What I Consider Worthless

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”

– Philippians 3:6-9a

I have the opportunity to speak this coming Sunday at my church, Chestnut Grove Baptist Church in Grayson, Georgia. It’s the first time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to preach before a presidential election, and as things work out, this one is a pretty close – and intense – contest. The rhetoric has been at high levels (even if curtailed the past few days in the wake of Superstorm Sandy), and the emotions have been even higher. I’ve had to hide numerous Facebook friends and delete untold number of emails for the simple reason that people are so passionate about this election they have put everything else to the side.

Only this Tuesday matters.

I believe in the political process of our nation. I went and voted early yesterday, casting my vote for president and the other offices open for election, along with the two constitutional amendments on the ballot in Georgia. I stood in a 45 minute line for the chance to take five minutes to vote. Then, I got a sticker and a sense of participatory glee.

But the entire time, all I could think was, “This really doesn’t matter. Not at all.”

Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Gary Johnson and Whoever-is-Gary-Johnson’s-running-mate. It all works out the same.

And suddenly I realized: This is worthless. And that’s good.

No, this isn’t some cynical, apathetic, all-politicians-are-crooks-so-what’s-the-point? diatribe. Rather, this is the result of a principled re-thinking of life. God has been dealing with me about where my allegiances fall as of late, and I’m afraid that too often they fall inside this temporary sphere, far short of where they belong. See, I all too often think that my hard work, my vote, my job, my beliefs, my thinking, my talents, my whatever, will be enough to secure me a fair living in this world. And I’m not just talking about money; I’m talking about a life that’s fair, that’s free from trouble or injustice or hurt. I put my trust in the things that I know and control; that have personal or religious value to me; that have proven to be reliable over time.

Which means I neglect to put my trust in God.

I’m not the only one that does this. An alarming number of people say they trust God but put that trust almost exclusively into something else. Be it mutual funds or non-profit organizations, we get so passionate about certain things that we think will make a difference. And the sad reality is that, while those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, it’s the misplacing of our passion that leads to them becoming idols. Sometimes it seems like we put our faith so heavily into these things because we don’t really have faith in God; neither in His ability to work in our lives or (maybe) in His actual existence.

This election has really brought it to the fore in my eyes. It’s almost comical to realize the number of Christians who are advocating for a presidential candidate on the basis of that candidate’s ability to change things or restore America or make us a better nation. We’re not touting these men on political terms; we’re touting them in salvific terms, hailing them as if they were capable of doing things to change hearts and minds instead of opinions. What we are saying, whether we realize it or not, is that one of these men will be the one who will deliver us from our fallen world.

But it is not Barack Obama who died for your sins. It’s not Mitt Romney who became your propitiation.

That role and that honor belongs only to Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God. It is in Him that this world finds its salvation and redemption, its hope and future. And it is in Him alone that these things are found.

That’s why the Apostle Paul said that he considered his life as “rubbish” (in some translations, “dung”) when compared to Christ. Not his race, or his religion, or his reputation were worth a thing when compared to the Savior. Paul knew that the things that make us human – where we come from, how we were raised, what people think of us – are the very things that separate us from God. And despite his fierce love for each of those things, Paul saw them all as worthless when placed beside the Holy Christ, because it is in Christ that we find life.

It’s understanding that Paul was right in his abandonment of the most powerful things in his human life that drove me to the realization that my vote was worthless. Not because it’s a pointless exercise (to the contrary, I think voting is a powerful privilege), but because compared to Christ, and my hope in Him, my citizenship as an American is less than nothing. Sure, we’re a great nation and I’m glad to be here as opposed to anywhere else, but the truth is I can’t think that my being American is more important than being in Christ. If I really want to call myself His, I have to be willing, as Paul was, to consider that privilege and blessing as dung.

Honestly, I don’t know too many people who are willing to do that. A lot of folks are happier being Christian Americans than American Christians.

Naturally, as is the way with most things mortal, there will be a winner declared on Tuesday. Those who support this person will vindicated. We’ll hear things like “The American people have spoken” or “This a referendum on [the losing party].” Hopefully, you’ll have done your civic and Christian duty and contributed your vote to the process. And when the dust clears and we have four years of whomever, I hope that things do improve for our country. I hope that we can indeed become a stronger, better nation.

But I will put my hope for that transformation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of in the politics of the president. Because as trite as it sounds, one thing has been and always will be true:

Jesus saves.


Presidential Promise Keepers

Let’s be honest. It’s an election year. People are grumpy. People are anxious. We’re in the midst of uncertain (if not unfamiliar) times for our country. Folks are looking for someone to give them reassurance that everyone is going to be okay.

Unfortunately, that message isn’t exactly coming across.

Recently we’ve had the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, hurt by a covert viral video that reveals he doesn’t think much of the people who vote for Democratic Party candidates. (It also reveals that he’s pretty savvy when it comes to TV, but that’s another story entirely.) The video has become a sore spot for the GOP hopeful, and many folks on the other side of the political aisle have been high-fiving over their perceived good fortune.

Well, watch out for the Karma train, now arriving on Track 9.

Early this morning, the Associated Press released a story stating that almost 6 million Americans, most of whom are considered middle class, will be hit with a tax penalty under the Health Care Reform Act. That number is roughly 50% higher than the Congressional Budget Office’s 2010 estimate that 4 million citizens would have to pay the tax in 2016, the first year the tax is fully in effect.

The news is being hailed by Republicans as proof that the President broke his promise to not raise taxes on the middle class, and that the reform will ultimately do more harm than good.

I’m not here to hash out health care reform again, as my family has benefitedmightily from the pre-existing condition reform. I’m also not going to debate whether or not a presidential candidate speaking to a room full of supporters should be strung by his toes for playing to his base. Those are issues that could be (and have been) discussed ad nauseam without any hope of resolution, and we have the Patch archives to prove it.

What I’m more interested in, and it’s really more of a question than an opinion, is do you – yes, you, the individual person reading this – really believe presidential promises anymore?

In other words, when Mitt or Barack stand up and say, “This is how I plan to lead America back to greatness!”, do you really believe that they will execute that plan?

Basic knowledge of our government (or at the very least, a cursory knowledge of civic lesson cliches) tells me that the President is one part of a system, intended to check and balance authority and influence within our nation’s power center. Thus, the President can’t just declare that he’ll lower taxes, or create more jobs, or give everyone unicorn food and rainbow pellets in order to make things better, and then go out and just do those things.

He has to work with Congress. Congress has to work with him. And then the Supreme Court has to be down with things too.

For some reason, it seems like people forget that in a presidential election year. We spend so much time focusing on the candidates for president that neglect the other positions of power. We fall in love with a personality that promises us the things we want to hear, and cast our vote as if in a vacuum. Then, we sit around amazed when, two years later, the president isn’t able to deliver on those promises because the Congress he was given to work with wouldn’t work with him.

See Obama, Barack over the last couple of years as an example.

For that reason alone, I’m not buying any of the presidential promisory notes. Not any of them. I’ll read to see what their plans are, but I’m not basing my vote on the plan alone. Instead, I want to read and watch and listen to the two men vying for our most prestigious political post, and I want to see if I can get a feeling for which man won’t sell out our country’s best interests for their ideological gain. I want to see which man might be willing to erase the party line and focus on solutions that improve the lives of people. I want to see which one of these flawed but able candidates might not just be the man people hope they’ll be, but be better.

I want a leader, not a politician. I’m not sure I’ll get that. But I’ll spend the next few weeks really considering Mitt and Barack’s character as much as their promises. And in the end, I’ll vote for the man I think will do his best to do what’s best for the American people – especially if it means breaking rank with his party.

What about you?

In Defense of the Constitwotion

I’m tired. I spent last week with my students at camp, came home Saturday to some housework that needed to be done, and was the resident staff member at church on Sunday – which meant I preached Sunday morning and was on duty Sunday night. So forgive me if this comes off less eloquent than I hope.

I think it’s time we established that our country is no longer serviced by having only one Constitution. As things seem to swing ever farther to the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum, it would appear reasonable to do away with one central document whose carefully crafted language no longer meets our modern day sensibilities, and instead draft two new documents aimed towards the two dominant ideologies currently in power.

I propose we call them the Constitwotion. One for Red State folks. One for Blue State folks.

You can surmise the basic premises for each – Red State rules would be heavy on specific social behaviors deemed “harmful” and on lack of regulatory control for businesses. It wouldn’t quite be the old call of small government, but it would hew more towards the modern conservative ideal.

Blue State rules would lean towards a more egalitarian model where everyone contributes his or her fair share and everyone gets the exact same treatment. Everyone. Even the ivory tower types who typically get treated better than everyone else but who push for equality even as they surf the free WiFi at Starbucks on their iPads.

It shouldn’t take too long to draft these documents – chances are each party already has something similar in writing as part of the full-contact presidential campaign preparations. Now, instead of having to choose one vision of America or the other for ALL people, we can simply choose to live under one or the other as separate people. When you head into the primaries and you select the party for which you intend to vote, you’ll simultaneously be aligning yourself with the Constitwotion under which you want to live.

Clean. Simple. Neat.

Sure, there’ll be problems – for instance, most of the rich people who like tax breaks and the ability to shelter their income would be hard pressed to sign up for a Blue State Constitwotion that would tax their wealth and redistribute it to fair market systems, which would severely compromise the Blue State system of government (you gotta generate revenue or cut costs somewhere).

And those people who would happily choose to live under the Red State system might find it a little chafing to have their personal liberties closely monitored and “fine tuned” by the prevailing moral crisis of the moment.

But since we obviously can’t work together under one document for all, we need to embrace our destiny and get to work on these two separate but equal documents. Sure, it’s like the Civil War without guns, but hey – if you took away the messing fighting and dying and the whole inhumanity of slavery – the idea of two separate nations with two separate ideologies doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

It must not, because that seems to be what we’re pushing towards anyway.

Just a thought.

A Letter to My Children: The Debt Ceiling, Politicians, and My Failure as a Father

Dear Ella and Jon –

Both of your great-grandfathers served in World War II in the European theater. Pop Emmette, your Nonna’s father, was assigned to a postmasters’ outfit in France just before the final collapse of Berlin. Pop Harold, your Poppy’s dad, was a quartermaster with the Army who helped with the final supply lines for the troops who ended the European front of the war.

I’m telling you this because last night, as the current president Barack Obama, took to the airwaves to speak about a deadlock in debt ceiling negotiations (which is a fancy way of saying that the USA is about to run out of money) I realized the death of the America in which I came of age. Both of your great-grandfathers were contributors to that America, one that held certain ideals about the nation itself and what it took to make it great. Their generation, by no means perfect, was at the very least rooted in a system of shared belief that the good of the many outweighed the wants of the few. They fought for this belief and applied it in their lives, and expected those around them, including the politicians sent to represent them in Washington D.C., to do the same.

I’m no historian, but I would argue that the same belief your great-grandfathers harbored has been a dominant piece of the American ethos since the inception of this nation. It was the ignition for the American Revolution, it was the self-destructive impulse behind the Civil War, and it was the rallying cry that rescued the nation from the Great Depression and ushered us to victory in the Second World War. Our historical documents are loaded with language about the “good of the people” and our rhetoric for 235 years has been that we are a nation of many who stand as one.

It’s even our national motto: E Pluribus Unum. From the many, one.

But that America is dead now. It no longer exists, and I spent the better part of last night trying to figure out who should bear the responsibility for the death blow.

I was tempted to blame the politicians who are currently in office, the egotistical buttheads who stand in front of their media pulpits and proclaim that they are working for the will of the American people when in reality they are working for a select group of individuals who share the same political ideology. The list of these demagogues is long and undistinguished, and all are guilty: President Obama, Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor, Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and so on. Almost anyone that your father can currently see on TV or read about in the papers is someone who has shunted the good of the American people to the side in order to doggedly pursue their own personal vision of what America should be. Party affiliation, long a lament of the voting populace, has replaced the needs of the country, so that a relatively simple matter of raising our debt ceiling in order to preserve the economy for the short term while simultaneously working on a long term solution for our reckless spending has turned into a game of political chicken. The two parties are staring at each other, neither willing to concede anything because they can’t bring themselves to let the other party “win.”

And at this point, “win” is a loose term.

Instead, these people who are supposed to do what’s good for the nation both in the near and long terms are about to cause a systemic default on our financial obligations that could very well kill the economy in ways we’ve never even considered.

At a time when the economy is already barely breathing.

This would be like your dad arguing with your mom over what type of medicine you should be treated with while you were dying because you needed medicine.

What makes it even worse is the smug self-righteousness with which these politicians address the nation, telling us that what they are doing is what we want them to do. You will be old enough to understand this one day, so I’m going to go ahead and tell you: the people who have your best interests at heart actually shut up and listen to what you have to say. Even when they make decisions that go against your wishes, they at least cared enough to listen. You’ve grown up with this – you haven’t always liked the decisions your mother and I made, but as soon as you were old enough to share your thoughts and preferences with us, we allowed you to have your say and weighed it against the larger picture. When it made sense to do what you wanted, we capitulated and gave you the gift of empowerment (which is no small thing, let me tell you…). When it didn’t make sense, we did what was best for you and gave you the courtesy of an explanation.

The people currently in office don’t do either of those things, and as a grown-up adult with a voice and plenty of thoughts on the matter, it pisses me off to no end. It makes me mad. It actually makes me think fondly of the American Revolution and wonder if we might revisit such a drastic recourse.

I’m spit-balling, mind you – I make no bones about the fact that I wouldn’t even attempt to pick up a rifle at Walmart and challenge the US Government to a fight. But the dream is nice, and that’s sad; when your only outlet for your frustrations would seem to be dreaming of violent revolution, that says something about the system under which you’re living.

Which brings me to the point of my letter: the politicians are not to blame for the mess you will inherit.

I am.

And so is everyone else who has voted these types of politicians into power for the past thirty years.

You see, in a democratic system, the people choose who represent them. We get to shuffle into a soulless little box every few years and punch a button to decide the players who will decide our collective national fate. Once upon a time, this system worked, mainly because the people who voted wouldn’t stand for jack-legged egotists in office. Sure, they voted in a few windbags from time to time, but for the most part the men (and for a while, it was only men) elected to office held the idea and ideals of this nation to be their guiding principles. They believed, as your great-grandfathers did, that the many outweighed the few. They argued over the best approach to this goal, as any group of distinct individuals will, but more often than not they came to great compromises that propelled this nation forward as a vanguard. You can see the relics of this across the nation because we used to build monuments to our political leaders – the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Jefferson memorial; heck, we even sandblasted the living crap out of a South Dakota mountain so we could put the faces of four great American statesmen on its slope. We spent countless dollars erected these edifices to remind ourselves not only of the men and women who shaped our heritage, but of that heritage itself.

Nowadays, we wouldn’t waste money on a politician’s statue. We’ve discovered the subversive joys of naming waste-water reclamation facilities after them, which tells you how far things have fallen.

And yet they’ve fallen this far because we’ve let them. We’ve become something I can’t quite define, something that is frightening to consider. It’s hard to pinpoint why we’ve become a nation of cynics and skeptics, though one would suggest it’s the repeated exposure to leaders who suck, which only brings us back to the question of why the hell did we elect them then? When did we quit caring about who went to Washington? When did we collectively decide to roll over and let a narrow group of people on both sides of the aisle speak for the vast majority of us?

It would require a great deal of collective brainpower from sociologists, historians, political scientists, psychologists and Dionne Warwick to come up with a decent answer.

But I’d sure love to read it. For me, I just fall back on the old standard of blaming it all on Watergate. Or Dan Quayle.

Maybe one of you, or someone from your generation, will be the first to undertake such a massive study – the examination of the death of the American people’s collective idealism – and if so, I hope you find something substantial. Because to be honest, it seems from my vantage point to be nothing more than our own selfishness coming back to haunt us. We take what we get because we don’t care to fully participate. We tell ourselves that our vote doesn’t count because the weasels will still get elected, thereby ensuring that the weasels still get elected. If we do vote, we don’t do any research, or we simply wait until some paper or website or magazine produces a “how to vote” list, which, if you think about the history of this nation and all we fought against, is antithetical to what it means to be an American.

Mostly though, we just whine and gripe and moan. Kind of like this blog post – it serves no real purpose towards change. It’s just a way for me to get my two-cents out there and feel all justified at my anger.

If I really cared, I’d get my but down to whatever civic office is responsible for this sort of thing and register myself as a candidate for the next election. Or I’d begin a new political party, something like the Common Sense Party, or Bull Winkle Party, or Whigs, and petition some of the best and brightest people I know, people who would actually go to Washington and guide themselves by the old American ethos to do what is best for the country without being concerned about re-election.

Unfortunately, it seems I really am at fault for the mess we’re in. For that, I am truly sorry. My only hope is that I can raise you to be better than I am, and that you will be a generation that actually believes and cares enough to set things right.

I have failed you. But I believe you will not fail yourselves.

With my apologies, love and hope,


An Open Letter to Rep. John Boehner and the Rest of the G.O.P.

Dear John –

I know you’re busy with the Lame Duck session of Congress, but as I’ve heard a lot lately about your plans as newly elected Speaker of the House, I thought I’d just take a moment and write you and your G.O.P. friends a letter. Sure, you’ll probably never read it, or if you do, you’ll find in it only those things you want to see (which seems to be a theme with many of you political types), but I want to go ahead and get a few things off my chest.


This past election was historic for your party. You turned over the House by getting 61 Republicans into office through some harsh campaigning and truly epic spending by third parties that don’t have to disclose a thing. Personally, I don’t care about the ads and the money behind them (unless we’re talking about the quality of life issue–which is to say, that while those stupid ads were burning up air time on my television, I felt that my quality of life decreased with each passing second), so my issue isn’t with the how you got elected. My issue is with the why.

I’ve heard you and many other Republicans (and I include the Tea Partiers in the same group as regular Republicans) claiming that this election was a mandate for your party. As a voter, let me say emphatically: NO, IT WAS NOT. This election swung your way because there wasn’t any other way for it to swing. Americans were tired of the Democratic party, sure, but they are equally as tired of the G.O.P.–though since you’ve become the only games in town, it’s sort of a non-starter. You got in because we couldn’t find anyone better to fill the seats. We didn’t necessarily think that much of your ideas or platforms.

It’s kind of like when your ex hooks up with the first person they meet on the rebound. Generally, it’s got less to do with who the hook-up actually is and more to do with the fact that the hook-up isn’t you. Let’s be honest: you are the rebound, John. You’re the semi-hottie at the corner of the bar just before closing and though you’re not quite what the voters have been looking for, you’ll do. But who knows what will happen in the cold, clear light of the morning after?

Here’s what I’d like to say to you, John, and to any other Republican out there who’s foaming out of both sides of their mouth: shut up about your partisan ideas. In fact, take the whole notion of Party Politics and cram it into the same dead space that commonsense tax reform got sucked into, because We The People don’t give a rat’s patookie about your G.O.P. (Grand Old Plan) for our lives. We just want to be able to find a job and keep it, buy a house and keep it, and have health insurance that doesn’t bankrupt us as individuals. That’s it. That’s why you’re in office, John–to hear our voice and get those things done. If that means you have bend towards the center, so be it.

But don’t you or your buddies for one minute believe that we won’t be keeping an eye and ear on everything you say and do between now and the next election cycle. If you so much as step out of line once we’ll cut you next election and try someone else on for size. We don’t want even one pointless filibuster or any endless posturing on the House floor to get in the way of commonsense, practical solutions to the very real problems we all face. You said you could get things done if you were given the chance–well, here you go. Don’t blow it–especially since you’ll potentially have to deal with Sarah Palin as your 2012 G.O.P. presidential candidate. Don’t make it harder on yourselves by screwing this up.

And one last thing, John: please stop yapping about repealing the Health Care Reform Act. I know it’s a freaking monstrosity of a bill, and it probably needs quite a bit of overhaul, but when I hear you say that your first order of business is to get that thing repealed,  my skin crawls. See, when you come out and say things like that, it makes us voters think that you won’t really do what you promised and that makes us feel cheap and used.

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, John. But actually, hell has no fury like the voters scorned.

Just thought you needed to be reminded.

All the best,