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Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There's really nothing quite like autumn. I have always loved autumn. Even though I grew up in southern California, where the trees had to try really, really hard to even turn a mild yellow, the fall season for me was filled with great excitement. My birthday is in October. October is awesome. In addition to my birthday, the BEST sports are in the autumn. American football, volleyball, and the World Series in baseball. And the colors of autumn are nothing short of a carnival of images that delight the senses and fill the soul with contentment and wonder. How can such beauty unfold before our eyes simply because nature takes its course? I love autumn because the weather gives us joy. We are happy for a cooling after a hot summer, but it's not yet cold. We can wear one extra layer or a fleece vest without quite needing a hat or gloves yet. Autumn is the great prelude that readies us for the difficult season of winter that awaits us. The color dazzles, the sports are awesome, my birthday gets celebrated and it's not yet cold but not uncomfortably hot either. What's there not to love?!
And so it is that as we head to November and here in Sweden, the light begins to fade, I realize even more profoundly how the mild beauty of autumn sustains. We've had a gorgeous autumn this year, with an early chill bringing on brilliant color, and a late warmth allowing us to be out and enjoy it. I noticed this afternoon that it was dusk at 3.30 and we are still many weeks away from the darkest night. Most of the leaves, beautiful as they are, are now blowing around on the ground and many of the trees are stark with nakedness. Soon it will be night at 3.15 and I will be longing for the sunshine and colors that have filled my mind and spirit with hope and joy. I am never ready for winter, but I feel better equipped to handle it because of the spectrum of color that has filled my eyes and satisfied my soul. Thank you God, for the artistry you display in the autumn. It is a gift that I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated this year.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Club: Election Edition

I arrived at the residence of the US ambassador to Sweden ready for a rigorous debate. I was prepared and ready to share my ideas. My husband and my dog had walked with me over to their house and as he kissed me good-bye, he said, "Be nice." Huh. Wonder why he'd feel compelled to say that!
Since I'd missed the September book club meeting I was very excited to see my friends as well. It was great seeing everyone and Judy, our gracious hostess, had the house looking amazing. She had just returned from D.C. where they reside when they are not being the US ambassador and wife, and had brought with her loads of bi-partisan election paraphernalia...only in America would you find cut out paper dolls of John McCain and bobble head Barack Obamas. The table was beautifully set complete with lovely orchid center pieces that were set in buckets that had been painted with either Democrat or Republican! It was adorable. She had made up a ballot box and asked us all to vote upon arrival. The house looked great and it was such a great experience to arrive there and know that we were going to be talking about American politics all night long!
Judy was well prepared and led an amazing discussion. We didn't actually talk much about the books but instead talked politics. She asked a series of questions to which we tried to answer yes or no and the discussions ensued from there. Hot topics included the media, taxation, religion, the choosing of Supreme Court judges, and the Vice Presidential candidates. (funny side note...I just wrote presidenTAIL instead of presidential...there's got to be a Sarah Palin joke in there somewhere!) Where to begin?
12 women, seated around a beautifully set table, being fed gorgeous food, drinking even more gorgeous wine, talking about subjects that we all care about very much. I knew of two conservatives sitting around the table for sure. One is a dear friend of mine and she sat right next to me. Two democrats sat across from me and it was fun exchanging facial expressions throughout the night. I was directly to the right of Judy, our hostess/moderator for the evening.
The debate was indeed rigorous, but civil. we disagreed on many points and agreed on others. For sure, Obama love dominated the atmosphere, but not in an overwhelming sort of way. Several of the women were still pretty disappointed that Hillary didn't make it and they were reluctant Obama supporters.
The media discussion fascinated me. Most thought the media are horrible liberal and one even made the case for Fox's "balanced" reporting. I scoffed. Fox is not balanced. Perhaps it has its role in our society but to claim it at least tried to present the other side and therefore is more fair is ridiculous. I and one other were about the only 2 who felt that CNN is not that liberal. We agreed it was good to watch multiple news outlets, not just the ones you love.
The request was, "Raise your hand if religion shapes your political beliefs." Guess who raised her hand? me. I was shocked that no one else raised their hand. I made the comment that my religious beliefs have absolutely shaped everything that I am about politically. One friend, who knows me pretty well, responded by saying, "Well, then you'd be voting for John McCain." I went ballistic. Why is it that if you are a religious person, then politically, you must be conservative? Where is the religious voice for compassion, concern for the poor, and a fight for life that includes stopping all forms of violence including gun use, war, and capital punishment? I was livid. So I asked, "Who here would say that the religious conversation in America impacts you in a negative way?" Everyone else raised their hand. (Mainly because most are pro legal abortion and favor civil rights for gay marriages.) I felt utterly depressed and simply said, "I do need to write a book." Here's a note to conservative Evangelicals...your message isn't playing well. In fact, it turns off the people who don't reside inside your circle of power. You might want to re-think your strategy.
No one came right out and said they were a fan of Palin, and in fact, most were dubious at best that she was on the political scene. Her nomination had sealed some people's votes...that is, it ensured that they voted for Obama. In our house vote, someone had voted for McCain not Palin. Pretty funny.
On Supreme Court appointees, we all had to admit that the Court hasn't done anything to really screw things up even with the two conservatives that Bush has appointed during this last term. I did however raise the issue that in 2000 the Supreme Court blew it by getting involved in the outcome of the Florida voting procedure when Bush and Gore were going at it. I didn't say that the Supreme Court stole the election for Bush but I did say that their role in preventing a bonafide recount was wrong.
The discussion around taxation and the economy was probably the most heated. Quite frankly, I really like what Obama has set forth as his plan, and I really don't like what McCain has set forth in his. My finest moment came when I was saying, "I'd be happy if someone would explain to me why the Republican taxation plan is a good one because honestly, it makes no sense to me." when at that very moment, the ambassador walked in. I don't know Michael and I really don't even know if we've ever been fully introduced. But suddenly he knew where I stood on one of the most hallowed topics to Republicans! When the discussion turned to the amount of money that rich people pay in taxes, Judy looked me square in the eye and asked, "Do you think rich people should have to pay more tax than poor people?" And I said, "Yes, I do. Because no matter how much tax rich people have to pay, the amount of money that they have left over is still tons. So paying tax doesn't really affect their lifestyle much at all. Whereas, for lower income people, any amount of tax paid, really affects their disposable income level and therefore hurts them more." If we looked at after tax incomes, I think we'd get a clear picture that the rich are not being asked to sacrifice much. What I was really thinking was that I think in the core of my heart I am a bit of a socialist but I couldn't bring myself to uttering that out loud so instead I said, "Look, I just think that those who can do more should do more to help those who have it a lot worse." Judy's response was gracious. She said something to the effect that my politics match my preaching and that makes her happy.
As Michael left the room, I shook his hand, thanked him for having us and expressed my deepest gratitude for the fact that we can have this great debate and disagree so vigorously. That's part of what makes it great to be an American. He agreed.
We did finally get around to the books. Most felt there were difficult to read and not that inspiring. Some thought Obama's was too focused on race, which made me crazy since that was the central theme he was writing about in Dreams. Most didn't enjoy McCain's "bragging" spirit around how poorly he had done at the Naval Academy, but all were moved by his experience in a Viet Nam prison. We had some strong disagreement regarding America's use of torture. Some didn't think it was all that bad. Others of us felt that it was completely and utterly out of line. I was moved again when I spoke of what touched me most in McCain's book: The need to connect with other humans no matter what obstacles were in the way, the moving account of celebrating Christmas in prison, and the grief they experienced when released. I spoke of the hope that Obama gives me for understanding the complexity of race and class in America. I just believe he "gets" how unjust our society can be from a systemic perspective and I have hopes that he will help correct some of the ways in which we disadvantage the folks who live on the fringe of our society. I could've talked about the books a bit more, but I also enjoyed the politically charged discussion.
To conclude, we ended up voting 8 for Obama, 4 for McCain. 'd be thrilled with a similar National outcome! During the time that Michael was with us, he admitted that he thought that Obama would win and that something unexpected would happen that would affect the way in which he would govern. As he put it, the world will intervene. He's probably right. But when the surprises come, I'll be very happy if Obama is in charge and I'll be very nervous if the opposite occurs next Tuesday. Judy and Michael have invited all of us to a breakfast in the wee hours of the morning next Wednesday to watch the election returns and to discuss what lies ahead for the next US president. I have to miss it. I'll be in Italy. I feel a bit sad about missing the breakfast, but feel pretty excited about hooking up with one of my best friends from college in Rome.
The next book we read is Pillars of the Earth. The church doesn't come out looking good in that novel so I'll have much to defend. But where there is no defense, I continue to hope that in my small way perhaps I can help to redeem old attitudes about the church and Christianity that are so negative.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Books and A Vote Cast

My book club meets on Thursday, 23 October. The host is the wife of the ambassador from the United States. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Judy through our book club and she has been a great addition to our crazy group. We will miss her as she and her husband leave their post when President Bush leaves his. I will be sorry to see Judy go. I won’t be sorry to see Bush go.

Judy had the great idea last spring that for our October book club we should read Obama’s Dreams From My Father and McCain’s Faith of My Fathers and then discuss them on the eve of the election. It was and is a great idea and I am anxiously awaiting Thursday night when we all get to have our say. Admittedly, I would never have read McCain’s book if I hadn’t been prompted to and I can honestly say that I am glad that I did. Here are my reflections of both books, reflections that I shall share on Thursday night when gathered in the home of our ambassador.

I read Dreams From My Father first and it needs to be said that I was a fan of Barack Obama’s before commencing my read. It was not an easy read and it took some measure of discipline to get through it, but I liked the book on a number of levels. I liked that it didn’t have anything to do with his current political rise. It barely discussed his entry into politics, instead focused on his childhood, his relationship to his family, and events that have shaped him to be the man that he is today. I loved the Chicago narrative and I was fascinated to come to a greater understanding of how his faith in Christianity developed and matured through the presence of his church. I know that Jeremiah Wright has gotten a lot of bad press and I do believe he made some mistakes in the public role he took in the midst of Obama’s campaign, but I have had the privilege of meeting Rev. Wright and hearing him preach on numerous occasions and I appreciate much of what his ministry on the south side of Chicago has been about. That Obama came to faith under his leadership and nurtured his Christian commitment through that community does not cause me angst. To the contrary, I think the church at its core was seeking to live out a vision of righteousness and justice that Jesus taught in the Bible.

Obama’s role as a community organizer, while derided by the Republicans, is in part, what draws me to him for the simple reason that I believe it contributes to his sense of what it means to be systemically poor. Obama understands that it takes more than hard work or a simple will to overcome systems in society that work against people, especially people of color. Through his own life experience as a child of a broken and at times unstable home along with his choice to work close to the ground in Chicago as a community organizer, he came to understand how tough it is to carve out a meaningful and safe life when society isn’t pulling for you. As a man of mixed racial heritage, he has experienced racism first hand and understands more clearly than any other presidential candidate in history how deep the race divide is in America. I don’t know what he can do to make progress on systemic injustice, but I love that he at least has a handle on what it’s all about. One particularly moving line for me as he discussed what was going on in Chicago was how guns changed the way in which people related to one another, especially kids. With the rise of gun violence and gun access, people just stopped talking to kids because they were afraid of their safety. When adults cease talking to kids and having influence over their choices and pathways, the downward spiral speeds up.

Obama’s journey to Kenya was so poignant, I found myself moved in many parts. I felt connected to his Kenyan heritage through the Africans who bless our church. Much of what he experienced resonates with stories I’ve heard from our members. He spoke of feeling like he was “home” for the first time in his life, surrounded by people who looked like him and had a name like his. And I remember when I was in Uganda for the first time how for me, it was the first experience I had known to truly feel like a minority, my whiteness setting me apart in such obvious and separated ways. He spoke of how much pressure he felt to financially provide for his family in Kenya because in their minds he was well-off. People from our church feel the same. They say that one of the reasons that makes it hard for them to return to their homeland is that their relatives think they are now the bank. Truth be told, most African immigrants here in Sweden struggle to make ends meet. Just garnering enough cash to buy an airplane ticket to their homeland requires much planning and sacrifice. But because they are now living in a wealthy western nation, those who have remained in the homeland somehow expect that family who live abroad should come back to them and shower them with the riches they now enjoy elsewhere.

I was very moved by his reflection on family. What does family mean? I mean, he goes to Kenya and discovers that his father has created children in many corners of the world. All of the sudden he’s related to these strangers and wonders what his sense of family means after all. I think we all have to ask the question, what is family? How do we define our family and when does blood become a less significant factor than relationship?

Finally, I was challenged by own view of Africa…that as privileged tourists, we go to Kenya and South Africa to enjoy the beauty of the country and the wonder of the landscape. This isn’t the whole truth about these African nations, troubled as they are by corruption, economic circumstances, disease, and poverty. One quote really stuck with me: “The British have so much more but they seem to enjoy things less.” I’m quite sure the same could said for Americans.

All in all, I liked that this book gave me insight into the person of Barack Obama and for me, it made him an even more appealing person. I think the insight that his life’s journey has provided him will make him a great leader. I see him as a person of empathy and that would be a refreshing quality in our President.

To be perfectly honest, I picked up McCain’s book with dread. I had just watched the Republican National Convention and was angry about the mean-spirited rhetoric that was spewing forth from their campaign. Their belittlement of Obama’s work as a community organizer really bothered me so my bias was definitely strong. Additionally, I am not a military person. I am not anti-military and I certainly feel for the men and women who serve our country under difficult circumstances, but I vigorously disagree with the budget we afford to military concerns and have opposed the war in Iraq from the start. I give you this backdrop because I am trying to be honest with myself as to what I bring to a book prior to opening it. But I was committed to reading McCain’s book because I also felt that it would give me insight into the person of John McCain as his book was also not related to his rise as a presidential candidate.

The first 150 pages or so were pure agony for me. I found the recounting of his grandfather’s and father’s military accomplishments boring and abhorrent to my world view. I liked the opening quote by Viktor Frankl “You can always choose your attitude.” That bodes well for all of us. But upon learning that the grandfather had died, I could never understand why the Navy couldn’t have waited until his father arrived to have the funeral? I disliked how McCain at times referred to his grandfather as The Admiral. Do all the family ties just disappear under the rules of the military? For me this begs the question of how closely a father and son should serve together. Is it wise, or perhaps even possible, to think of your father as a military officer first and a father second?

I was put off by McCain’s seeming bragging about how rebellious both he and his father were while at the Naval Academy. Is he wearing his lack of respect for authority as a badge of honor? Is he proud that he finished near the bottom of his class? I could never quite figure out how this gelled with his commitment to the honor code. The most troubling account of how mixed the honor code is was early in the book when he recounted how a fellow sailor sought revenge on his wife’s rapist through the help of other enlisted men. It wasn’t the revenge the man enacted upon the rapist that was against the honor code, it was the fact that he had asked other enlisted men to help him. This just revealed a very strange moral code that doesn’t fit with my own way of thinking. I hated the hazing at Annapolis and just wonder what this type of activity cultivates in a young man’s mind about the inherent value of human life. I struggled with McCain’s reference to being eager for combat. Why anyone would actually look forward to a war and perhaps even feel eager to attack another human being is puzzling to me.

The story took a turn for me after McCain was captured in Viet Nam. I was genuinely moved by the prisoners’ need for human connection, especially while in solitary. The ingenious manner in which the prisoners created methods of communication, contact and encouragement were indeed powerful. I was struck by how damaging it is to hear only propaganda and wonder where the truth is in the midst of all of the noise.

The torture that McCain and others endured is unthinkable. As difficult as it was to read about, I couldn’t help but wonder why the United States would ever torture another human being. So much of McCain’s account was relaying how his sense of honor kept him from breaking. He did break down at one point under the most adverse physical pain, and then was wracked with guilt because of it. But can we really fault him? Is that really what honor is about? And why as a nation would we ever want to employ torture as a method of getting information? It is indecent and inhumane and we should absolutely never, ever use it. McCain’s account proved time and again that if a soldier is properly trained to endure this harsh and inhumane treatment they won’t break any way. The honor code is so strong that death is a more attractive option. Don’t we think other countries train their folks in the same manner? McCain's recounting of his torture confirmed in my mind that under no circumstance should the US ever succumb to torture as a method of extracting information or punishing prisoners.

Two accounts actually moved me to tears. McCain recounted a Christmas celebration that they shared in the prison. To me, this was an amazing picture of the hope that Christ brings in the midst of unthinkable despair. Secondly, when they were released, many of the prisoners experienced an unexpected form of loss. Of course, they were happy for their freedom, but these men had built a community of care and hope together. To have that removed from their lives, even for a good reason, was so deeply painful that I’m sure many never fully recovered from the grief they felt in moving away from these men with whom they had shared such an intimate journey.

McCain did speak of adopting an attitude that would reflect a life that is lived for something greater than one’s self. I think he did change from a selfish young man to a thoughtful adult who, in his own way, wanted to make the world a better place. His route to doing so differs from my own, but I can acknowledge his desire to contribute.

His book actually made me realize that I don’t really want a President who is eager for combat, one who views the military approach as a good option for accomplishing our goals. And I suppose in the end, that is in part why McCain will be someone whose story I respect but who would not be someone that I would relish as our commander in chief.

And so on October 22, 2008, I sat down at my kitchen table in Stockholm, Sweden with my husband. We took our absentee ballots and with joy, voted for an African American to be our next President. I am thrilled to be part of this historic choice and I hope that soon after November 4, 2008 you’ll see a blog that celebrates a new chapter in American life.

Check back after Thursday for a full account of the book club. It promises to be our most lively yet.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Problem with Palin

I am dismayed by the interest being shown Sarah Palin, especially by conservative Christians. While I'm sure her stand on abortion appeals to them, I find their interest amusing at best, hypocritical at worst. Why, you ask?
First, I find it fascinating that most of the conservatives who are showing her support are likely in churches that would never allow her to preach in their congregation on the basis of gender. Help me understand why these folks find it perfectly appropriate for a woman to hold the second highest office in our land and yet by their theological standards, would never allow a woman to preach the word of God or seek ordination in the church.
Second, the conservative Christian movement has often made women who work feel like second class citizens who are willfully choosing a career over family. I don't think it's fair to go after Palin for having a teenager who is pregnant or even choosing to work while having an infant with special needs. If the political conversation is heading in that direction, men should come under the same scrutiny and they rarely, if ever, do. However, when the conservative Christians hold up as a core value mothers staying at home with their children, home schooling them, and making them their highest priority, I have to comment on their willingness to suddenly give a pass to Sarah Palin on this very issue. Why are conservative Christians not concerned with the fact that Palin is a working mother? And she is a working mother with children who are obviously in need of some special attention. If this woman was a Democrat or African American, you can bet that the Christian right would be all over her both for being a working mom and for having kids with special needs. I can only imagine that neglect would be mentioned on more than one occasion and commentary on her sense of responsibilty in parenting along with all of the bad choices she's made would soon follow. Again, it's the conservatives' rules not mine that are being bent for this candidate.
Beyond those two obvious breeches in traditional family values, I just find her mean-spirited. She pretends to be coy and campy, exuding a "girl-next-door" persona, but make no mistake, she is a shark. The fact that she is spouting off about how Obama is tied to terrorists just shows how low she's willing to go. I get that this is politics, but where is the Christian discernment in all this? Plus, a few quick fact finding minutes reveal how ridiculous her accusation against OBama really is, but the problem is, non thinking, non fact checking kind of folks are listening to her. They assume that if she says it, it must be true. Not only is this accusation unkind and untrue, it has created a climate of fear among those who believe her word to be law. Even John McCain had to tone down the rhetoric at a recent rally in Minnesota when one woman went after Obama. McCain took the microphone from her, shook his head and said, "No, Obama is a decent family man. You need not be afraid if he becomes president." Well, it seems rather odd to me that Palin is accusing Obama of having such disdain for America that he pals around with terrorists which incites her candidate to have to explain, no, wait a minute, that's not right, he's really a pretty decent man.
This in the midst of her own issues with the law in Alaska and what seems to be some pretty dishonest behavior. On October 11, the Los Angeles times reported that, "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin violated ethics laws and abused her power as governor in pressing to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper, an independent legislative investigation concluded Friday." As Christians, are we not concerned about ethics?
I find it fascinating that Christian Republicans are so excited about this candidate. A familiar comment in support of her is that you can relate to her. As my husband so eloquently asked, "So, do you want a President that you can have coffee with or do you want someone who is smarter than you?" Why are we so obsessed with having a President that we can relate to? Don't we want someone in that post who is smarter, more savvy, more well-read and more learned than we are?
I don't find her appealing at all and for all the energy I've put into promoting women's roles in this world, I would be devastated if she's the first woman to be elected to VP in America. Why, perhaps you ask again? Because she's not qualified, she's mean-spirited, and quite frankly, she doesn't understand the world in which we live. Her ambition is so transparent to me. I think being ambitious is a good quality, but you should also have the self-knowlege to understand when your ambition far exceeds your abililty. In Palin's case, she has been swept up into the national spotlight and loves the attention, at least the positive attention. She needs to quit whining about the negative attention, get her own house in order, and prove to the world that she really can think on her feet about the key issues of the day, not simply stand up and say that she thinks abortion should be illegal. It should take more than that for people to understand why or why not a candidate is qualified to be running for Vice President. The sad thing for me is that for many conservative Christians, she really is just the ticket.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Visit From Three University Students

The daughter of one of my closest friends from college is doing a Europe Semester as part of her education through Westmont College, a fine, fairly conservative, Christian college located in Santa Barbara, California. Lynne, my friend's daughter, was in Stockholm last week and we hooked up. Knowing what it's like to be on the road, living out of a suitcase, navigating a new city and environment every 3-4 days, I thought she might enjoy being in our home, seeing our dog, having a home cooked meal, free laundry and internet access! She brought along two friends, Mary and Martina, both who grew up in the Southern California area, one of them quite close to where I actually grew up.
They were lovely, all three of them, grateful, polite and interesting.
There were several things about our visit that lingered for me. All three of the students are seeking to live out their Christian faith in a serious and intentional manner. The two kids who grew up in Southern California come from conservative, mega-church experiences and this has obviously given shape to who they are as Christians. Their moms are stay at home moms, it seems as though there may be wealth in their families or if not significant wealth, a clear, comfortable upper middle class income. Lynne's parents, my close friends, divorced several years ago, so while Lynne was raised in a conservative church in the north suburbs of Chicago, she has had some exposure to "the life is not perfect" axiom. Her mom, my buddy, has worked full-time since we graduated from college and for the past several years has sought to raise her 4 girls, along with her ex-husband, in a sane, nurturing manner. I mention this because I think the background is instructive for understanding how kids lives get shaped.
I knew early on that these girls would be pretty conservative in their views so I wasn't feeling the need to venture into the political conversation with them. But after a nice dinner and hearing a bit about their semester in Europe, Martina asked me if we were interested in the political situation. Because one of my central concerns at this point is our inability, even as, or perhaps especially as, Christians to dialogue and disagree in a civil manner, I decided to just get way out there with my views. So I simply stated, "well, this may come as a surprise to you, but we are strident Democrats." I thought Mary and Martina might have heart attacks. Lynne knew a bit about me so wasn't nearly as surprised. I honestly think in these girls young lives, I was the first pastor and committed Christian they had met who had contrary views to the ones with which they've been raised. I am quite positive that I am the first Christian Democrat they have ever met.
True to form, they immediately asked me about abortion and homosexuality. I explained my views on abortion, assured them that I respected their opinion on the subject, but also explained that making abortion illegal just wasn't the most important issue for me as regards the candidates. I tried to help them understand that while I think abortion is wrong, morally, I don't think it should be against the law. It was a thoughtful, civil discourse and it was neat to see it unfold. As regards homosexuality, I simply explained that I believed that the civil rights that a marriage union gives to people in our society should be extended to all people...calling it marriage or civil union is immaterial to me. The rights granted by our current system should not be disallowed for same gender couples. They pushed me a bit on both topics, which was good! I realized how long it had been since I had actually been in a face to face conversation with others who held such conservative views and for whom abortion and homosexuality are the two most important issues in shaping why someone will vote a particular way. I tried to express to them that economic issues, the war in Iraq, health care and a more fair distribution of tax cuts and benefits were much more important to me than the two aforementioned items. They listened carefully and took it all in. It was very new to them.
Two comments linger for me in our discussion. Martina expressed that at a very young age she realizes that she was basically indoctrinated with a notion that if the Democrats are in power, life will be very scary and uncertain. She remembers feeling actual fear when Al Gore was running against George Bush. She had been taught that if Al Gore won the White House, life would be hell on earth. She also wondered aloud if Obama was Muslim. I assured her, that no, he was indeed a Christian and she could rest peacefully in that knowledge. I hope in some small measure I encouraged her to broaden her world view to include a less fear based opposition to the Democrats and instead investigate a bit more clearly what the Democrats are seeking to be about.
Lynne was quiet through out much of the discussion. She later admitted to me that she felt much the way we do but has a hard time giving voice to her opinions. The first Presidential debate happened to be on TV while they were with us and we watched some of it with Lynne. We were able to say more about why we felt the Democratic pathway was a much better pathway for us than to continue with the Republican way of doing business. She listened carefully, spoke of how meaningful it was to hear our thoughts and pondered much of what was being exchanged.
Their visit was interesting and great for me on a number of levels. It has been a long time since I have been around eager, American, Christian University students whose perspective has been shaped in large measure by the conservative, mega-church where abortion and homosexuality are seen as the only two issues that matter. This perspective often grows out of wealthy, homogeneous, white suburbs where protecting their economic success is also a high value, no matter what it may be doing to the poor or under privileged who live down the street. It was good for me to pushed by these eager, fresh, sincere perspectives and articulate with clarity why I supported legal abortion and gay rights, even from a Christian perspective. I also realized that I have a firm, well thought out perspective on these issues and don't feel the need to raise them as key ideologies in choosing my candidate. I am happy that the Obama/Biden ticket supports legal abortion and would fight for legal civil unions for all couples. I can confidently mesh who I am as a Christian with my belief that abortion should be legal and that gays should have civil rights . As a Christian, the traditional Republican view of the war in Iraq, economics and how our policies affect the poor, and our reputation overseas clash much more with my own value system than the two traditional issues that Christians tend to care about in politics.
These young kids engaged in a dialogue that, I'm sure, at times it was very difficult for them. They remained respectful, they didn't denounce me as a Christian or call into question my sincere desire to follow Christ. They, at least on the surface, accepted that I am coming at my politics from a different perspective, even though I am still shaped by my Christianity, just as they are. That we could land at such different places was kind of new to them. We weren't out to change one another's minds but rather to state clearly our point of view and challenge one another at the point of disagreement. I loved it and I think they did too.
What I most wanted them to walk away with was a model of how to respectfully dialogue on these tough issues and agree to disagree while not casting judgment on one another. They mentioned how hard it is to talk about this stuff on their campus because everyone just gets mad at one another and resorts to name calling. If for one brief moment in time, we could be a part of modeling what it means to dig in, think about issues, disagree and yet show one another that we still share the same faith center, then I think that's something to celebrate.
As Christians, we need to be part of restoring civility to our nation's dialogue. We don't do that by all agreeing to one standard of thinking but rather by thoughtfully learning to discuss issues and perspectives while respecting that another is landing in a different place. The notion that thoughtful Christians can disagree is something that must be lifted up.
I enjoyed our time and I think they did too. In fact, I know they did because Lynne sent me a great note thanking us for our hospitality and conversation and also mentioned that Martina actually told her that the little stop at the Christian Democrat's house in Stockholm is ranking in the top ten of her experiences on this trip.
I hope it encourages them to engage in thoughtful dialogue with others and promote the civil discourse among Christians that I feel is so lacking in the United States.