5 Things I Remembered While Waiting to Vote Today

Voters waiting to vote in polling place

Some days serve as reminders, allowing you to remember what you used to know but may have forgotten.

Today was such a day.

Early voting has opened here in North Carolina, and after two previously aborted attempts due to surprisingly long lines, I hunkered down and settled in to wait my turn and speak my voice along with the hundred or so folks already assembled ahead of me. During the 90 or so minutes I stood alongside the full, glorious spectrum of humanity stretched out over our library sidewalk, I was reminded of a few things:

1) People are more than hashtags. There we were gathered in the rising sun of a crisp Raleigh morning; all the #NeverTrumpers, the #NastyWomen, the #LoveWinsers, the #BlackLivesMatterers, the #MakeAmericaGreaters, the #ImWithHers—but we were and are all far more than that. We are moms and granddads and sons and sisters and best friends and good neighbors and stories and roads and journeys that no word or phrase can contain or do justice to. These shorthand summaries that we’ve gotten so used to using for ourselves and others may help in reflecting a bit of who we are and a fraction of what matters to us. They may give us a handy snapshot of people from a distance—but they don’t do any of us justice. There is no quick caricature, no lazy stereotype, no easy label that fits us or the people we cross paths with. Our beautiful and specific complexity is worth remembering.

2) All Americans love America. It might be the America they believe used to be, or the one they imagine is, or the one they wish to be, or the stuff they believe America is made out of. It may be an America that exists only in their heads or their history books, but I was reminded today that we all live and speak and work and vote to affirm this same ideal of Freedom. No one who calls this country home has contempt for it, none of us wish for its weakness or failure or demise. We may all find parts of it or realities about it upsetting or worrisome or even infuriating, but at the heart of every one of us is a love for this place. We all do share the same dream, even if we can’t agree on the way toward making it real. To accuse people who disagree with us of anything less is a slippery slope and a terrible mistake.

3) Face to face will always trump screen to screen. Soon after we found our place in line, a woman campaigning asked the crowd if we needed guides for the Conservative judges on the ballot. The answers quickly popped back, “No.”,”Nope.”, “No thanks.” Whether these replies meant that the speakers required no such help because they were fully set in either side didn’t matter. The responses were delivered simply, politely, and with a smile; no sarcasm, no passive aggression, no trolling. I can only imagine if a similar request were Tweeted or posted on Facebook—the instantaneous sh*tstorm it would surely generate. We are better people in person, we simply are; kinder, more patient, more decent than we are online. For people, including myself who experience others more and more through laptop and phone screens, it would serve us all well to go and be with human beings from time to time. We’d probably be far more human to one another.

4) We live for our kids. As we waited this morning, a kindergarten class walked by, tethered together in a paper chain gang, all decked out in Halloween costumes and looking every bit as unbearably precious as kindergarteners do. We all smiled and marveled at the sugary sweetness parading in front of us. I thought about these kids and about my own; about how much I want a world for them that is secure and just and safe. Then I remembered that I’m not alone in this. I remembered that the elderly couple in front of me and the new mom behind me and the young people next to her all have children they love too, and the things we all want for them are probably very similar.

5) Goodness is our default setting. By the time we all reached our turn in the voting booth an hour and a half later, it was fairly clear the candidate we were each supporting, and honestly it didn’t matter. We’d all just spent some time shoulder to shoulder and face to face; sharing space, joking about the length of the line, talking about the weather and our families, and in general just being decent to one another for a little bit. This is a lost and under appreciated art. I was reminded again of something I have always believed: that regardless of their politics or religion or the money they make or the color of their skin or the work they do, most people are basically good. Almost all folks, if you allow yourself to sit across from them or stand in line with them or really listen to them, have a great deal that is redemptive and beautiful.

I think most people walked away this morning as I did; grateful to live in a country where I do have a voice, fully aware of the importance of these days, and cognizant of the fact that in ways that are far greater than we usually remember, we are in this together.

These reminders don’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t loudly, boldly, and continually advocate for the people and causes that we are burdened to. They don’t make the differences between us and others any less real or profound, but they should be things we try to hold on to so that we don’t forget the humanity inherent in those around us—especially those we don’t agree with.

If we can be reminded of these things on days when aren’t gathered together for 90 minutes sharing a crisp Fall morning, maybe we’ll all be a little less horrible to one another the rest of the time. That kind of aspiration should be one that wins by a landslide.

The Gentlemanifesto


A certain Presidential candidate and this candidate’s sons and supporters have spent the past few weeks telling the world what we men are; the way we think about women, the way we talk about them when we’re all together hanging out in the locker room, the stuff we’ve done around and to women—what constitutes a real, normal, red-blooded, ordinary man.

We’ve been told that all men treat women as objects, that we all boast of our sexual exploits with relative strangers, that we’ve all been inappropriately aggressive in pursuing affection, that we all have referred to women by their genitalia in social settings.

The apologists tell us that our outrage is all much ado about nothing, that this is what men are, that we should simply accept it and move on.

We take exception.

We are men—and we aren’t this.

We are brothers, husbands, friends, fathers, co-workers, and neighbors living life alongside women we respect as equal to ourselves.

We partner fully with them in raising children, in caring for homes, in doing work, in doing ministry, in creating and building and learning and growing.  

We don’t gather with other men and boast of the things we’ve done or would do to a woman, as if this gives us some elevated social status, as if these things have any inherent value, as if they are a badge of honor.

We don’t need the cheap validation of other men to feel more like men. 

We don’t use the locker room to devolve into some vile, ignorant caricature that supposedly represents who we really are. We change our clothes and get on with our days.

We understand what consent is and we know that we don’t define it for a woman; that her body is not our jurisdiction or our property or our play thing.

We aren’t predators believing we can have anything simply because we desire it.

We aren’t opportunists looking to leverage power or position or situation to take advantage of a woman for our pleasure or vanity.

We aren’t crass, vulgar, braggarts trying to measure our virility or strength by the explicit nature of the words we say in the company of other guys.

We aren’t barely evolved cavemen still dragging our knuckles on the ground and pulling women around the by the hair. We call those men criminals.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t find women alluring and beautiful and attractive and desirable, it just means we understand that those things aren’t license to disregard another person’s humanity.

It means that we strive not to express these things in a way that incites fear or takes away security or discards dignity or does damage or breaches autonomy.

It means that we seek to be decent, honorable, gentle men with the women we share the planet with— whether we’re married to them or live with them or work with them or study with them.

It means we don’t see kindness and compassion and character as liabilities to our manhood but as confirmation of it.  

So this candidate and all his defenders (even those who may be women) can say whatever they like and we will kindly but firmly call B.S.

They can lower the bar all the way to the filthy floor and they can consent to all manner of ugliness in the name of manhood—and we will resist it.  

We will not be categorized by the worst and lowest of us. We will demand better and higher for ourselves and for other men.

We will teach our boys what manhood really looks like, and how it responds on street corners and at house parties and in locker rooms and behind closed doors.

We will not be satisfied with a definition of men that allows for violence or misogyny.

We’ve come a long way since the cave—and we don’t ever intend on going back.





The Kind of Christian I Refuse to Be


I am a Christian.

Actually, it’s more accurate lately to say that I am still a Christian.

I now say this with much trepidation. I say it with great fatigue. I say it somewhat begrudgingly. I say it with more than a good deal of embarrassment—not of Jesus, but of so many of his people and so much of the Church who claim to speak for him.

Looking around at too much of what represents my faith tradition, particularly in this election season, it’s become a daily battle to make this once effortless declaration, knowing that it now automatically aligns me with those who share so little in common with the Jesus I met when I first claimed the name Christian.

It now aligns me with bathroom bullies and politicized pulpits and white privilege and overt racism, and with bigotry toward so many groups of people who represent the “world” I grew up believing that God so loved.

There are things that used to be a given as a follower of Jesus, that no longer are.

For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbor as yourself.

It no longer requires Jesus.

And so the choices are to abandon the idea of claiming Christ altogether to avoid being deemed hateful by association in the eyes of so much of the watching world—or to reclaim the name Christian so that it once again replicates the love of Jesus in the world.

I am trying to do the latter.

Yes, I am a Christian, but there is a Christian I refuse to be.

I refuse to be a Christian who lives in fear of people who look or speak or worship differently than I do.

I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses America more than God so loves the world.

I refuse to be a Christian who uses the Bible to perpetuate individual or systemic bigotry, racism, or sexism.

I refuse to be a Christian who treasures allegiance to a flag or a country or a political party, above emulating Jesus.

I refuse to be a Christian who is reluctant to call-out the words of hateful preachers, venomous politicians, and mean-spirited pew sitters, in the name of keeping Christian unity.

I refuse to be a Christian who tolerates a global Church where all people are not openly welcomed, fully celebrated, and equally cared for.

I refuse to be a Christian who speaks always with holy war rhetoric about an encroaching enemy horde that must be rallied against and defeated.

I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with Grace.

I refuse to be a Christian who can’t see the image of God in people of every color, every religious tradition, every sexual orientation.

I refuse to be a Christian who demands that others believe what I believe or live as I live or profess what I profess.

I refuse to be a Christian who sees the world in a hopeless spiral downward and can only condemn it or withdraw from it.

I refuse to be a Christian devoid of the character of Jesus; his humility, his compassion, his smallness, his gentleness with people’s wounds, his attention to the poor and the forgotten and the marginalized, his intolerance for religious hypocrisy, his clear expression of the love of God.

I refuse to be a Christian unless it means I live as a person of hospitality, of healing, of redemption, of justice, of expectation-defying Grace, of counterintuitive love. These are non-negotiables.

Yes, it is much more difficult to say it these days than it has ever been, but I still do say it.

I am still a Christian—but I refuse to be one without Jesus.








The Brain Surgeon and the Carnival Barker


You find out your child has a brain tumor and needs life-saving surgery. You have a decision to make.

You could go with a well-known brain surgeon. She is educated, experienced, highly skilled, and she understands the procedure inside and out. She’s been at it a long time, at a very high level. But you claim she rubs you the wrong way, that she isn’t “likable”, that something about her bedside manner is off-putting to you. Her chilly demeanor somehow makes her experience a liability. Because she is a “career physician” and too much a part of the hospital system for you—you reject her. You’ve decided you’ve had it with doctors performing surgery.

You notice the carnival barker standing in the street outside the big top; the wild-haired man with the sweaty hands and greasy knives, who he says he can do that surgery, that he can do it better than any doctor can. He’ll save your boy—just because. He says it so matter-of-factly, loudly repeating himself as if amen-ing his every blustery word, and you begin to believe him. Never mind that he has no experience, no training, and not even a basic understanding of human anatomy. He’s bombastic and self-assured and he doesn’t bore you with all sorts of complicated medical terms, so you willingly put your child’s sickly body in his care. You let the carnival barker open him up. 

Of course you don’t. 

That would be reckless and wasteful and negligent.

You choose the surgeon; the person with the experience, the intelligence, the temperament, and the steady hands, because this is the life of your child we’re talking about, not some inconsequential, useless thing to toy with. It isn’t a moment to be petty or spiteful or cavalier. It is a time for sobriety and sense and reason. You don’t hold the surgeon’s medical training or experience against her, because you realize that brain surgery is complicated, intricate, life and death stuff that most people simply can’t handle—and you know that loud men with sweaty hands and greasy knives will get your kid killed every single time. 

You understand that people can’t do brain surgery just because they say they can, and that they don’t become smarter merely because they get louder. You realize that the delicate, elaborate folds of the brain have no use for the carnival barker’s noise, no need for his entertaining wordplay. You know that all the volume and bombast and histrionics in the world won’t matter when there is chaos in the room and everything’s falling apart and millisecond decisions need to be made to save your child’s life. All the bluntness and charisma he can muster won’t be worth a dime then. In that moment, bedside manner doesn’t matter, only operating table competency. Experience counts here. Expertise is a an asset. There is no shortcut to this. You don’t shout or gesticulate your way out of these life-altering decisions—you have to put your head down and do the treacherous work of navigating the maze of blood vessels and grey matter in front of you.

This is what the surgeon does and has always done: she learns, she prepares, she endures the tedious, repetitive, minutia that most people, including the carnival barker could never sit through, because this is what this calling is about. She puts in the thousands of hours outside of that single moment of gravity, doing the kind of work that the yelling man will never understand, because he’s never had to. Maybe that’s why she appears so serious: because she’s concentrating on stuff he’s never even considered and can’t fathom—like brain surgery. 

The carnival barker is not the one who gets to stand over the body of someone you love laid open and vulnerable, and in your heart you know this. He does not deserve it. He is not qualified. He is unsteady. He is cheap sideshow entertainment; the person you briefly laugh at while you’re passing through the circus.

He is made for the big top, not the big moment.

And this is the biggest moment there is.