Sunday, October 30, 2016

Effectively Shutting Me Up

About a week ago, I was at a church meeting and a speaker made a political joke. I started to feel myself tensing up . . . but everyone just chuckled good-heartedly. Then he made a comment about the fact that among his friends at the church, he is the resident Democrat and kind of gets playfully teased about that. (Honestly, that surprised me a bit -- I'd gotten the impression that Republicans were the minority at my church, but maybe I was mistaken.)

I thought about that for quite a while. I was trying to remember the last time I heard politics discussed light-heartedly. The last time I was in a group of people who I knew disagreed with me politically and felt comfortable making my views known. The last time I didn't feel that people who disagreed with me politically were judging my character because of my political beliefs.

It's been a long time.

It was at least before the Obama administration . . . before San Antonio and Iowa, in our family's
story. It was probably sometime in New Jersey, because I went to church with many liberal friends there, and while I don't remember many political discussions with them, I also don't remember being afraid to say what I thought or any of us judging the other for what we thought.

When did this animosity start? And why?

Well, looking at my personal experience, I suspect a big part of it is that, by chance, I haven't had a lot of liberal friends that I see face-to-face since I left New Jersey. They're all on Facebook. So any political discussion that involves disagreement is happening in online statuses and comments.

More than that, I think I can pinpoint the chronological beginning of this tension, at least my personal experience of it: Obamacare.

I remember so well the hurtful reactions I got from FB friends when I questioned the wisdom of Obamacare online. They didn't question my opinions; they questioned my character. Not all of them, but many of them. I was told that I obviously hated poor people, that I was a spoiled rich girl . . . and those were some of the milder remarks. It hurt -- seriously. Don't these people know me better than that? Is this really what they think of me? Behind all of their smiles and surface-level compliments? They REALLY believe I disagree with this because I'm hateful . . . because I'm selfish . . . because I'm stupid . . . because I'm racist . . . really???

These same friends (these are the really passionate ones) over time are increasingly posting a lot of negative things about conservatives in general: things that, again, slam the character of anyone who could possibly disagree with them . . . which includes me. They are also the first to jump on anything remotely political that I personally post and argue against me, and they get personal.

Again -- not all of them, but many of them. And I have ugly conservative friends who do the same thing to their political opponents, for the record.

Most of my friends (liberal AND conservative) simply don't bring such topics up anymore. I suspect they probably feel like me: they're afraid to have their character brought into question publicly for what they say. It's like a don't-ask-don't-tell environment. My daughter told me the other day that she just doesn't want to know ANYONE's political leanings -- it affects what she thinks of them and what they think of her. The result of all this is that the reasonable people stay silent, and the only political discussion that happens is the ugly, hateful, divisive stuff.

That's so sad. How did we get this way?

I blame Facebook. If we're going to have passionate discussions about important issues that we have strong disagreement about, those should probably happen face-to-face. Where you can hear the tone of their voice and react to the pain in their eyes. Where you are kind of forced to take the time to at least make small talk about other things, things that you have in common, things that show some interest in and concern about the other person.

This election has been emotional for me. I take my vote seriously, and I'm quite distressed at my choice here and what it's going to mean for my children's future. I really would have liked to have talked about this decision in this blog; in the past, I've used this as a place to hash things out and get feedback from a variety of respondents.

But I've been afraid to. The very fact that I didn't see the choice as obvious would be seen as a sign of my stupidity and ungodliness (yes, really) to many friends on BOTH sides of the aisle. I don't have it in me right now to defend myself against that. So, I just shut up.

The ugliness in our country right now has led me to pray mightily for my children -- among other things, I pray that they will not only know right from wrong, but will have the courage to stand up for right when the national mood is against them. It occurs to me that I'm not modeling that courage right now.

So, for those of you who don't know, I'm a conservative. And here's a link to an old post I wrote explaining why. And for the record, I don't know what I'm going to do when I get in the voting booth this week.

I have only a few days to decide. And maybe I'll find the courage to blog about it. I just hope the people who claim to be my friends will believe in me enough not to question my integrity based on my vote. Getting kind of tired of that . . . getting ready to hit the unfriend button.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What I Won't Take For Granted

Thankfulness is a spiritual discipline, and it's one I have a hard time cultivating in times like these when my sleep issues are at their worst. What's more, I've found that the term "thankful" has become too trite to be useful for me. Particularly in Christian circles, it seems (and for everyone once the month of November hits), we talk so much about being thankful that it almost becomes nothing more that a rote recitation.

I am reminding myself lately that there are things in my life that I must not take for granted -- things I have right now that I have not always had and will not always have, and I MUST make a point of appreciating their presence while I have them. Here are a few:

Hot Showers: Hubby and I are still entertaining the idea of living out of the country during retirement. And we learned during our week in Panama a few years ago that very few homes there have hot water for showers. Let me tell you, people: cold showers are such a miserable experience for me that I might rather just let myself stink. The vast majority of the time I take a shower anymore, I let myself feel the wonderful hot water on my body and take a minute to stand there and just flat out enjoy the feeling. A time may come when I will long for this, so I don't want to take it for granted now.

Breathing: When I get a cold, nine times out of ten, it settles in my chest, and I end up coughing for weeks -- many miserable, exhausting weeks. I avoid sick people like the plague because a cold just isn't a minor deal for me. I have caught myself many times, while lying in bed in the morning getting ready to get up, taking big, deep breaths and just loving the feeling of air flowing through my lungs smoothly. I know that at any time, I could be exposed to germs that will temporarily disrupt that. I make a point now to appreciate the times when I can breathe.

Being Able to See Enough to Read: My mother had macular degeneration. My eye doctor reminded me the other day that I should probably take some eye health supplements to head off the possibility of having similar problems. Macular degeneration manifests itself in blurry vision right at the center of where you focus, which means it makes it difficult and eventually impossible to read. I am a serious reader. Reading is integral to my life right now: I read books, magazines, student papers, scripts, online articles, emails, my own plethora of to-do lists . . . not being able to read would alter my life profoundly. I like my life. I want to be able to read. And since there's a chance I won't be able to someday, I treasure every day that I can now.

Being Able to Think Straight; My father had Alzeimer's disease. Since there seems to be a genetic component to that, I have always known that there was a possibility of my developing the disease as well. The older I get and the more my father's siblings become similarly debilitated, the more I think about that possible future for me. Someday, I may not be able to remember things or understand what people say to me or keep my own thoughts straight. I want to appreciate the ability to think while I have it.

My Daughters' Presence: This is a biggie. I have a twenty-year-old and a sixteen-year-old. The oldest could very well have chosen to go away to college but didn't. The youngest may very well make that choice in a couple years. I have never enjoyed my daughters more than I enjoy them right now: they are intelligent, caring, thoughtful, FUN young ladies, and wonder of wonders, they seem to enjoy spending time with hubby and me. I know I am blessed. I know someday they will have families and careers, and Mom and Dad will move down the priority list . . . which will be as it should be. So I welcome every moment I can have with them now and treasure up these times in my heart.

Someday, these blessings may be gone. And because I serve a loving and gracious God, I know when that time comes, there will be other blessings to appreciate. But I refuse to get to that day and realize I didn't appreciate what I had while I had it. No matter how crazy my days get . . . no matter how grouchy I am from sleep deprivation . . . no matter how discouraged I am about the direction of our nation . . . I must never, ever take God's gifts for granted.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Needing Deep Water

In looking for a passage to use in class next week as an example of good writing, I pulled out my Susan Wise Bauer book The Well-Educated Mind and flipped around a bit. And I found this beauty. She's been discussing the various channels where you might gather information about, say, a recent bombing on the West Bank. Then she says:

"But in order to be enlightened about the suicide bomber on the West Bank, you must read seriously: history, theology, politics, propaganda, editorials. The ideas that impel suicide bombers cannot be gleaned from websites or interactive media. The causes of such desperate actions cannot be made clear to you through a picture and a moving headline while you eat your toast. These things must be expressed with precise and evocative words, assembled into complex, difficult sentences. To be enlightened – to be wise – you must wrestle with these sentences. Technology can do a great deal to make information gathering easier, but it can do little to simplify the gathering of wisdom. Information washed over us like a sea, and recedes without leaving its traces behind. Wrestling with truth, as the story of Jacob warns us, is a time-consuming process that marks us forever." 

Oh, so true. Wisdom takes time . . . requires wrestling . . . needs depth to swim in. I'm all too aware of how shallow my life gets too often.

This shallowness has been a theme popping up a lot lately. Amy, the BSF teaching leader, noted last week that, when you forget your identity, life becomes all about completing tasks rather than fulfilling your purpose.


My life lately has been about completing tasks. I've always been a big fan of to-do lists, but they have been my lifeline for a few weeks now. The more busy I am, the more dependent I am on those lists. For a while there, I had a handful of them lying around, cross-referenced with each other. It was the only way I could possibly relax -- otherwise, I was afraid I would forget something important and I'd be thinking about it constantly.

Completing tasks. Gathering information. Shallowness.

I've been feeling a lack in my life. And I'm realizing now that it may be a lack of depth. Busy-ness forces me to skim the surface of so many things just to get by. I heat up a frozen lasagna for the family dinner because taking the time and effort to actually pull out genuine ingredients and assemble them into a home-cooked dish seems like a waste of energy. I quickly throw together a checklist for my daughter's school week because actually sitting down and discussing what she's learning with her feels like a luxury I can't afford right now. I slap a quick grade on my students' papers because figuring out the whys and hows of the errors they are making takes too much time at the moment.

But the quick fixes are shallow. I miss the purpose. I forget my identity. I lose the chance for wisdom.

I need depth. My legs are cramping for room to stretch, stretch, stretch, and still not touch the bottom of the pool. I want to stop dog-paddling in desperation and swim with big, wide strokes, feeling the bigness of the water around me and realize I'm still being held up.

I keep thinking now that the play is done . . . now while I have a week off of school . . . once I get caught up on my sleep . . . I can get the multitude of little things done and then have margin again to dive deep. But maybe that's not going to happen. Maybe I need to force myself into the deep waters anyway, despite the complicated, cross-referenced to-do list lying on the kitchen table. Because maybe the workout my limbs get in the deep waters is what strengthens them to get through the shallow waters, too.