Define the terms, and then …

Define the terms.

I met the father of our church’s new worship leader last weekend, visiting from out of town. As we chatted for a few minutes, I mentioned that I write a blog. “What about?” he asked. “Issues of the day, and my faith, mostly,” I said.

“Define the terms,” he said.

I knew exactly what he meant.

It’s why I don’t often engage in your conversations, preferring to carefully avoid most of those terms.

Love.

Hate.

Inclusion.

Discrimination.

Racism.

Believe.

Faith.

Freedom.

Addiction.

The economy.

Right vs. wrong.

Rights.

This list is hardly exhaustive.

Every one of these words means different things to different people. That’s why Facebook memes are so inflammatory. You post something to make a point, and someone else interprets it entirely differently.

Even worse, most of you have no intention of discussing the issue, but only in preaching to your choir.

A poll

Case in point:

“Do you think Trump is a racist? Simple yes or no.”

Depends who you ask.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

No. No. No. No.

Never the twain shall meet in this online poll currently making the rounds. Neither side has any intention of discussing the issue.

“Intelligent discussion” is an oxymoron.

Love, hate

What is “love?”

That word has a myriad of definitions and meanings. Each of us defines it slightly differently, from our own perspective.

Indeed, we define all these hot-button words from our own perspective.

“Hate.” Is there really as much hate out there as we say there is?

What is hate, anyway?

Some of you define “hate” as any stance different than yours. I’m not exaggerating.

How do you expect to get along with anyone while throwing that word around? You’ve marginalized yourself.

The economy

Is “the economy” doing great? Depends who you ask.

If the stock market is your indicator, then yes. If finding a good job that pays the bills is your indicator, then no. There are lots of jobs out there, but many of them are outsourced or lower-paying service jobs, with fewer well-paying manufacturing and management careers than there used to be. We don’t like to talk about that.

Inclusion, discrimination

“Inclusion.” Oooh, there’s a good word. Of course all should be welcome just about anywhere. But that’s not what inclusion means in today’s America. A certain sector of society has taken over that word, and politicized it.

Even inclusive people exclude those who don’t think like they do.

Let that sink in (I don’t like this phrase, but it fits here).

“Discrimination” is another often misunderstood word. I’m a member of AARP, and I get emails and Facebook posts almost daily talking about “age discrimination.”

When I say discrimination, that’s not what most of you think about, is it? But it’s very real. I switched jobs several times in my 50s, and I’m sure I experienced age discrimination to some degree while job searching.

Most of you put “discrimination” and “racism” in the same sentence. And you should. Because racism is very real as well.

But again, what is it? To those of you who have experienced racism: Do you have any interest at all in ending it? I’m serious. Because I’m a white male, I’m often guilty by association.

Many white males are racist. I am not defending them. But if you look down on me only because of the color of my skin, you’re racist too. By definition. I can change my attitude, but I cannot change the color of my skin.

Can we have an intelligent discussion about that?

Probably not, because there’s another issue at work here besides defining the terms.

Getting personal

I’ll explain this by quoting an article in the Aug. 20 edition of the (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram. The Avon Lake City Council was prepared to enact a law increasing the penalties for drivers passing a stopped school bus – until a resident, who’s also an attorney, objected, calling the local law unconstitutional. He claimed it was an attempt to supersede state law.

Well, OK. The attorney has a right to say that.

A city councilman didn’t think so. He said the local law had been reviewed by Avon Lake’s law director, then added, “I’m sure everyone is very familiar with his reputation,” referring to the attorney.

The attorney responded, “That’s a personal attack on me. I want him sanctioned. Discipline him, chair – or don’t you have the guts?”

Then this: (The attorney) spoke out several times at Monday’s meeting, talking over council members to the point police officers were called to keep the meeting civil. Following the meeting he was escorted out of Council chambers by police.

That’s the problem with civil discourse today. We can’t discuss issues without getting personal. Neither side can.

We must stick to the issues, and agree to disagree at times. There are ways to oppose a law without name-calling.

Rights

Perhaps we need to tone down the social rhetoric in public, and focus on issues of real government (federal, state and local):

  • Paying for and improving public schools.
  • Maintaining roads and bridges.
  • Balancing the budget.
  • Ensuring trash pickup.
  • Improving water quality, both in our homes and in our lakes and rivers.

These issues get lost behind abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, gun rights and other rights.

Right?

Who decides what rights are right?

Are certain issues topics of right vs. wrong? Which ones?

We answer that question differently, so we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on much these days.

Here’s a thought. Let parents teach their children whatever social values they choose. In school, all children matter – because all children belong there. Teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.

Can we start with that?

Can we set up an educational system where every child has a chance to succeed, no matter who he or she is or what their background is?

It can be done, if all of us start with that question.

Believe

“Believe.”

Believe what? Everyone believes something. Everyone believes lots of things. We believe the sun will come up tomorrow, for example.

What do you believe in? Why?

Let’s talk. Not argue or curse, but actually talk.

Which requires two listening ears. By both of us.

The nation’s answer

Change comes from the inside out

Where are You, Lord?

It’s hard to see You sometimes. We just had a weekend with two – count ’em, two – mass shootings. As usual, emotions flared on both sides. Control guns. Improve mental health.

Where are You, Lord?

When we focus on our own issues and point words at each other, we miss You. We scream and yell. We blame. We get angry.

We despair, because we’ve seen it before.

Yet mass shootings are like plane crashes, aren’t they, Lord? They are few and far between, but they are dramatic and deadly, so they get the headlines.

Vehicle crashes happen far more often. People commit suicide far more often. People even kill each other, one-on-one, far more often.

Those situations may get a mention in the media, or they may not. They often are not front-page news.

Yet vehicle crashes and suicide affect far more people than mass shootings do.

I personally knew two people who committed suicide, one a few years ago and one about three decades ago. What if I had said something … if I only knew … perhaps …

Are You there, Lord?

You are.

People have reasons for doing things, good and evil.

Taking away the gun may prevent the mass shooting, but would it save the man’s soul? Would it change the trajectory of his life?

Are You there, Lord?

Is there a bigger picture here?

Can we change what we have become?

We can’t legislate that, can we, Lord? That’s what we want to do. Gun control. Improve access to mental health treatment. Let someone else fix it. Create a program that people can avail themselves of to improve their lives.

That will solve the problem, right?

Many mass shooters are loners, quiet people with few friends who stay in the background of life, exploding at the worst possible moment. I saw a report that 26 of the last 27 mass shooters were fatherless.

Is that the trigger, Lord?

We’re all about personal rights now, individuality, non-conformity, breaking the rules, love (my way) … we don’t hold each other accountable anymore.

Not even in our families.

Our broken families.

Or our churches, many of which are no different than society at large.

Where are You, Lord?

If following You doesn’t change us, what’s the point?

If I can believe whatever I want, then why believe anything?

Is there no right and wrong, Lord?

If mass murder is wrong, then what else is wrong?

Who decides?

That’s why we can’t agree on anything, Lord. We have no foundation in our lives anymore. No good vs. evil. That’s all fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Cinderella and the Evil Stepsisters. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Fairy tales.

No respect for authority. No respect for people of a color or ethnicity different than us. No respect for people not born here.

We’re all just visitors on Planet Earth, aren’t we, Lord? We’re not as different as we think we are.

We say hi to our neighbors but we don’t take time to know them.  Some of us move around more than others, so we have to work harder to meet people.

We’d rather do our own thing.

And then we wonder why we can’t get along with each other.

Even if we follow You, Lord, that doesn’t guarantee that we will get it right.

Reading the book of Acts, the early church had just as many issues as the church in America does today. They had to call their leaders together to hash out some very divisive issues.

But they did it, Lord.

And the church grew because they followed You and Your Scriptures. They rejected the belief that “they have to do it our way.”

Why can’t we get this right, Lord?

In Your last prayer on Earth, You prayed for unity among the believers. You knew how crucial that was, and still is.

We blew it, Lord. Again.

Both sides think they have the right answer, but neither does.

Only You do.

Unconditional love is a phrase we don’t hear very often. Not love (my way). Unconditional love.

What You want.

What the other person wants.

Not my will be done …

Who prays that anymore? Truly prays that?

I’ve been involved with a Tuesday morning prayer group for a year now. (See photo above, taken by Jason Russ. Used by permission.) Not that I’m a “prayer warrior” or anything. But we cry out to You.

Imperfectly, because we are imperfect human beings. But we pray.

We ask forgiveness.

We have our wants and needs, and we pray for those, too.

We pray for healing. Our own healing. Our city’s healing. Our nation’s healing.

Again, we pray imperfectly.

But we pray.

Prayer changes not only our city and nation; it also changes us.

One person at a time.

Where are You, Lord?

That’s where You are.

You are just waiting for us, that’s all.

Waiting for us to pray to You.

To seek Your will.

Not my will, but Thy will be done.

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, how we need You now, Lord.

We are lost as a nation. We can’t save ourselves.

We don’t need You as a policymaker, Lord.

We need Your unconditional love.

We know You love each of us that way.

Help us to love each other that way too, to follow Your example.

Nothing else works. We’ve tried.

Oh, how we’ve tried.

I can’t go to Dayton or El Paso and make everything right.

But I can do something right here, right now, right where I live.

Show me, Lord.

Lead me.

What my neighbor does is up to him (or her).

This isn’t rocket science, Lord, but it is radical.

Unconditional love.

Only You, Lord, know what that truly looks like.

Show us, Lord.

Because that’s the only answer than will work in the long run.

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.