough, depending on who you ask, and it will slowly fix the problem, not instantly.  But if we have a serious national crisis, serious long-term repairs to the very fabric of our nation are necessary, not just sweeping and quick changes that ignore the law-abiding half of the country that, again, is not responsible for this tragedy.

No one gets to be on a moral high ground today, no one gets a soapbox, no one gets to claim they have the answer and that everyone who disagrees with them is wrong and/or evil.  You don’t get that right today.

I am mourning, and no one can tell me I am and those whom I love are responsible for this, because they aren’t.  So instead of demonizing me, let’s mourn the senseless taking of life, and mourn that someone’s mental health was so ignored that they came to a point that they could commit such evil.

Let’s not throw stones at each other today; let’s mourn together.  Maybe if we can find a common ground – humbly find a common ground – we can solve this crisis and finally truly mourn a dark part of our history.

– Robby