Crazy (November) Eights

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I’m not particularly into politics.

This is probably not surprising to anyone who knows me even remotely well. I have what might be called a “harmony-seeking personality”, which means I prefer everyone to get along. And it would seem that politics, by definition, is built upon strife. Which means that, though I may be a hopeless extrovert, I will never be the life of any political party. Haha.

While growing up, I had occasional delusions of political grandeur or, more accurately, delusions of interest in politics. For instance, my junior year of high school, I ran for class treasurer. But despite my active campaigning—I even passed out fake coins with “vote for Steffi” stickers taped to the back—I still managed to lose… to a really popular guy… who decided to run the day before the elections. Go figure. Out of pity, the Stuco sponsor offered me a position as “at-large representative” as a consolation prize. And I’m pretty sure I showed up to more of the 6:30 a.m. meetings than the actual elected treasurer.

In college, I figured that I had left the usual “popular crowd” competition behind, and I decided to apply for a spot on the Freshman Representative Council. At orientation, I’d heard that FRC was the ticket into Oklahoma State’s student government and, more broadly, to influence on campus. As a self-proclaimed (*cough* prideful and slightly delusional *cough*) up-and-coming mover and shaker, I knew that FRC was the place for me… until I didn’t get in, that is. Oh well.

In retrospect, though, this was probably for the best because I soon began to realize that I really, really don’t like politics. I’d rather read about the debates and drama of the past than deal with political conflict in the present. Although spending a year in Germany taught me the value of cordial political discussions—seriously, debating politically charged topics with friends is a favorite German pastime—it will never be my preferred Saturday evening activity. And as a harmony-seeker and peace-keeper, I would prefer that we all just get along.

But politics, and especially this most recent election season, does not lend itself to such pie-in-the-sky niceties. I cannot remember a time in which emotions have run so high and an election has been so polarizing. It has been disheartening, discouraging and—for this conflict-avoidant and politically ambivalent grad student—downright frustrating. And yet while on the one hand I have been wanting all this to finally be over with, gosh darn it, on the other hand I have dreaded the end because neither outcome strikes me as particularly appealing. Especially in terms of cultivating a “can’t we all just get along?” cultural mentality.

And so, while I did exercise my civic-duty muscles and cast my vote last Friday, I didn’t feel awesome about my decision. In fact, although I had done my research, thought through, and prayed extensively about my, I still second-guessed my decision, even as I pressed the green “submit” button. I came home not feeling liberated, but burdened. What if I had made the “wrong” choice? No, my vote ultimately wouldn’t matter all that much on its own. But the beauty—and danger—of democracy is that enough inconsequential individual votes can tip the electoral scales. What if my vote helped to tip it the “wrong” way? What if? What if? What if?

These thoughts and questions pestered me the entire way home, like a repeated needle prick or a sharp rock in my shoe, welling up into anxiety-filled doubt. And that’s when I heard it, that nagging little whisper I’ve learned to pay attention to, the one that redirects me when I most need it. “Where do you seek your peace, Steffi?”, it seemed to ask. “Who do you think is in control?” and even more pointedly, “Will you choose to trust Me?

I’d heard a similar set of questions in a different context two years before. I was in my third year of graduate school, prepping almost nonstop for my PhD qualifying exams. For the months leading up to it, I was absolutely convinced of my impending failure. And as my starting date drew mercilessly nearer, my anxious thoughts became all but unbearable. Yes, I knew that God was in control; He wouldn’t abandon me, and He would carry me through. But I still couldn’t shake the nagging fear that my efforts wouldn’t be enough. No, God would not let me down or fail me, but I was still part of the equation. Which meant that I could still screw it up, and I could still find a way to fail. I had learned to trust God in a general sense, but I struggled to have faith in the face of my own real and potential frailty.

At some point in that pre-exams process, though, I made a conscious decision to trust God and to believe in His provision despite my own inadequacies. Coming to this realization was difficult—in some ways, even more difficult than the exams themselves—but it remains one of the most valuable spiritual lessons I have ever learned. We serve a God who is sovereign over and faithful in the midst of our messes, both potential and realized. His purposes succeed, and His plans play out despite our mistakes and our lack of faith. While our actions matter and do have real consequences, we cannot mess up or thwart His plan.

Two years ago, I learned this lesson in a very confined, personal, and finite situation. While the stakes felt high (and to an extent they were; if I failed I theoretically could have been kicked out of graduate school), the outcome would ultimately be quite contained, and its effects would be limited to me. In contrast, this election is a big deal with far-reaching impacts. The decisions made by our government in the next four years will undoubtedly affect our country and the world for generations to come. And yet despite the wider scope and different circumstances, I think the fundamental questions facing us remain consistent: Where are we putting our hope? From what do we seek our peace? And who do we believe to be in control?

It’s 11:20 p.m. on election night. I haven’t checked for updates all evening because I prefer right now not to know. But even in my state of self-imposed ignorance, I remain convinced of this: whatever happens, however this absolutely crazy, polarizing, and disheartening election plays out, the sun will come up tomorrow, and God will still be in control. And so with that, my fellow Americans, I am going to bed.

… after I take a couple Advil. Goodnight.

 

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Obligatory voting selfie. Don’t let the smile fool you; I was not happy.

 

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Party in the US-eh?

It’s my least favorite time of the year.

Or rather, it’s my least favorite time every four years. That’s right; it’s election time.

Yes, I realize that Election Day isn’t until next November, which is still way off in the distant (but here before we know it) future. Honestly, I don’t mind the actual Election Day. I wouldn’t call it my favorite quadrennial 24-hour period; however, it doesn’t arouse feeling of intense antipathy like the true object of my loathing: Pre-Election season. Maybe “loathe” is too strong a word (I am rather prone to hyperbole), but it does frustrate and aggravate me. Why?

My first reason is simple: conflict and I don’t get along. As you might remember from my family’s great Southwest misadventure, I don’t enjoy conflict. Whereas some people might drink it up like a Route 44 during Sonic’s “Happy Hour,” conflict is not my cup of tea.  (Fun fact: America’s first Sonic Drive-In is located in Stillwater, Oklahoma. There’s also another one less than a mile down the road. Too much of a good thing? I think not. 🙂 ). Hence, the pre-election season of inter- and intra-partisan conflict makes me want to hit the road rather than drink it in.

However, I understand that conflict can be healthy and, because everyone is wired differently, people aren’t going to agree on everything. In a free country, the ability to express our opinions without fear is one of our most precious rights. Peaceful discussion is a positive response to conflict. I’m not suggesting that politicians circle up, hold hands and lead our nation in a round of Kum-ba-yah, but I believe we can be a bit more civilized in our approach to politics. For instance, mud is nice. Mud is harmless. Mud belongs on the ground, where it can help pretty flowers grow. Mud does not need to be slung at other people; it’s all fun and games until someone loses a contact—or their reputation. When political debate degenerates into name-calling and opponent-bashing, its value depreciates, and my confidence in the candidates drops significantly. On the other hand, if candidates present well-reasoned points, seek to emphasize their own strengths, and don’t focus unnecessarily on their opponents’ weaknesses, I can take them more seriously.

Finally, I highly dislike the pre-election pandemonium because, to me, it highlights not our progress but our shortcomings. Please don’t get me wrong; I love my country. I am so blessed and thankful to live in a land of freedom, opportunity, and more blessings than I can even begin to enumerate or appreciate. However, for all our successes, we also fall incredibly, terribly, and decidedly short. Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, you can find flaws in our country’s system. Whether in foreign policy, moral issues, involvement or lack of involvement, the U.S. has disappointed you somehow and to some degree. This makes complete sense. Human beings aren’t perfect; therefore, anything we create or engage in will also be defective. It’s the nature of sin’s beast. In the face of this inevitable failure, it’s easy to become disenchanted and discouraged, resigned to the impossibility of change. I personally fall into this trap often, believing that simply because action is hard, inaction is better. But we aren’t called to give up. No! We need to get up! And do something. But what?

As a history major, I love to study the past and glean lessons from it. And fortunately for me (and by association, for you), this week at the Kanakuk Institute has been centered on exactly that. And conveniently, we have been examining the Kingdom of Israel and its leaders, a topic which relates perfectly this blog. (Gee, it’s almost like that was planned or something. Haha). So what have I learned that could apply to election season? I’m so glad you asked! Here goes…

1. Down is Up. Yes, I am directionally challenged, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean to say is this: Humility matters. If you truly want to be a leader, you must learn to serve. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). The Kingdom Era is full of people who exemplified true servant leadership, from prophet/judge Samuel doing whatever God told Him, to Jonathan passionately supporting his best friend David’s becoming king, even though he himself was the rightful heir. When selecting leaders, we should look for people with genuine humility, those who truly value others as more important than themselves. But more than that, we also should strive to be unselfish servants, whether or not we hold “leadership positions.” After all, Jesus is the King of the Universe (aka a REALLY big deal), and He chose to serve us. If that doesn’t blow your mind, then nothing will. This was His whole purpose, not to “be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). And He wants us to do the same.

2) Think Inside Out. If Abraham Lincoln were to run for president in 2012, would he be elected? Pretend that the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation never happened, so you have no history on which to base your decision. Would he win? And would you vote for him? Honestly, I think “Honest Abe” would lose. Why? Because of his looks—or lack thereof. Tall and gangly, Lincoln had an unimpressive, high-pitched voice; his eyelids drooped; his asymmetrical face sagged. In short, Lincoln was not a handsome, enchanting fellow. Based on that description, do you think he would have made it past the primary? Probably not, and one of our greatest presidents would have been lost to the ages. In a time of unbelievable technological advancement, when we can see anyone’s picture online instantly and—if we don’t like what we see, we can change it through makeup, Photoshop, or surgery—it can be so tempting to focus on appearances. Israel had the same problem; they wanted a king who would look good, be impressive, and compare to those of the surrounding nations. So God gave them Saul who fit their description and, to put it mildly, was an abject failure. In stark contrast, God chose Saul’s successor David based not on his Abercrombie-looks but on his heart. As 1 Samuel 16:7 clearly states, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” If we want leaders of solid character, then we would be wise to follow His example and look to the heart, because that’s what truly counts.

3) God’s Got It. This statement applies to countless facets of life, but here specifically, I mean that He has the whole political process in His hands. (Kind of catchy, eh? Sing with me: “He’s got the whole political process in His hands; He’s got the whole political process in His hands…” haha) I realize that this may seem a bit extreme or bold, so let me explain. God doesn’t necessarily meet voters in the booth and give them a vision, nor does He individually check every chad to ensure that none are left hanging, but His will is ALWAYS done. Because God is sovereign (fancy talk for “supreme” or “absolute”), He works through and cares about everything, including governments and elections. Nothing can happen outside His will, and His plans cannot be thwarted. As Daniel says, “[God] changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” (Daniel 2:21). So even when the result may not match up with your “plan,” remember that God is working out His, and that is infinitely (literally) more important.

As we head into the coming election season, I challenge every voter—including me—to take these lessons to heart. If we choose to elect leaders with character and humility, and if we trust God to take care of it, our country will be forever changed—for the better. And even if I still don’t like the pre-election season, this truth makes my every-four-years frustration a little more worthwhile. 🙂