freedom

Exit 247. Because I have freedom.

I didn’t post last weekend like I usually do.  And I almost never post on a Thursday.  I have a few notes scribbled on a paper with future topics for this blog.  But I’m not writing about any of that.

Today is July 4, Independence Day in the United States.  (Well… it’s pretty late as I’m writing this, and it’s already July 5 in most time zones in the world, but whatever.)  On this date in 1776, a group of representatives led by Thomas Jefferson signed a document claiming that the British Crown had abused its power, and that the American colonies had the God-given right to free themselves from this tyranny and establish a new government.

Normally this is one of my favorite holidays of the year.  Because ‘Merica, that’s why.  We get to barbecue and light stuff on fire and make things explode and celebrate freedom and bald eagles and being awesome.

But this year I just wasn’t feeling it.

I’m not making a political statement.  This isn’t about any opinions on the state of freedom in our country, or whether or not the Constitution is still being followed, or because of the current President or Governor, or because of who didn’t become the current President or Governor.  This is just about me being tired and worn out.

It’s been a rough week.  I did some physically exhausting yard work Monday, and I had an emotionally trying experience that I’d rather not say any more about yesterday.  And no one invited me to anything this year ahead of time.  I got an invitation to a small barbecue at the last minute, and I went, but I didn’t stick around to watch fireworks.  I was home and in for the night before the fireworks started.

This isn’t normal for me.  I love fireworks.  I didn’t grow up watching fireworks, so for me, there is still some childlike excitement attached to fireworks.  But I just feel like being alone tonight.

And that’s ok.

It’s ok to be sad and alone sometimes.  I can skip fireworks for a year.  Because I have freedom.  Because ‘Merica, that’s why.  God bless America.

I hope all of you had a happy and safe Fourth of July.  And for those of you in countries where this isn’t a holiday, I hope you had a wonderful day as well.

Exit 240. The harvest is plentiful.

You may have noticed I made a little change to this site today (or, more precisely, I changed something back to how it used to be).  But more about that later.  And let’s agree not to argue politics on this post, because that isn’t the point I’m trying to make.  Stay with me.

I don’t normally get political on this blog, although I’ve done that a little more than usual lately.  And I’m going to try to be respectful about it… but let’s be honest here.  The political environment in California is getting a bit oppressive.  Some of the actions recently taken or proposed by the California State Legislature, or by various city and county governments, no longer seem to be about financial policy or safety.  Instead, it seems like California’s government wants complete control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives.  (Of course, some of the local ordinances cited here do not affect me… yet.)  They want to control what we eat and drink, who gets how much money and why, how and where we travel, how teachers are allowed to do their jobs, the age at which children are introduced to certain sensitive topics, whom we are allowed to vote for, when we run certain appliances, how much water we are allowed to use, and what religious beliefs certain organizations are allowed to have.  While some of these at least have a point behind them, while possibly misguided, none of them seem to me compatible with the concept of freedom espoused by our Founding Fathers.

This lust for power echoes The Party from Orwell’s 1984 (not to be confused with a similarly named early-90s teen pop group).  While torturing Winston Smith, another character whom I will not name so as to avoid spoilers says, “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake… We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.  Power is not a means; it is an end… The object of power is power.  Now do you begin to understand me?”

So what does this have to do with me?  Fourteen years ago, a lot of people around me were similarly angry about a Republican being in the White House, and much like today, I was feeling (for a variety of reasons) like I did not fit in among the culture around me.  As you probably know, if you have known me for a while, I hit the road in June 2005 and wandered around the country, living out of my car, sleeping in Motel 6s and KOAs and friends’ couches.  I intended to come back to California only to get my stuff.  But after 117 days on the road, and a great experience in and of itself, I returned to where I started (my parents’ house) with more questions than answers.  I spent the holidays with my parents and moved to where I am now in January 2006.  I opted for a shorter move instead, to Sacramento County, which feels to me like California’s Happy Medium.  It was far enough away to make a real fresh start, but still within day trip distance of everything I knew.

Recently, with the contentious political environment of 2019, I’m really beginning to regret not having moved away when I had the chance.  It’s pretty obvious from the above list why I would want to leave.  But I have a lot more to lose now than I did in 2005.  I have a house and a mortgage.  I’m working at a school where I get along with my administration and coworkers, and while most people whose heads are not stuck up their posteriors agree that teachers are underpaid, most of the states that are less controlling than California pay teachers even less.  And I’d probably experience a bit of reverse culture shock in any of those other places; while those ruling California disgust me, I didn’t vote for President Trump either, and most of my hobbies aren’t the kinds of things I’d find in rural areas.

On the way to church Sunday morning, a week ago, I was planning on bringing up my inner turmoil as a prayer request.  Last week we finished a series planned around Easter by talking about the crowds who praised Jesus and then shouted for his crucifixion just five days later.  Jesus came into a world where the religious leaders were corrupt and many of the people around him were lost and confused.  Earlier in Jesus’ life, he makes a statement that shows clearly how he viewed these crowds.  “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'” (Matthew 9:36).  Then we had a little discussion on how this same thing plays out in today’s world, how there are many people harassed and helpless who do not know the Gospel and God’s love for them.  That led to a discussion specifically about California and how hostile the culture here can be to Christianity, and how Jesus is calling us to go out there and minister to people and tell them about God’s love through words and actions.

Six days later (last night, as I write this), I was in Davis for the annual alumni night of the Christian student group I was a part of in the late 1990s.  (I’ve written about this event before; in 2016, I was invited to speak.)  One of the people sharing was talking about this organization’s vision to open chapters on thousands of campi where they currently have no presence.  He said that college and university students are searching for meaning in their lives, and he quoted this same verse in the context of students being ripe for the harvest, ready to learn about and experience the love of Jesus.

So… the point I’m making… having heard this twice in less than a week, I’m pretty sure this is God telling me that now is not the right time for me to leave California.

As much as I disagree with much of the “California values” that those in power continue to cite as justification for their policies, God has a purpose for me here in California.  California is my home.  It’s a beautiful state as far as the natural world is concerned.  And it’s a part of who I am.

So, in light of all that, I’m changing the logo for this site from the US highway sign back to the California highway sign I used previously.  The change initially was borne of anger toward California politics, but it’s time to put that aside.  God has me here for a reason.  Jesus never came to institute a political system.  And as for my tax dollars going to support things I’m morally opposed to, Jesus also said in response to a question about taxes to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).  So there are more important things I should be looking at, and first and foremost among them would be all the lost souls around me searching for meaning, like sheep without a shepherd.  Here I am.  Send me (Isaiah 6:8).

Exit 202. I’ve been debating all weekend whether or not to write this.

I’ve been debating all weekend whether or not to write this.  I’ve said at times that part of the reason I feel so out of place everywhere is that I often feel like I don’t fit neatly into categories and boxes, and the culture is so divided and polarized these days that I end up feeling rejected from both sides.

An example of this that has been in the news lately is the recent decision by the National Football League to require all players on the field during the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner (the national anthem of the USA) to stand.  For those of you who don’t follow the NFL, or those of you reading in other countries, the very abbreviated back story is this: It has been customary to stand during the performance of this song for as long as I can remember, but in the last few years a number of players have been sitting or kneeling, with many of them saying that it is a protest about police brutality and the mistreatment of African-Americans.  Most people fall into one of two camps regarding this issue: “Yay America!  Everyone should stand!” or “Boo America, forcing people to stand is what dictatorships do, and the protesters are right!”

I think that protesting in this way is indeed disrespectful.  As we remember on this holiday weekend, people have died for the ideals that this flag and song stand for.  We have it so much better in this country than much of the world.  Many of us still believe in the ideals that founded this country.  And I also believe that the NFL is within their rights as a private corporation to require its players to stand for the national anthem.  It is comparable to having a dress code at a place of business.

But, that said, I don’t agree with this decision.  Respect is earned, not forced, and while a corporation does indeed have the right to impose rules of conduct on its employees, doing so also infringes on the concept of freedom of speech, one of the ideals that the flag stands for.  In the 1980s, the Supreme Court ruled in a controversial case that burning the flag in protest is free speech and cannot be punished in and of itself.  Although burning the flag extremely disrespectful, I agree with this decision.  Forcing someone to show love for their country is not love at all.  The NFL did say that players who don’t want to stand for the national anthem can stay in the locker room if they wish to, but that still sends the message that their protest isn’t wanted.  And I don’t believe that the NFL owners and leaders really care whether or not players love their country.  They saw that fans who love their country were upset about the players not standing for the national anthem, and less support from fans hurts their bottom line.  This had more to do with money than patriotism.

So am I going to watch NFL games this fall?  Does the fact that my team’s owner abstained from this vote, since the attention on these protests began with that team?  I don’t know.  I haven’t decided yet.  Should I care about any of this?  I don’t know.  Maybe the more important thing is for both sides to listen to why the other side is upset.  Maybe we really need to work on making this country a place that people love again, but without sacrificing the values and ideals that shaped this country.