The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.


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Does voting our values mean we are imposing our beliefs?

You know how when you’re having a conversation with another person and one of you has bad breath, it can be so distracting that it’s difficult to even really hear what the other person is saying? If we’re the bearer of the odoriferous breath we may, a bit self-consciously, cover our mouth with a hand, turn our faces slightly in another direction or speak with as little breath expelled as possible, hoping that which comes from us that might possibly offend would not reach the level of their attention.

But the whole conversation becomes a little bit awkward that way. It’s hard to see eye-to-eye when we’re doing everything we can not to stand face-to-face. Sometimes I feel like having a political conversation with someone who knows that I happen to be a person of faith is like doing that strange bad breath dance. I’m so conscious of offending the other person, I don’t articulate clearly enough what my actual position is. Today I read a blog post that insinuated that having religious beliefs is something that should be done outside of the voting booth, but not in it. So for the sake of a clearer and hopefully more authentic conversation, I’m going to put my face straight forward to look at yours and say what I really want to say: My religious beliefs do affect my vote.

That is because my religious beliefs affect my values. And all of us, every single one of us, votes based on our values. Our values are shaped by our families, our cultures, our gender, our experiences, our education, and countless other factors. But religious beliefs are undoubtedly one of the things that help shape our values. And it’s not just me. I hate to break it to you but, whether you have a religious affiliation or not- whether you consider yourself religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist or none of the above-your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) affect your values. And your vote is affected by your values.

But let me tell you what that doesn’t mean:

  1. Just because my religious beliefs affect my values, doesn’t mean that when I vote I am trying to impose my religious beliefs on the state. I am simply casting my vote based on my own values, just like anyone else. Asking me to set aside my values before I vote would simply be asking me to put aside my humanity. I believe in separation of church and state specifically because I appreciate living in a place where we don’t do things like force people to separate themselves from their values when they exercise their right as a citizen to vote.
  2. I am no more trying to impose my values on you than you are trying to impose your values on me. Just as your votes may result in policies which go against my values, my votes may result in policies that go against your values. The nature of a democracy is that each person has the ability to place their single vote, whatever their vote may be and whatever their vote may be based upon. We each have that one single vote. That’s it. (Consequently, we also have a really, really good Constitution for which I am very thankful.  It protects us from a tyranny of the majority, which can be a dangerous thing.)
  3. Just because I have religious beliefs does not mean that when I vote I do not use my brain. If you think that having faith means not having an intellect, I challenge you to find a realm of human achievement where you don’t find people of faith. Arts, sciences, literature, philosophy….we are everywhere. And we do enjoy using our brains when we vote just as well as any other person does (or does not. Democracy is a funny thing like that. We don’t give tests to determine upon what a person will be basing their vote to see if it is appropriate before we hand him or her a pencil and ballot.)
  4. And just because I have particular values, doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep talking with you about this. Even if you have dramatically different values from mine.  I truly enjoy a good, intellectually honest, respectful debate.  And if we can agree on those ground rules, I’m all about digging in. Let’s not disrespect each other by assuming we can’t handle an opinion that dissents from ours.  My favorite conversations are the ones I’ve had with people who are not threatened by ideas different by their own.  That’s the place from which the absolute best policy-making is done. So let’s get at this!
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My story of being a stony-hearted, brutish beast…

It was one of those days when I felt like a fraud standing in the church pew during worship.  Sunday mornings there’s a special kind of chaos that happens in our household and I frequently find myself arriving to church disheveled and loaded down with over-brimming diaper bags and teary children.  As I walk in, I am certain  that others are disdainfully appraising the bedlam that floats in around us like the perpetual cloud of dust on Charlie Brown’s friend, Pig-Pen.  More often than seems appropriate, we’ve had a fight in the car on the way over and as I sit in the sanctuary my heart slouches inside of me like a petulant teenager facing a parent who expects them to make a good showing at a family reunion.

When we started singing “All Creatures of Our God and King” I was barely tuned in. But despite my inability to focus on worship, the words started breaking through in bits and pieces, washing over me…

Burning sun…..

                        silver moon….

                                                                                            lights of evening…

                                           flowing river….

                                                                                                        flowers and fruits….

…every part of nature being exhorted to praise their Creator God.  Each line of the song like an arrow zinged to crumble the stony wall encapsulating my heart.

This verse came to mind from Luke 19:40: He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When I’ve heard this passage before, I’ve felt a sense of shame that Jesus would have to make a fallback plan in case humans didn’t burst forth with cheers and praise and rejoicing at the presence of the Lord.  In previous readings, I’d interpreted this statement almost as the declaration of a frustrated king who, when finding his court is full of useless subjects, waves them out of his presence and announces that it doesn’t matter anyway because he can easily replace them, with stones no less.

But then out of nowhere (well, probably out of Somewhere), my understanding of these verses completely changed.  I realized that He who created each and every thing on this planet is fully capable of imbuing every single thing with life, humans and rocks alike!  It’s not a statement of our uselessness to Him, it’s merely of a statement of our need for Him and inextricable link between worship and life.

This brings me great hope because there have been many times in recent years when I have identified too closely with this image from Psalms 73 :

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Dulled by the drudgery of long days and deadened by the monotonous work of just plowing the rows and rows of flat field, I could not imagine how I could be used for anything beautiful anymore.  Feeling like a brute beast before the Lord, I had lost the sense to know even how to move forward.  But this Jesus that we follow guides, gently it seems even, a brute beast!  This Psalm goes on,

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

To think, He doesn’t just pull a brute beast towards more drudgery.  He guides that brute beast towards glory!  Of course, it’s not that he always change our geography or circumstances by taking us out of the dusty field in which we’re working.  But He often changes our experience of our fields by walking beside us, touching us with his presence and whispering guidance in our ear, even giving us glimpses of the glory that we are moving towards.

And this same Creator who guides this brute beast to glory will also inspire stones to cry out.  He can even animate a lifeless rock to use it to sing to Him!

I am sometimes that rock. Lower even than an animal, I am so dead in myself that I cannot conjure up one drop of life on my own. I need that Creator, Source of Life bigger and better and beyond me, to make me viable again.  To make me pliable and usable, something beautiful once more in His potter’s hands.

So as I stood in church that day, those arrows breaking up the stony walls around my heart, by time we got to the verse of the hymn where we sing, “Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, Praise God and on Him cast your care!” I find my whole self lifting upwards, remembering this Creator who is so wonderful that He would inspire even an inanimate object to worship Him!

In that moment and always, I find hope again as I worship Him, turning towards Him to be refreshed by His never-ending flow of  living water. But when I’m even worse off than that, when I’m stony-hearted and don’t even have enough life in me to turn like a senseless animal towards Him, He can still reach into me and revive my deadest places to make me sing again.

Am I the only stony-hearted, brutish beast among us?  If you’ve got a prayer request, message me at weakestreed@gmail.com or put it in the comments below and I’d be happy to pray for you as I pray for myself to be  softened for His use and guided to His glory.