Today is Independence Day in the United States. Many of my fellow citizens and I are enjoying a day off work thanks to the national holiday. Later this evening my family will be attending a cookout at our friends' house, eating too much while laughing at the stories shared, and creating memories with our children as we ignite smoke balls and firecrackers.
For a day I will pretend the land I call home is healthy. For a single day I will rest from the growing division between ideologies, the mocking of those with differing views, and the hatred of those with a different shade of skin, whether or not this land is their land. I need a day to pretend everything isn't flat-out crazy. I need Independence.
I grew up in South Dakota. Home of Mt. Rushmore and one heckuvalot of farm land. It's a red state, as Republican as it gets. My parents are conservative and instilled those values in me — many of which I still hold very dear. I became a politically active Republican early on, around middle school. The state GOP headquarters was a couple blocks from my house, and my neighbor at the time ran it.
I would spend a number of hours helping out at that office. Mostly I would stuff and stamp mailers. I don't remember if I actually desired to do it in the early years of it, or if it was something my folks had me do to keep me from all-out boredom. Whether or not the intent was to "build character", it did. I enjoyed it, mainly because of the other people around the table.
It was certainly awkward at first being a young person in a room of elderly. They looked at me fondly and spoke of their grandchildren. Truthfully, I adored the attention. I'm a people person. Always have been. And I grew to adore these people.
One thing I have always enjoyed about hanging out with my elders are the stories they tell. They've had the years to accumulate them, for sure. Stories are the fabric of our society. The sharing of them weaves us together and bonds us. I cherish the time spent listening to those stories.
As I became older and my mother's employment became tied to the political success of others, I moved from mailings to the campaign trail. Painting and placing massive signs at the edge of wheat fields. Attending county fairs and even the GOP state convention. I was good at convincing delegates to vote. Like I said, I'm a people person.
I held onto my Republican beliefs throughout high school and into college, being a part of groups such as Teen-Age Republicans and College Republicans.
After college, a move to a new state and the birth of a baby set my interests in politics aside. It took me quite a while to understand the political climate in Nebraska. It is surprisingly different from South Dakota, given their relative proximity.
In lieu of political involvement I settled into maturing my faith as a Christ follower. I attended the school of hard knocks in order to do this, as a number of challenging life hurdles needed to be overcome. I knew it was impossible for me to do alone. I know to many it sounds cliché, but I needed to let go and let God work.
As my faith matured I found one of my true passions is serving others. Sometimes that looks as simple as staying late after an event to help pick up. Often it is taking a meal to someone who needs it. Other times it is inviting someone from another country who you don't know stay in your home as if they were family. Because in the grand scheme of things, they are family.
That last one was difficult for me to surrender to. Bringing a complete stranger into my home to stay there goes against the grain for me. It doesn't for my wife.
My in-laws are the most hospitable people I've ever met. They instilled that hospitality into their daughter, and she made it clear to me when we bought our house that it was important to her. So when the opportunity came knocking, our door opened. And I'm glad it did. Being hospitable is rewarding for the soul.
So this is where we circle back to Independence. I've been a lifelong Republican. But the Grand Old Party has become a delusion of grandeur. The past year I have looked with shame upon the party as I saw people I (still) love and care about become more and more aggressive toward those with differing views. The name calling on social media. The outright racism. The exact opposite of hospitality.
And most of it done by Republicans who also claim to love Jesus. And even sadder, much of it done with the oath of "for His glory" and "in His name".
This kind of behavior is not what I see Jesus doing in the Bible. Jesus didn't shame the adulterous woman and condemn her to death by stoning. He challenged her accusers to examine their own sin, then forgave her and told her to go, and sin no more.
The Jesus I know cared about the sick, the poor, the homeless. You know, the undesirable people of our society. He told parables of the generosity of the foreigner. He commanded that we reach out to those less fortunate, and to seek out those who are different from us.
And yet the rhetoric used by those leading the Republican Party today is the exact opposite, yet said in His name.
It burdens my heart.
October 16, 2016. I'm sitting in my adult Sunday School class at church. We're discussing a book titled Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. How true.
There are comments made in the class that fit the title well. Not said in anger. On the contrary, calmly resolute. Yet politically charged in the tumultuous climate as the election nears.
I can tell some feel justified in their views, while others feel ostracized.
And I've had enough. Enough of the hyperbole. Enough of the hypocrisy. Enough of the Grand Old Party and the assumption that its membership is synonymous with righteousness.
I discreetly turn on my iPad, and pull up the Nebraska voter registration site. I fill out the form. I've been thinking about this for months but fearful to change something that I had identified with for so much of my life.