Beyond Donald and Hillary: The votes that truly matter

While the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gets by far the lion’s share of political headlines, there are many other races and issues on the ballot in November.

It’s easy to forget that.

The local and state votes are as meaningful – I would argue, more so – than who becomes our next president.

What condition are our roads in? Is the local school district seeking a renewal or an increase for technology, new buildings or general expenses? What about House and Senate seats, both statewide and national?

I see some judgeships on my ballot, too. If you’re like me, you don’t know much about those candidates. Time to do a little research.

Here in Ohio, there’s a U.S. Senate seat up for election that’s almost as contentious as the presidential race. The incumbent, Republican Rob Portman, and the challenger, Democrat Ted Strickland (a former governor), are waging high-profile, often mud-slinging campaigns, and have been for months. (Actually, many of the most vicious ads are paid for by PACs and not by the candidates themselves. That’s worth noting.)

I’ll be glad when the election is over for more than one reason.

The smartest candidates, especially in their radio ads (since I’m on the road a lot, I listen to the radio several hours a day), don’t even say what party they represent. They tout their stance on an issue or two important to them, often in a positive way.

I wish TV ads were modeled after radio ads. They’d be much more productive.

Local candidates

Our local newspaper recently published its election guide. That’s a great place to begin your research of the candidates and issues in your area. Ours was done in a Q-and-A format, allowing each candidate to answer specific questions in his or her own words. I can judge for myself how well each candidate responds.

We also can see which candidates did not take the time to respond.

That actually is more of an issue in the local League of Women Voters guide, available at local libraries, social service agencies and senior centers.

I was surprised. You’d think the League of Women Voters would be as impartial as anyone. Why not accept the free publicity?

You also could visit www.vote411.org and enter your street address to get a “one-stop shop” for election related information. This works in any jurisdiction across the country.

In Lorain County, Ohio, you also can visit the Board of Elections site, http://www.loraincountyelections.com/, for lists of candidates and issues. In Saginaw County, Mich., where my family lived for 27 years, check the county clerk’s elections page, http://www.saginawcounty.com/clerk/elections.aspx.

The League asked challenging questions, such as: “What should the federal government’s top three priorities be in setting a sound energy policy?”

Or, for a state House of Representatives race, how about this one: “When the Ohio legislature takes up the state biennial budget next year, what if any changes should be made to how funding is allocated between traditional public schools, charter schools, online schools, and state funds to nonpublic schools (including vouchers)? What accountability standards should be required of such schools that receive state funds?”

Answers to those types of questions offer good insight into the minds of our candidates.

Local issues

There are several dozen issues in our voters’ guide. Obviously, many of them are specific to certain communities, so I won’t get to weigh in on a lot of them, but countywide issues and local requests in my jurisdiction are topics I need to know about.

For example, my county is seeking a small sales tax increase to be split between the transit authority and the county general fund. Worth supporting? I need to decide.

I’ve seen numerous yard signs for Issue 35, an addiction services levy. Heroin and opioid (pain-killer) addictions are severe problems around here, and, in the words of our election guide, “The county is asking for help in funding local drug addiction recovery centers as the need is outpacing the support available.”

That issue impacts more lives in this county than who our next U.S. president will be.

At least two neighboring jurisdictions are seeking levies to stabilize funding for firefighters. Worth the cost?

There are a half-dozen or so school levies on ballots across our county. One is a countywide renewal for a career technical training school. I’ll also get to vote on a local school bond issue (Issue 23), in which our district is seeking money to build new elementary and middle schools. The district plans to reduce the number of buildings and replace aging, outdated structures with state-of-the-art schools in strategic locations around the city. If we approve, the state will pay the lion’s share of the costs (those are tax dollars too – we can’t forget that), but the local share will be significant.

The school district has made its case. Am I buying it?

As voters, we need to do our homework on behalf of the schools.

Making a difference

Who will we elect as our next president? That winner will dominate the headlines on Nov. 9, no doubt. But addiction services and local schools will have a more immediate impact on our lives.

And a longer-term impact, too.

Hillary and Donald, neither of you is as important as you think you are. You’ll be around for four years, maybe eight, and that’s all (unless your spouse gets elected too). Local issues preceded you, and they will outlast you.

Get out of our way, actually. Let us live our lives. And tell the U.S. Supreme Court to lighten up, too.

We have more important issues to worry about.

Like how our children are going to be educated. And which roads will get repaired next.

Happy voting. See you at the polls.

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The causes of sin

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all CAUSES OF SIN and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

 

Matthew 13:41-43 (emphasis added)

 

That phrase caught my attention the other day when I read it in my “quiet time” with God. Not only will evildoers get tossed in the furnace of fire (permanently, by the way), but so will all causes of sin.

Even those of us who know that Jesus died for our sins, while no longer called “evildoers,” still sin. Those causes of sin affect us too. Deeply.

Jesus made this statement to explain a parable about weeds. A farmer (God) sowed good seed (children of the kingdom) in a field, but when no one was looking an evil person (the devil) sowed weeds (children of the evil one) in the same field. Over time, the grain and the weeds grew together.

The farmer’s workers (angels) asked whether they should get rid of the weeds, and the farmer said not until harvest time (the end of the age), because when the plants are young, if you rip up the weeds, you’ll ruin some of the good seed too. Let’s wait until harvest time when all of the plants are mature, the farmer said; then they can be separated safely. (Mat. 13:24-30, 36-43)

In these days on Earth, the “good seed” and the “weeds” are living side by side. Their roots intertwine; they affect each other. Sometimes, sad to say, it’s difficult to tell them apart.

When the end of the Earth comes (and it will come), not only will the “good seed” and the “weeds” be separated, but so will their roots. All “causes of sin” – temptations to do things against God and the acts themselves – will be “thrown into the furnace of fire.”

Is anybody besides me longing for that day?

After all, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun.”

There is a spiritual battle going on inside each one of us. We can’t see it or touch it, so we often don’t understand how real that battle is. Do we let the causes of sin take center stage in our lives?

Those causes can run deep, to the point we don’t see an escape. Ever been there?

Christians are supposed to have success stories here, of how God showed us how to overcome our deepest sins, fears, worries, doubts and mistakes. That’s what Jesus’ death and resurrection are all about.

It’s not always that simple or clear-cut, though. Roots entangle. Sometimes it’s hard to cut them off or get rid of them. I cut one root, and many others remain. It’s a lifelong process.

There’s one root (at least) in my life that runs deeper than I know. It’s hard to talk about it. Nearly impossible, actually. I’ve mentioned it once or twice before on this page. And it hurts more than I can express.
I learned loneliness as a young boy, and I’ve hung on to that cause of sin into adulthood, well beyond the stage where I should have let it go. I have released it at times, but it’s never far away. Eventually, it returns.

It won’t leave. It’s very much a part of who I am. And it hurts my relationships with other people, including – especially – those closest to me.

Because lonely people by definition don’t talk about their feelings, it’s not like I can talk it out and live happily ever after. It’s much more complicated than that.

As a Christian, I’m supposed to have a success story about how God has overcome all of my obstacles. But this one root is stubborn. And in the cacophony that is life in the United States in 2016, it’s hard to see the answer. Or feel it. Or live it.

I’m an excellent actor. I know how to play the game of life, say and do all the right things.

But the living God knows my heart. I can’t fool Him. The farmer who created the good seed knows the poison that weeds can be. That is my hope, my only hope. God knows. He gets it. Even if I don’t.

In the same chapter as the story about the good seed and the weeds, Matthew 13, Jesus told a similar parable, this one about four types of soils. (His listeners back then understood about farming and the land.)

In this story, there also is a farmer (God) who sows seeds (the word of God). The seed lands in four different places:

 

  1. On a path, where birds (the evil one) snatch it away immediately.
  2. On rocky ground, which does not allow roots to grow, so as soon as trouble arises, the good plant dies.
  3. Among thorns, where “the cares of this world” choke it and kill it.
  4. On good soil, where the word of God penetrates deeply and produces a big crop.

(Matthew 13:1-23)

 

Perhaps I’m living among the thorns, then, where I have a hard time seeing beyond the present to the big picture of eternity. Actually, my problem is the opposite. I see the big picture, but I don’t know how to handle the present.

As I said, I’m ready for the day when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” I’m ready right now.

At least, I think I am. If this Earth is supposed to prepare me for heaven, I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job with that. Our church talks a lot about relationships, and I’m not successful there. I’d rather be alone.

It’s who I am. Is it who I am supposed to be?

On the issues: the last word

To sum up this week’s discussion on the major presidential candidates, I offer the following thought:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48