the politics of religion

Who would Jesus vote for? I suspect he would shrug and say, “I’m not really political.”

I believe part of the hesitation from some to embrace Mr. Romney is the issue of religion. It is as if some feel that voting for a Mormon might be contrary to their personal faith. I think there may also be a tiny bit of concern that our country will be “less blessed” if we have a Mormon president.

Let’s put our cards on the table and talk.

If America has a special blessing on it, I think it would be hard to argue that it is in any way tied to who sits in the Oval Office. I believe whatever blessing we have is tied to the enduring faith of the people. Biblically, God’s interactions with Israel had more to do with the hearts of the people than the actions of any one leader.

Did Catholic John F. Kennedy’s presidency destroy our Christian heritage? Did Richard Nixon’s Quaker roots affect whatever blessing was over this country? Did Jimmy Carter’s open declaration of his Southern Baptist beliefs make us more blessed than we had been under Episcopalian Ford?

To me, the election business fits into the “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” category. Faith is faith, government is government. If I see a candidate whose political viewpoints seem to be shaped based on a similar outlook as mine, all the better; but if I’m voting for someone for public office, I’m more interested in their philosophy of the role of government than what they believe in their personal practice of faith.

If you follow the game of voting based completely on the candidate’s faith to its logical conclusion, you will never vote unless you are the candidate. It is hypocritical to pretend otherwise.

Seriously, you can’t even agree with the person who sat in the chair next to you at church for the last twenty years. How will you ever find out enough about a candidate to feel comfortable that they believe what you do?

The office of the president has a direct bearing on foreign policy, on the budgetary direction of the country, on the selection of members for the Supreme Court, and on a few other things. Which candidate do you think best represents your views on those issues?

If you are voting for a religious leader, vote based on your faith. The office of the president of the United States is a secular position. Let your vote be informed by your faith, to be sure; but don’t sit things out this time because of your faith.

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why all the politics?

A popular comment/question I’ve seen lately on the interwebs:

Why even talk about politics, since most people have their minds made up and you only risk losing friends?

To me, a question left unanswered is a festering wound, and more likely to cause greater division the longer it is left untreated. Consider the debate over slavery in the colonial states – the founding fathers were not of one mind, but decided to punt that question far enough down the field that they knew none of them would live to see it revisited. They also knew the issue might rip apart their fledgling nation…and it largely did (Please spare me the redirection of “was slavery a major cause of the war”).

What I see missing from much of the current political debate is a level-headed discussion of the issues. What I see happening is that any serious issue that is raised is written off as racism or “hate,” when in fact there are real issues that go undiscussed.

We don’t elect a President to be the DC equivalent of a Grammy or Emmy award winner – we elect a President to be about the people’s business, and every four years it is time for a serious review of the record of the person to whom we currently entrust that office.

I may write a snarky comment here or there; those who know me know that I do that in every arena where I have a voice. What I try (generally) to do, though, is to use reason to think through the options in front of us.

I believe we need someone in the Oval Office who has real-life business experience, because it doesn’t matter how big your heart is for the needy if the country is broke. As it happens, Romney also clearly has a big heart for the needy – look at his tax return, not one chopped-up quote from a fund-raiser. He lives out what most conservatives strive for in the sense that he lives up to the letter of the law and practices personal generosity. I trust that person to be wiser with my tax dollars than one whose experience is primarily being generous with others’ money.

Whatever¬† words I or anyone else may offer through blogs, twitter, FaceBook, or whatever e-media, most people have staked out their position. My hope is that someone who disagrees with me will make a logical case to tell me what they see that I’m missing.

I don’t want a fight – I want a conversation.

I want to understand how roughly half the population of the US believes the guy sitting in the Oval Office deserves another term.

I want to understand why people are more interested in snippets of comments than the actual experience and record of the two major candidates.

I want to understand why it is considered “racist” to disagree with the policies of the current administration.

Is there anyone out there who can have that conversation with me?

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it’s the economy. not stupid.

Maslow’s Hierarchy, Dave Ramsey’s “Four Walls”, most people who deal with psychology of money say that you really can’t deal with the niceties of life until you deal with the basics. When you feel secure in terms of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation, you are mentally prepared to move on to other things.

Gas prices have doubled in much of the country over the last four years. Unemployment remains above 8%. The majority of the 4.5 million new jobs are low-wage jobs, in no way replacing what was lost in the 9 million job down-sizing. Extensions for unemployment run out at the end of the year, and the legislation that was enacted to encourage wiser thinking will eliminate any further extensions at the end of this year (because no one acted on any changes that were wiser). That makes for a lot of people who are not secure in the very basics.

I don’t care about eloquence, I don’t care about race, I don’t care about promises. Words are cheap. Show me who has some experience at turning around bad economics. “But Bain laid people off” – right, and Staples (I know, just one example) is still in business, and employs over 90,000. Would you prefer those folks were on unemployment?

Most people are going to have to holds their nose while they vote for someone this year. Given a choice between rhetoric and track record, I’m going with track record. You may disagree with my logic, but please don’t belittle my choice as being based on something so shallow as melanin.

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just one look?

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until
I got this feeling that it’s later than it seems.
Jackson Browne, “Doctor My Eyes”

I was on my way home from the gym this morning when I had one of those experiences that keeps one on one’s toes. I was in the left lane, being passed by a car in the right lane, when someone pulled out in front of the car. Being the observant person I am, I had already started putting on the brakes because I could see that Mr. Puller Outer Guy was not paying attention.

The car that was passing me was able to move in front of me safely, and gave a honk while passing Mr. Puller Outer Guy. I saw no gestures, but would hardly have blamed Ms. Passing Me On-the-Right (I assume that’s a hyphenated name).

Mr. Puller Outer Guy was slow in accelerating, so he was a bit behind at the next light, a half mile down the road. Ms. Passing On-the-Right turned right. I was turning left, and noticed Mr. Puller Outer Guy behind me in the turn lane.

When we got the next light, Mr. Puller Outer started honking. I looked over and he was using the sign language that I think means “You’re number one” at a car on the other side of me. I pulled between them and waved to get his attention. He rolled down the window.

That isn’t the driver who honked at you.

It isn’t?

No, that driver turned the other way at the last light.


The reason she honked was because you pulled out way too close in front of her, and I was riding beside her. You almost got me run over.

Oh. (rolls up window, conversation complete)

I’m becoming more accepting of the fact that many people today don’t understand when an apology is appropriate. Sorry seems to be the hardest word, I think someone has said. That said:

You are not the only one on the road. We share it. I have as much legal right to be out there as you. I will grant you the right of way when it is yours; I ask that you return the favor. As a motorcyclist, I have to constantly scan what is going on around me to adjust to my environment. As a car driver, you should be doing the same. The difference is, if both of us fail, you get a dent in the side of your car; I get a wreath. I’m doing my job; please do yours.


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born to be … observant

I’m not looking back, but I want to look around me now
See more of the people and the places that surround me now
Freeze this moment a little bit longer;
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away

Time Stand StillRush

I heard an interview on Science Friday on NPR a couple of weeks back talking about how our awareness of what is going on around us truly has an influence on how quickly time seems to pass.

I didn’t need a lot of research to recognize that – in my current season of busy little bee it seems like weeks pass and I don’t remember having done anything worth noting. But this morning I had the most wonderful reminder, and I think maybe an insight into the wonderful world of bikers.

Slight digression here – I am riding a Kawasaki EN500 – Vulcan – Cruiser – “wannabe”, according to Harley riders, I think.

This morning was my first commute to the office. I checked the clock on both ends of the ride, and it took roughly the same amount of time it normally does to cross the south end of Charlotte; but this morning that 20-minute ride seemed much longer. In a good way. I normally get in the van and wake up at the office – beam me down, Scotty – but this morning I was very aware of my commute.

Han Solo told Chewbaccah to “fly casual” in Episode 6; I think the moment I start to fly casual on the bike is when I need to get back in the van.

I was constantly scanning around me, watching for the obvious dangers – pushy drivers behind, pokey drivers ahead, drafts from passing trucks – but also the minutia that I just don’t notice from my insulated seat in the van. The wildflowers the state planted to save lawnmower money (bravo, NC) were amazing. The on-ramp at Rae Rd. looks shorter, dangerously so, when you aren’t as protected while passing it. Whomever is supposed to update the signs for “At this Exit” stuff has not kept up with the economy.

None of this is earth-shattering, nor deep. It just really surprised me how much more I took in this morning.

Life at 70 MPH is apparently not always devoid of opportunities to observe. Looking forward to the ride home.

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restart your engines

I’m technically in week seven of P90X. Technically.

I decided the first week didn’t count, since I spent most of that doing “modified” versions of the already-modified moves in the workouts. Also, I somehow missed that I was supposed to change up the routine at week 4, so it just made sense to move the clock back a week in terms of where I am in the program…so week 6 has officially begun.

I had a surprise this weekend as I was taking my measurements. I’m still trying to decide if it was a pleasant or unpleasant one, but it was unexpected either way. All of my caliper measurements went up.

Warning: the following might gross some people out.

The reason my measurements jumped appears to be that I was in worse shape than I thought. Remember the old “if you can pinch an inch” ads for Special K? I would laugh (uncomfortably) at the fact that I couldn’t pinch an inch because there was too much fat to get a grip. It appears I am finally getting thin enough to pinch an inch. Or two.

So my earlier measurements are not valid. By the new measurements, I am right on the borderline for obese (30% body fat). I can’t say for sure, but I imagine I must have started closer to 40%.

My wife told someone that I’m probably going to end up being a personal trainer. I’m really immersing myself in the full picture, because this is the first time I’ve really made a lifestyle change…and this is the first time I’ve really seen results. If you have a few extra pounds, you may be able to make the push just by diet or just by exercise, but I had a lot more than a few extra. For me, it takes both, consistently, for the long haul.

Side benefit – I used to be the comic relief in gym class in middle school. I think I’ll go to the 30th high school reunion this year, if just to see what kind of shape my former tormentors are in. {Maniacal laughter}

Pictures soon.


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I’ll Follow the Sun

“Tomorrow may rain so I’ll follow the sun.” – The Beatles

Andy Stanley popped into my head this morning. He does that from time to time, usually when I’m thinking deep thoughts. This time I was contemplating the relative benefits of getting exercise bands vs. continuing my gym membership.

What came to mind was a phrase I’ve commented on before:

“Direction, not intention, determines your destination.”

Almost simultaneously the chorus of the Beatles’ song snippeted above was running through my head as well.

It’s not surprising I’m tired so much of the time, what with all of these bands and speakers running around in my head. At least they’ve crowded out the voices that told me to eat chocolate chip cookie dough.

This is what occurred to me: I’ve been wandering through my life, just waiting for things to happen. Not necessarily good or bad things – I just haven’t been picking a direction and going with it. In a sense, it is as if I’ve said, “I want to walk to California“; but every morning I get out of bed and start walking in the direction of the sun.

Follow the sun all day and guess where you end up – pretty much where you started, though perhaps a tiny bit farther south if you live north of the Tropic of Cancer. In any case, you aren’t any closer to California.

Seems like I spend a lot of my life walking in a circle, wondering why I don’t seem to get anywhere.

For example, my fitness level has been horrible for a long time. Seriously. As long as no alarms went off in my physicals, I’ve been content to just let my health slide. I haven’t received any alarming news recently – I’ve just realized that I don’t want to slip quietly into that dark night with a massive heart attack in the next decade.

I was also thinking this morning of a conversation I had with some other folks around my age back around the holidays last year. It seemed like everyone was pretty much resigned to “this is the way it is” in terms of the decay of their health.

No, No, No!

Death is inevitable, and there is some natural decline in the later years; but I’m nowhere near that point. My oldest child is almost nine years old – I have a lot of basketball, camping trips and backyard football ahead of me. I also have a 30-year high school reunion coming up, and I don’t want to be the “wow, he’s really let himself go” guy.

Is this partially a midlife thing? Maybe. But what motivates me is not pointing me towards a flashy car or a “marital upgrade.” I’m picking a destination. I have a clear picture of a goal, a place I want to be in six months, and in a year.

I don’t have the final say in when someone puts me in pine pajamas, but I have some input.

Forget the sun – I’m heading west.

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30 years!?!

I’ve been time-traveling this week.

One of my friends from elementary school invited me into an FB group for people who grew up in Germantown, Tennessee. I was there from third grade until my third junior year at college, so I technically qualify (some would say I’m still growing up).

I was in the class of ’82 (as in raisin’ hell like Devils do, we’re the class of…), so it was just about 30 years ago that I started my senior year. Most of the people at my church were either still in diapers or were no more than a gleam in their fathers’ eyes at that point. Guess I’m older and wiser. Or at least older.

It’s interesting to see who is still living in Memphis, who still looks remotely like they did back then, and how many of my classmates are now grandparents (zoiks).

But the past can be a dangerous place to visit. Life really was simpler then: I didn’t have a mortgage, I wasn’t responsible for anyone but myself (and I wasn’t even good at that duty), and my parents still took care of most of my expenses. The stakes have gotten higher since then. It is really tempting to want to somehow grab a piece of that point in time and make it happen again (maybe the term mid-life crisis applies here).

We look at the past through fun-house mirrors, the kind that bend reality and make some things seem smaller and some larger than they really were. As someone has said, “The older I get, the better I once was.

There is also sadness in the past. Craig Kidwell, Dan Dunning, Reed Lowell, and Franchot Hightower…all died too young – the first three before the decade of the 80’s was over. I imagine there are more names that belong on that list; I just haven’t kept touch to know about them.

I can’t say that I loved or hated those years. It’s a mixed bag. I wouldn’t be who I am now if those years had been different; but who’s to say that’s better or worse?

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12 degrees and praying

Last week I was having one of those deep philosophical discussions I sometimes have with my 5-year-old. We were having one of those “all I want for Christmas is everything” nights, and I decided to talk to him a little about having an attitude of gratitude.

Elijah, remember that there are people out on the street tonight, who would be grateful just to have a soft bed in a warm room. Instead of thinking about everything that we want this year, let’s try to think about what we could do to help them.

God has a tremendous sense of humor.

Yesterday my beloved was at the library with the kids, and struck up a conversation with a woman there. Amy doesn’t talk to strangers all that often, but she has a thing about people from other cultures. This woman was born in the Congo. She and her family (husband and two kids) had just come to Charlotte from the Northwest US, and currently reside wherever they park their van at night.

My wife went way out on a limb – she invited them to dinner.

No, it’s okay, I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing when she called me to say we were having some guests and told me a little about how she met them.

But she had already invited, so I did the logical thing. I gave her a little dressing down for inviting someone she just met to our house, and I hid anything of value.

If you know me, you probably think I was being humorous in the previous paragraph. Let me assure you I was not.

Then came a knock at the door, and thus began one of the most wonderful evenings I can remember in a long time.

Their kids are only a little older than ours, and they were off playing in three seconds. I think I saw the whole group of kids once in the next three hours. David is a well-read, well-traveled guy who is about a month older than me. Chengali grew up between a village in the Congo and Kinshasa, the capitol.

They were a lot like us, only a little more interesting.

At the end of the evening we prayed together. If you’ve never prayed with someone from another culture, you should try it. Every time I’ve done that I’ve been reminded of how wimpy my prayers are. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with them on the surface, but I don’t talk to God as if I truly depend on Him. There’s something that seems so much more earnest in the prayers of someone who has lived, and is living, in total dependence on God.

The joke is that I am too; I just have so much stuff around me that I have trouble seeing it.

They were very gracious, thanking us for giving them a chance to forget about their circumstances for an evening. Seems like it has been a while since they had adult conversations with people who weren’t judging them. Okay, I was at first…but I got over myself pretty quickly once David and I started talking.

Then they gathered their kids, said thank you, goodnight, and drove off.

To find a well-lit parking lot.

So they could sleep.

I woke at 2:00 this morning, and immediately checked the temperature. Somewhere around 12 degrees. Even our well-insulated, dual unit-heated house felt a bit chilly.

Well, what were you supposed to do? Invite strangers to sleep in your house?

I think maybe we were supposed to.

From Isaiah 58:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide for the poor wanderer with shelter?”

But this isn’t Beaver Cleaver land. You can’t just invite strangers into your home.

Yeh, you can. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but my wife doesn’t suffer the fear of humanity that dogs me when opportunities to shine a little Christ-light come along.

Okay, well it was just one dinner…

It was, but when I heard Amy stirring this morning we talked about what had transpired last night, and how we both felt about the experience. And we called them to see if they would stay with us for a while.

No answer yet. They said they needed to pray about it.

If we’re being played, we’ll wake up some morning having been relieved of some stuff. If we’re not, we have at least done what we could to live out what we say we believe.

And I don’t have to explain to my 5-year old why we turned away the people I told him we should be helping.

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animal magnetism

We recently lost our cat, Grey. She was beautiful, she was well-loved, she loved much in return, and she lived outdoors.

There are some folks who would be practically purring through each of the statements above, until I got to the “outdoors” part.

There is a mind-set that I really have trouble understanding. Is it really better to have dozens of animals destroyed on a daily basis than to have one that experiences a lot of love from a family that cares for it, spends more than a little time with it daily, and allows it to live closer to the way it was created?

Apparently so. Apparently being euthanized at the animal control office (as a definite fact) is much more humane than living for a few more years in a more natural state and possibly being killed by a car. At least, that’s what I’m getting from some of the people I work with.

I get that there are people out there who just tie a dog to a stake in the ground and then only see it once in a while to yell at it when it barks at night. Folks like that should not have pets. They should be tied to a stake in their yard for a week or two.

But I would argue that a cat or a dog who gets the best of the outdoors, shelter from storms and cold, plenty of food and water, and the love of a family is in better shape than the one that was given the “needle of mercy” at the animal control office.

To a degree, I think the natural predator who is limited to pouncing on a bag of cloth and catnip is to be pitied more than the one who gets to chase falling leaves, stalk mice, and pounce on grasshoppers. Don’t go hatin’ – just recognize that there are varying viewpoints on what makes for a good life.

If you disagree, that’s fine – but could you focus your anger at people who are truly abusing animals?

We’re grieving right now. The cat who walked up to our door (literally), who we took in because someone else just threw her out to the wild, is dead. She was a great cat, and lived well for the time she was with us. I built a house for her, we groomed her, took her to the vet, fed her, played with her…and now she’s gone. Why do people feel it is more important to pass judgment than to recognize that we’re feeling a loss?

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