Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Six Presidential Candidates on My Ballot Not Named Trump

Sign in front of my house
I'm fairly certain I would vote for any Democrat or Republican presidential candidate since 2000 over both of the two main presidential candidates this year. Both Trump and Clinton have set records for being unfavorable, even among their own party (and especially with millennial voters like myself). If you remember back when this blog was regularly updated, I may have won $20 from family members in the each of the last 2 presidential elections and it looks like I'm about to be right again (though I was admitted way wrong about how far Trump would go in the primary and will likely break even this year).

Not too much has changed about my own personal political beliefs, though I have moved slightly the opposite of how you might expect based on my region (since I moved from NC to SC) and my age. However, like many voters, this presidential election season has been confounding. That's why, I'd like to make the case for 7 different options for Election Day (today):

Options 1-6) Vote for any of the other 6 candidates (at least on the SC ballot) not named Donald Trump. There's been plenty written to try and convince others to not vote for him. In fact, here's a good summary from fellow early 2000's blogger/friend Justin Scott. Though I should mention that his post was a little over a month ago so there's plenty more to add to the list. I got a chance to see conservative NYT columnist David Brooks here in Greenville a few weeks ago and he concisely stated that "Trump is the wrong solution to a right problem". If you'd like to get some real sympathy for why at least 40% of voters in the country is planning to vote for him, the Cracked Podcast has a great discussion (here's the shorter list version). I actually got a chance to do a short informational presentation on the election to the two campuses of my high school (one fairly urban and one very rural) and you could feel the stark difference (even in the historically very conservative Upstate of SC).

As for the other 6 candidates, they've gone through SC's fairly stringent process of getting on the ballot:
In South Carolina, political parties can conduct primaries. Filing requirements for presidential primaries are set by the parties themselves. An independent presidential candidate must petition for placement on the general election ballot. The petition must contain signatures totaling 5 percent of all registered state voters. Write-in candidates are not permitted.
I'd suggest that if someone has gone through the proper channels to legally appear on your ballot, then they are open to vote for them. That's not just my opinion, that's the law. There are certainly arguments of spoiler candidates, but that's only if you are first obligated to a party or candidate. If that means the party you normally side with "lost your vote" then you're now showing your vote matters. Hopefully that party won't make the same mistake again. So here are the non-Trump candidates:

1) Hillary Clinton (Democrat): Despite all the email scandals (there are actually several different ones involving several different people), I still think Clinton would make a much better president than Donald Trump. Comparisons aside, she was a relatively innocuous Senator so much so she was approved as Secretary of State 94–2. It wasn't until she became a candidate for president in 2008 that she became such a pariah to conservatives (or even Trump himself).

2) Gary Johnson (Libertarian): Having voted for him in the last presidential election he was easily my first choice. His Vice Presidential pick is even better than his last one 4 years ago. I think Johnson would make a very competent and fairly moderate president. He's the only candidate I've heard in decade reminding voters that the president can't actually pass laws and has to work with Congress (one of Obama's major pitfalls). I'd also nominate him for most likely to balance the budget.

3) Jill Stein (Green): She might be the only candidate on this list I might call into question. Her policies are health, energy, and debt are very concerning. However, I believe her and Gary Johnson are the only candidates openly calling for shrinking the federal military and decreasing US involvement in nation building overseas.

4) Darrell Castle (Constitution): I don't know a lot about Castle as a candidate, but my understanding of Constitution Party is that it is a more religiously conservative version of the Libertarian Party. If you appreciate Gary Johnson's honest efforts to shrink the size of the federal government, I believe Castle will push for similar things economically. However, they divide over issues like abortion, LGBT rights and other issues where the Constitution falls more traditionally.

5) Peter Skewes (American Party): I know nothing about Skewes personally, but the entire vision of the American Party is incredibly appealing, especially in this election. This was a party actually founded right here in SC with the mission of leading from the middle. Here's a quote from their site: "The central focus of the American Party is to increase the economic global competitiveness of our states and our country, by focusing on the implementation of common ground solutions".

6) Evan McMullin (Independent): The true wildcard among wildcards Evan may be the only 3rd party candidate to carry a state since Ross Perot in the 90's. Right now as a completely independent candidate he's polling above Hillary Clinton in Utah and drawing 24% from Trump in a state the Republicans carried handedly in 2012. If there's no majority in the electoral college, it could get interesting.

7) Don't vote. It's your right to vote and it's just as much your right not to vote. If there are no candidates that represent enough of your views accurately, then no outcome will express your voice. Plus you have a 1 in 60 million chance of making a difference. 1 in 10 million if you're in a swing state. Wasted votes aren't votes that don't make a difference. No one vote has ever made the difference in a presidential election. A wasted vote is one for a candidate that you do not want to be president. Which is why studies shows we mostly vote for our own personal or communal feeling of satisfaction (same reason I watched baseball for the first time in a decade on Game 7). In fact, after reading over "Why I Voted" from 8 years ago, not a lot has changed for me and plus, voter apathy may actually be a positive.

Like the Greenville News (who endorsed Romney last time), this year I'm not endorsing any candidate. I think all non-Trump candidates would be passable. My vote however will go to Hillary Clinton, who like her husband, policy-wise might turn out to be the boring president I've always wanted. And the policy issues we do disagree on (and there are plenty), I'm confident our system of Federalism and other two branches will do what they were made for (as I discussed on the issue of abortion just a few hours ago). It's also important to me how Trump loses. Whether it's a small loss or a big one likely determine whether we see a Trump/Christie type Republican Party in 2020 or my dream new version of the party with candidates like Kasich/Weld on the ticket. This also means I will have voted for 3 different parties in 4 different presidential elections. It feels good not to be tied to a party, which are at the end of the day just private organizations that nominate candidates for office. Instead I vote for who I think would be the best chief executive, a suggestion I got from Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Bill Weld.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Abortion Issue is a The Red Herring

There are very few (on either side of the aisle) that see abortion as a celebration. It is a difficult, deeply personal, and delicate issue with real weight for individuals, families, and communities. For that reason I believe the laws governing abortion and those at impact abortion at the federal and state levels are very important, but the actual impact federal elections have on abortion laws are way overstated. I say that as someone who has personally been guilty of voting for candidates based on their public stances on the issue. Let's take a step back and get some historical context on the issue.

Before the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, about half of the states banned abortion. However, in that decision, 7 of 9 justices agreed that state bans violated the privacy rights of the mother. Since then, the Republicans have gradually increased their use of the issue to gain favor with the evangelical community. However, what they fail to admit is their own role in the Roe v. Wade decision. Here's the breakdown of justices' decision (and which party's president appointed them):
Harry A. Blackmun (Republican)
William J. Brennan (Republican)
Warren Earl Burger (Republican)
William Orville Douglas (Democrat)
Thurgood Marshall (Democrat)
Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Republican)
Potter Stewart (Republican)
William H. Rehnquist (Republican)
Byron R. White (Democrat)
The decision was made by an overwhelmingly conservative court with only two dissenters (one from each party appointment). You can actually read the conservative language in the decision that was framed as an issue of personal privacy and liberty:
This “substantive due process” right to privacy permits a woman to terminate her pregnancy for any reason during the first trimester. Subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the state may reasonably regulate abortions in ways related to maternal health. After viability, the state may regulate or proscribe abortions, but it must permit them if found necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother
And the court has kept a conservative majority for 45 years. Meanwhile, restrictions on abortion have come from the states, as the Roe v. Wade decision intended. As abortion made its way into the third presidential debate, like almost every issue in this election, it was more about personality than actually policy.

Forty-one states have some form of restriction on abortion, 36 of those ban it after viability (24ish weeks or before). That's 80% of the country that bans abortion at least at viability (with another 11% banning it at 29 weeks or the third trimester) and even for those states that allow abortion in the third trimester, it almost never happens. Though it's worth noting, third trimester (and even partial birth abortion is something Trump supported openly into his mid 60's and it's not like he has a good record of agreeing with Republican leadership these days. Here's a stat on third term abortions from the not liberal Fox News:
only about 100 are performed in the third trimester (more than 24 weeks' gestation), approximately .01 percent of all abortions performed. 
This is part of the reason why abortion rates have fallen to nearly half of what they were in 1980's under Republican presidents. Before you suggest that this decrease in abortions is the result of decades of non-compromising hard fought conservative actions, remember, all of those state laws were purposefully allowed for in the original conservative Roe v. Wade decision. In fact, most of these decreases aren't due to regulation, but through "liberal" policies aimed at decreasing extreme poverty and unintended pregnancy (most women who have an abortion already have kids).

My goal is not to decrease the importance we place on life or the privacy of our female citizens. Instead I just want us to have a more realistic view of what abortion actually looks like (early and rarer and rarer) and what impact politicians actually have (very little). You can think the issue important (I do), but if the candidate either will not or can not actually impact the laws, then it's disingenuous for it to be a primary factor in your decision.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hearing from God, Speaking for God

The Introduction

Eight years ago this month I asked the readers of this blog what types of criteria they had for choosing a church. Rereading that short post and the comments put me back in the mindset of that time when we had just moved to the Research Triangle Park of NC. Here’s me in the comments of that post: “We are pretty much only looking at PCA churches. Not because we think those are the only good churches, but because we both really agree with their doctrinal foundations.” We ended up doing just that. We chose what turned out to be a great church with great doctrine and stayed there for about 3 years. However, when we decided to move back to our hometown and start the church search over again, I had similar criteria, but a much different order of importance. Back in Greenville we ended up going to a great church with great community. For the last four years we’ve been involved in what is essentially of church of a dozen people (connected to a larger church gathering).

As you can imagine, choosing a church based on organizational structure and size does not always create a community of like minded individuals. That’s led to some difficult, but beneficial conversations. We’ve baptized our two infants in a church that believes that sacrament is for those with a profession of faith. We’ve worked through church leadership and discipleship differences. Wrestling through those types of disagreements with a group of kindhearted friends has been wonderful. However, one issue that’s long been difficult to come to a place of mutual acceptance is the issue of God’s literal voice in our life. It’s deeply personal and obviously supernatural which makes the conversation complicated. I warn you, the rest of this post is painfully insider baseball. I’ll also assume that scripture is the authoritative source on the issue. Whether you believe that’s true or not, it’s certainly reasonable to say that for those who do submit to scripture as “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), that it should also be useful for useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. So if you’re not actively involved in a church, this will likely feel like long meaningless minutiae (and I’m not 100% that you’d be wrong).

The Point

Before the Fall of Mankind, God had regular interactions with Adam and Eve, but immediately after sin entered the world, God’s presence causes fear (Genesis 3:8-9). From then on, even into the New Testament with John the Baptist, there is a trend of God slowly but surely directing the world to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s voice takes many forms, but they are overwhelmingly fantastical. Whether it’s a blinding light from heaven (Acts 9:1-7), voice from the storm (Job 38), burning bush that didn’t burn (Exodus 3), the sound of many waters (Ezekiel 43:2, Revelation 1:15), harps in the background (Revelation 14:2), dense cloud of thunder and lightning with an increasingly loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19), or even the visual that heaven is being torn open (Mark 1:9-11). There are also mysterious dreams of an unbeliever (Genesis 41:1-57) interpreted by Joseph and even overwhelming day dreams, or visions (Numbers 24:4). Even when angels arrive, they often have to tell people to not to be afraid. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments, his own face was so bright it scared everyone and he had to put a veil over it (Exodus 34:29-35). In fact, the people of Israel actually requested that God stop speaking directly to them because it felt like they are going to die (Deuteronomy 18:16).

There are also times where the hearer doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed, but in all those they are eventually certain it’s God (1 Samuel 3). The only example I could find of God speaking and not everyone understanding was when his voice was mistaken by some for loud thunder (John 12:23-29). Even in the well known example of God speaking in a “still small voice”, it was only after a strong wind blows apart rocks, an earthquake, and a fire (1 Kings 19:11-13). In fact, that verse seems to show that there are exceptions to the rule of fantastical presentations of God’s voice, but that it’s still a pretty good general rule. It seems there was some truth to Alanis Morissette as God in the obviously not canonical movie Dogma. God’s voice can be mind blowing.

I do believe that gift of the Holy Spirit does make all Christians today kind of like prophets (Acts 4:25), but even prophets didn’t have a direct line of God. Think of David, who is one of the central figures of the Old Testament, had the Spirit speak through him, and was a man after God’s own heart. Yet God sent another prophet, Nathan, to give him a message (2 Samuel 7). Even to the major prophets there doesn’t seem to be a regular back and forth conversation: Noah (5), Abraham (8), Isaac (2), Rebekah (1), Jacob (7). The reason you knows those names is that they were so noteworthy. That they heard from God. In fact in the Complete Red Letter Edition of the Bible has, “the direct spoken words of God are indicated in red on both the Old and New Testaments”. Like Jesus’ time on Earth, God’s interactions are numerable. God created everything, but God isn’t everything. He can be present in a specific place and time to have a large supernatural impact. How often that’s happened would be impossible to determine. It’s not obvious what is not seen or recorded in scripture (or since scripture), but there are definitely times of radio silence (1 Samuel 3). It’s also worth mentioning that although God definitely cares about the individual, his plans has always been for His people. When he gave a message to a follower, whether Old Testament or New, it was rarely if ever about personal issues that would only impact their lives.

Few people I have spoken to claim to hear the voice of God in the ways previously listed. Instead they have heard the voice of God stir inside them. Like the prophets, it’s an internal truth that they verbalize. This was in fact the primary means of communication God has used throughout the Bible all the way to and including his Son (Hebrews 1). If you count the Bible as God’s word then God has been pretty much using humans as his almost exclusive means of communication throughout history. For that reason, He doesn’t take the title of prophet lightly. If someone claims to speak for God and directs others those to disobey Him then they are obviously not a prophet from God and there is a death sentence (Deuteronomy 13). Another danger is one who predicts a future outcome, but that does not come true (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). God says they will be revealed to be true or false in time and if it turns out to be not from God he also puts out a warrant for their death. Even Jesus’ Apostles in the New Testament were specifically given the ability to do the supernatural and “confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).

The Conclusion

There was a time when I was concerned that a lot of people I knew were teetering on the edge of false prophecy. Claiming the voice of God where the evidence did not seem to support it. However, like is true in many prejudices, the more you get to know someone the better you understand the nuance of their perspective. I’ve come to much more benign conclusion. I actually don’t think many people claim this kind of experience with God. I think what they mean is that they feel led in a direction that doesn’t feel of their of their own mind. That’s great. I believe that. Say that. I experience that regularly. Just this morning I felt an external push to get up early to help my wife get the kids going. I’m confident the Spirit plays a role in this un-Harrison-like service, even if it’s just the lessons I’ve learned speaking to me from the past. And like David needing to hear from Samuel, it seems clear that sin can make this support from the Spirit more difficult. My concern is in placing an extra religious significance on personal decisions especially in placing these kinds of supernatural experiences above the day to day interaction with God’s word, His people, and His world. No one in the Bible ever says “I think God said this”. We live in the already Jesus, but not yet return of Jesus (Revelation 21:1). We won’t get the Garden of Eden back until the New Garden arrives. God has spoken to mankind and he has used mankind to speak for him. I’m also not discounting that he could speak today. After all, the kingdom is here (Matthew 3).

What I propose is to be more cautious with our vocabulary. I can think of few things more dangerous than claiming to speak for God. Simply say “I believe this or that”. Or say “I have the Holy Spirit and I believe this”. Let your yes be yes and your no be no, but don’t claim more than you have a right to (Matthew 5:37). The Holy Spirit does give you a taste of heaven, but it doesn’t give us the right to speak for heaven. I’m hesitant to even say the spirit is leading me, because that does happen, but it’s not for us to know exactly how and when (Ecclesiastes 11:5). And finally use scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) or the by a group of Christians (Matthew 18:16) to back of claims.

I want to clear. I do not want anything here to close anyone off to the influence of God. I’m not sure I could even if I wanted to. My hope is the opposite. This study has helped me appreciate the times in my life where I did feel the leading of God (if only retroactively). The best decisions I’ve made thus far in my life (teaching career, marriage, improv, kids, etc) were made with the oversight and influence of the Almighty. God has never spoken to me directly, but I’m not opposed to the possibility that it will happen. However, I expect to be confident if I do hear it.

I should state the obvious. This post is not truth from the mouth of God. Speaking so decisively on this issue was very difficult for me as I want to be sure I am not overreaching. I’ve tried to use scripture as a source, but it’s always dangerous to go looking into the word of God to prove your own predetermined point. I’d point you to read 1 Kings 13. It’s a fairly unknown story about the dangers of misspeaking for God and how they can negatively impact even innocent bystanders. I hope to use all of this as a starting point for further conversation. I started this story with a reference to old church searches. Well, we are on the search again. To be clear, our moving on has nothing to do with this conversation. I’m certainly not convinced this difference in emphasis is one worth splitting over. In fact, the success of my house church proves that few things are. Our small house church has slowly changed geographically and we now live about a half an hour away from everyone. We are once again looking for a new church and I’m confident God will direct our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Takeaways from "Crazy Busy"

These days I finish books about as often as I blog (not very much). One reason for the lack of both is busyness. This Spring Break I took some time and read "Crazy Buzy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem" by Kevin DeYong. Here are my takeaways:

Efficiency and punctuality are a part of functioning and showing respect in America, but they are not absolute virtues globally (and certainly not historically).

If you doubt the level of complexity and opportunity in America just visit the cereal aisle.

One way to combat the burden of busyness is to ensure your lifestyle has a "margin". That is, you plan to make room for the eventuality of the unplannable. To not do so is arrogance from a finite person.

A fallacy: "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness. Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy." -Tim Kreider of the NYT

A primary cause of busyness is pride. Ask yourself: "Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?" I'm personally guilty of sacrificing the unconditional love of my family for the praise of those I'm less intimate with.

Jesus never ended a sermon with "do more or disobey". The original sin was not a lack of effort for God, it was an attempt to become Him.

This is not a permission to be apathetic. We should hurt for those who hurt. However, our circle of influence will always be smaller than our circle of concern.

Jesus spent 30 years in relative calm before a whirlwind 3 years of public ministry. So don't fear, Jesus (more than most pre-modern people) felt the weight you likely feel of busyness. He was constantly around the disciples, preached to thousands (without a microphone), was swamped by the sick, and sometimes even had to escape by boat. Yet, he certainly had to leave cities with more sick and hungry (literal and spiritual) to continue his larger Mission.

Busyness isn't a planning problem, it's a personal one. You must create a simple list of priorities or "unseized" time will flow towards our weakness and squeaky wheels. At the same time, we have to respect others' priorities and appreciate when we hear "no".

One of the most common American forms of busyness is Kindergarchy: Rule by children. "Children have more options and more opportunities, but parents have more worry and hassle. We have put unheard-of amounts of energy, time, and focus into our children. And yet, we assume their failures will almost certainly be our fault for not doing enough."

In his book, Selfish Reasons to Have Kids", economist Bryan Caplan (remember him?) cites numerous twin and adoption studies that conclude almost every desirable trait parents wish to pass down (health, happiness, intelligence, likeability) are more nature than nurture.

"One of the most resilient and cherished myths of parenting is that parenting creates the child" -Leslie Leyland Fields

However, Bryan Caplan does show 3 traits that can be impacted by parenting: religion, politics, and appreciation of how they were parented. So, perhaps we should just try and instill those and not stress about the others so we can "have a better life and a bigger family".

Technology helps us do more of what we want. So, it can (and often does) feed into our desire for busyness. Easy half-solution: put your phone out reach and/or create full on technology Sabbath day(s).

We actually work less and rest more than we did (farming was hard), but the two are significantly less separated. We work while we play (and visa versa) much more. I may have tried to post this near 5pm so you wouldn't read it at work.

"You can borrow time (from the future), but you can't steal it. There is no such thing as a free coffee boost.

A not very sexy, but correct, concluding point: "If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy." But how busy?

HT to my brother in law Stephen for the book!

Monday, February 22, 2016

"America doesn't have a gun problem, it has several of them"

I really appreciate the nuance this video takes on the facts about guns in the US. It's not about gang violence. It's not about mass shootings. It's not about suicides. It's all of them.

This is an issue that I've really changed my views on in the last year or so. Recreational and hand guns especially (which obvious don't fit the "regulated Militia" mindset of the 2nd Amendment) are a part of our culture and that is a problem.