Please Vote

November 1, 2018

I remember the first time I voted. It was the presidential election of 1992. I was 19 years old, and I couldn’t wait to use my “voice.” It was still dark on that chilly November morning when I got to the old church that doubled as a polling station. There was a long line waiting to get in. I felt nervous, as I was unsure of what to do or how things would work. I carefully read and marked my ballot, being sure not to make a mistake. When I gently pushed it through the thin slit of the ballot box, I was genuinely worried it might somehow become lost. It meant a great deal to me. I remember the feeling of accomplishment and pride as I walked out wearing my “I Voted” sticker. My head was held high, as if I had made some tiny difference. I suppose I was young and naive in some ways.

I’ve changed a lot over the 26 years since that morning. I went to college, started a career, got married and had a family, went back to school, and am preparing to begin a new career. My philosophy on life has changed greatly. I’m much busier. I’m probably more cynical, and definitely more jaded. My back and knees often hurt, I’m usually tired, and I’m certainly not so eager to jump out of bed on dark and chilly mornings (or really any mornings) to go cast my ballot. But I do.

I vote — at every level, every time I can — because it is an incredible freedom, one that many of us take for granted. We definitely have problems with our government and politics. Our voting system is flawed in many ways. I have no doubt that fraudulent actions take place — originating from both sides of the aisle — but we must vote, regardless. It is a special privilege.

Look around the world at the many countries where elections are either a wishful dream, a distant memory, or a complete scam. Think about the people who live in countries where voting is so dangerous that they literally risk their lives to vote. For example, in a recent Afghanistan election, the Taliban sent out letters vowing to kill or cut off the fingers of those who vote. Yet 7 million Afghans ventured out to the polls.

According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans said they thought high voter turnout in presidential elections was important. In my opinion, that already seems like a low number, yet less than just 56% of us actually voted in the 2016 election. That ranks the U.S. 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic countries, in terms of voter turnout.

So what is our problem? Why is voting not a priority? Maybe we take it for granted because it has always been a right for everyone born in the last 99 years. Americans today haven’t lived through times when voting and elections weren’t a given. Historically speaking, however, it wasn’t that long ago that the opinions of blacks and women didn’t matter.

Are we too tired from binge watching Netflix the night before? Do the long morning lines at the McDonald’s or Starbucks drive-thru delay us so much that we don’t have time? Do we have to rush home after work to get the kids to soccer practice? Is it just not worth the hassle? Do we have so many obligations that we simply can’t be bothered? Maybe we don’t really care who governs our country — although social media, the news media, and conversations in coffee shops, elevators, and at dinner tables across our nation would indicate I’m wrong. (By the way, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.)

Maybe many of us actually believe voting is legitimately too hard. A large number of Americans don’t have convenient polling places, transportation, or other resources, any or all of which can make voting very difficult. Yet there are people in far less developed countries who will walk for miles — and sometimes days — just to cast one ballot.

When I vote today, I still feel a sense of nervous-excitement. It’s corny, I know. I still carefully read and mark my ballot. When I gently push it into the electronic scanner, I always worry that something will go wrong. It still means a lot to me, maybe more than ever. After voting, I place my “I Voted” sticker on my chest, and walk out with my head held high.

Maybe I’m still a little naive, but I do think voting — and, similarly, not voting — can make an impact. If you’re paying attention, it’s very obvious. If you’re not paying attention, I beg that you start. We have the ability to vote people in, and — perhaps more importantly — vote people out. I urge you to get out and vote every chance you get. Do it for your country, your state, your city, and your community. Most of all, though, do it do you. Use your voice. Make a tiny difference. You won’t regret it.

Advertisements

I stumbled upon a blog that was shared on Facebook this morning and was immediately intrigued. Not because of the title, but because the author is a priest at a Catholic church right here in my neck of the world. In fact, it is a church that many close friends attend. I myself have been a visitor in the congregation a number of times as a kid.

I know for a fact that, like in many churches, the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gladstone, Missouri is filled with kind, hard-working, middle-class Americans. They are salt-of-the-earth, family-oriented people who help out in their community, obey the law, and are just trying to get through the ups and downs of everyday life. They are like most of us. Simply put, they are just good folks. That’s why this blog post is so troubling to me. I encourage you to read it:

HATING THE RESIDENT PRESIDENT

By Father Don Farnan

Like many citizens of earth, some days I battle the impulse to lash out at President Trump.  I usually hold it in check with a sarcastic remark or expression of bewilderment; my grief doesn’t even register on the scale of vitriolic criticism he receives daily from coast to coast and beyond our shores.  Granted, there are plenty of reasons to not like his morality or his personality for he is, at times, rude, vulgar, and insulting.  Many of us fear that this attitude is being normalized and trickles down to our homes, playing fields, boardrooms and classrooms.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump was elected president and is fulfilling commitments he made to voters, making America great again via a strong economy, low unemployment, and tough confrontation of terrorism.  We should be grateful for the ways he fights for our country and his desire to build it up.  At the same time, we can work toward other levels of greatness: how we treat one another with dignity, teach children respect and honor, sacrifice for causes greater than our own…

Like him or not, I think we all have to admit that Trump has been attacked and derided by people in ways never before seen for the simple reason that they don’t like him—and the dislike has escalated to hatred.  Even if he invites it through his brash tactics and unapologetic style, shouldn’t we be concerned about this level of hatred?  If we respond to bad behavior with bad behavior of our own, what does that say about the world we’re helping to shape?  Similar to attacking the president, a small minority of Catholics—some with power, prestige, and influence—target Pope Francis in ways unseen before.  I pray that this is not the way of the 21st Century.

I guess some people are simply hateful and compelled to tear down.  Hating leaders—hating at all—is not a good way to operate.  Doing our part to build up our civic community and faith community is.  It’s awfully draining to spread kindness when opposite forces are so strong.  I don’t have the answer, other than the one that Jesus gave.  In His time as in ours, hatred seems to overpower love because tearing down is much easier than building up.  But Christ gives us hope that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion, respect for leaders, outreach to the marginalized, and doing our little part as best we can—these are the things that will make humanity great again and help us to build a society that, like Our Lord, can be a light to guide others in darkness.

I’ll conclude with Edgar A. Guest’s famous poem about building up and tearing down:                   I watched them tear a building down,

A gang of men in a busy town.

With a mighty heave and a lusty yell,

They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.

I said to the foreman, “Are these men as skilled

As the ones you’d hire if you had to build?”

He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed!

Just a common laborer is all I need.

And I can wreck in a day or two

What it took the builders years to do.”

And I thought to myself as I went my way,

“Just which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care

Measuring life by the rule and square,

Or am I a wrecker as I walk this town

Content with the labor of tearing it down?”

I don’t know Father Don Farnan, but I get a sense that he truly means well by writing this piece. And, trust me, I agree with a lot of what he is saying. We do live in a world that seems to be filled with hate, and this is very unfortunate. However, I’m not sure if there is more hate in the world today, or if it has simply become more acceptable — and much easier — for people to make their voices heard. Social media, as well as the mainstream news media, has become a mountain top for people to shout from, their hateful words echoing down for all to hear, regardless of whether or not we want to listen.

Though there may not be more hate in America, there certainly seems to be a growing division among our people. This, of course, is largely a widening crevice between political party lines. Lies — or at least unverified “facts” — are rolled down both sides of this same mountain, and are equally damaging (and influential) to the bystanders below.

Sadly, it is President Trump who sits at the peak of the mountain, shouting as loudly as possible in an effort to make his voice the most audible. His endless name-calling and sucker-punching fuels the division and the hate on both sides of the mountain. I’m honestly not writing about President Trump, however.

Yes, I could debate Father Farnan’s belief that “Trump has been attacked and derided by people in ways never before seen for the simple reason that they don’t like him—and the dislike has escalated to hatred.” I would ask Father Farnan to go way, way back in his memory to the year 2009. This is when Barack Obama took office. Many people didn’t like him. In fact, many didn’t like him for one reason — the color of his skin. I have heard him called words that white people will never be forced to endure. Words like monkey, coon, and nigger, to name a few. Words that can’t be taken back. I ask you, Father, does this treatment qualify as hate? Our own current president (and countless others, of course) refused to believe that Obama was even an American. Why? Simply because Trump didn’t like him. But, honestly, I’m not writing about President Trump.

I will agree with Father Farnan that the economy is doing very well. A robust economy is critical to the well-being of the United States for many reasons that aren’t often considered, including lower crime rates, healthier citizens, and even longer life spans. But I would also remind him that many regulations put in place with the sole intention of helping to protect our environment, our people, and our country have been abruptly stopped by Trump, with seemingly little or no thought about future ramifications. I hope this all works out in the end… But, honestly, I’m not writing about Trump.

I’m writing because I don’t want the good people of the United States to become accepting of “wrongs” because there are some “rights.” I don’t want us to become okay with “good enough.” Complacency leads to failure. Father Farnan asks, “Shouldn’t we be concerned about this level of hatred (towards Trump)?” But I ask you, Father, shouldn’t we be concerned with the level of hatred coming from the President of the United States of America? And this is not fake news, but words coming straight from the mouth (or fingers) of Trump.

Again, I believe Father Farnan’s intentions are good. He is encouraging “kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion…outreach to the marginalized, and doing our little part as best we can,” all things that I’m a firm believer in. However, he also asks us to respect our leaders. While I will avoid being hateful, I refuse to respect a leader like Trump. Where would we be today if our Founding Fathers had respected King George? Blind respect of a president is not only incredibly careless, but it is extremely unpatriotic.

We must avoid complacency or we’ll never improve. We must not become so tolerant that hate (even when we abhor it) is overlooked. I see good people — people I love and respect — making a conscious decision to simply look the other way every single day. Father Farnan ends his post with a poem encouraging us to be builders, which is a wonderful ideology, but two decades in the construction industry has taught me that skilled builders must keep a close eye on every small detail.

The longer we, as a nation, look the other way, the harder it will be to regain our focus. What is taking place while we are told to only see the bright side? What will we allow our leaders to get away with tomorrow? Father Farnan, please keep spreading your message of kindness and goodness, but please don’t ask us to become tolerant of a hateful man who seems intent on dividing our nation. Please don’t support a person who is continually tearing down what you are trying to build.

Please don’t look away.


I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

A Few Words on Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2016


Today is Blasphemy Day, an international “celebration” of speaking up against religion and religious laws. I am all for the separation of church and state. I’m against any laws based on religion — laws are made to protect citizens, not promote any agendas. I’m also very glad I live in a country that allows people to stand up for what they believe in, whatever those beliefs may be. However, I don’t like any religious ideologies being shoved down my throat. Similarly, I don’t need to have non-believers shouting about how ridiculous religion is, which is what Blasphemy Day has become in many cases.

Religion is probably the world’s leading cause of war, hate, fear, guilt, and anxiety. I can’t imagine a God who would willingly put His creations through the suffering that we humans are suffocated by on a daily basis. Are we all just some school project that the Lord is working on? Are we rats in a cage being tortured by a Master, seeing what lengths we will go to in order to receive a piece of everlasting cheese? I don’t think so, but it isn’t my place to criticize those who believe. It’s counter-productive. I have better things to do.

There’s a thought that’s been regurgitated by philosophers for thousands of years, which basically states: a wise man realizes he knows nothing. This belief is paradoxical and somewhat self-deprecating…and pretty damn perfect. Count me in.

Today, like every day, we have a choice. We can criticize those who believe differently, or we can accept it and move on to fight more useful battles. Some will put their faith in religious texts, some will put their faith in science. Both of these leave plenty of room for error and modification. I will choose to put my faith in those of any religion, or lack thereof, who use their energy towards making the world a bit better for everyone living in it. If there is a God — and I can’t say that there isn’t — I think it’s what He would want; taking care of each other and our world. Let’s be good to each other. Anything else seems like blasphemy to me.

  
Not so long ago, a little girl named Rose was growing up in an old, run-down, dirty neighborhood. It seemed like it was always cloudy. Her neighbors were grumpy and rarely came outside.

As Rose walked to and from school each day, she passed a vacant lot near her home. Her parents had told her about the lot many times. There used to be a beautiful house here, with big trees and a colorful flower garden. But now it was just a patch of hard, cracked dirt with only some weeds growing.

Walking home one day, however, Rose noticed something different in the lot. Something other than weeds was coming from the ground. As Rose got closer, she realized it was a small bush with one tiny flower. It was a rose.

“Look, a rose, just like me!” she said aloud.

The rose was wilted and in terrible need of help. Rose ran home and returned with a large cup of water, which she slowly poured around the bush. The water flowed through the cracks in the dirt.

The next morning Rose woke up early and hurried to the lot. She couldn’t believe what she saw. The little rose had grown — and there was a second flower, a daisy, growing next to the rosebush!

Every day when she got home from school, Rose filled a watering can and headed to the lot to water her flowers. Every morning there were more flowers to see. Red ones, purple ones, yellow, green, pink, orange — so many beautiful colors that were nowhere to be found in the neighborhood. There were roses, daisies, daffodils, tulips, and some strange types of flowers that Rose had never even seen before.

After just two weeks, there were far too many flowers for a watering can. Rose’s dad gave her a long garden hose that she would lug to the lot each day. And with more water came even more flowers!

People started to stop and stare at the new flower garden. Rose’s mom found an old bench in her basement, and painted it bright yellow. She put the bench on the sidewalk in front of the garden so people could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Oddly, things began to change in the neighborhood. People started painting their houses, fixing broken windows, cleaning up trash, and planting flowers of their own. Before long the old gray neighborhood had color everywhere. People who used to keep to themselves inside were now outside working on their lawns, playing with their kids, walking their dogs, and saying “hello” to people they passed on the street. The neighbors were getting to know each other and were becoming friends. Someone — no one was exactly sure who — even put another bench, this one painted red, in front of the flower garden. So many people were coming to admire the garden, that one bench just wasn’t enough.

Rose continued her watering every day. More and more flowers grew, until you couldn’t see the ground at all, just flowers everywhere! Kids and grownups alike came from all over the town to see the garden. They also noticed how nice the rest of the neighborhood looked. Soon, other neighborhoods were doing the same thing, until the whole town become something to see. It wasn’t long before people started coming from far and wide to see the flower garden. They then went home and started their own gardens.

Folks from all over the map started adding color and beauty to their own towns. They were working very hard, yet they were happier than ever before. People had something to be proud of.

All because of one little Rose.