How to vote


A few words before you vote tomorrow…or, if you’ve already voted, before you plant yourself in front of the teevee and pray to the God you do or don’t believe in…or, if you don’t plan to vote, before you climb into your storm shelter until sometime next week:

Do only what your spirit – your conscience – tells you is right.

Dozens of people have come to me in lament or confusion or anger or bewilderment or excitement (yes, a few) about what they’ll do tomorrow. And I do have opinions about the candidates and the situation, some of which I’ve shared rather openly.

But my only advice now is this: go to bed Tuesday night with a clear conscience.

Whatever you do, whatever you don’t do, resist the pressure to do what they tell you you must do. And they are those who you trust least and those who you trust most who hasten to tell you that what they will do is what you must do.

I don’t mean don’t listen to others. One of my clearest conclusions in the wake of this season is that we are terrible, terrible listeners.

So listen. Listen to be challenged, to be changed, and to be a more gracious and empathetic human.

And then do what you believe is right, no matter how obvious or unfamiliar it seems … no matter what you fear anyone else might think about what you do. Don’t do it defiantly. Do it humbly. Do it eager to continue learning about what you’ve done, about who we are, and about where we’re headed. Do it hoping for a better way for all of us.

I understand many aren’t sure what is right. That’s ok. Do your best, and DON’T do something that sits sideways in your soul. You owe no duty to any man or government that would compel you to say “yes” to anyone or anything you can’t in good conscience say “yes” to – and I include in that statement the possibility that some will be unable in good conscience to say “yes” to anyone.

In a conversation with a government official, Saint Paul the apostle said these words: “For that reason I make it my settled aim to always have a clear conscience before God and all people.”

You might get it wrong tomorrow. Lots of people will. It’s ok to get it wrong. Just don’t get it wrong because you’re afraid or because anyone’s opinion – mine included – cajoled, shamed, or bullied you toward doing anything that does not seem right to you.

Shut off the noise. Defy the fear. And make it your settled aim to go to bed tomorrow with a clear conscience before God and all people.

I still have a pile of thoughts about what I’ve seen and learned – and what I still haven’t figured out – during this strange act of the American story. At one time I thought I would complete a final passage before everyone votes, but it no longer seems helpful to add more noise to the crescendo of election-eve opinion. Someday soon, I’ll share some of that as a post-script of sorts.

A pre-election Sabbath meditation – for the believer and the skeptic

In just under three days’ time, the citizens of the United States will finish electing a new president. If my capacity to read public sentiment is even average, then most Americans are less excited than we have ever been about what was once the pinnacle expression of our collective identity. I recall being seventeen-and-a-half and wishing with all my little patriotic heart that I could cast a vote on November 3, 1992.

Today I join many in my generation – and in generations above and below mine – who grew up believing in America but who are struggling to muster even the slightest positive feeling or thought about exercising this treasured freedom. We once used the term “civic duty” with reverence; now it describes an obligation that seems stripped of the sacred.

So as an American and a man and a pastor, I offer to believers and skeptics alike this pre-election Sabbath mediation – not from above the fray, but from the midst of it:

This is not the end.

Whether you believe with all your heart in the USA or you’ve had your heart and faith so broken by chaos and corrupt character that you haven’t an ounce of faith left in your body, a better day than 8 November 2016 is coming.

Whether it’s still a grand ol’ flag to you or you’ve ceased to see the valor in the stars and stripes, the final chapter is not to be written this week.

Whether you place your hand proudly over your beating heart to emphatically answer “Yes!” to the question, “Oh say can you see…?” or you solemnly sympathize with those who drop to a knee to spill the secret that, “no, some of us cannot see…,” the innate human hunger for freedom that inspires both will not be extinguished by Hillary Clinton, by Donald Trump, by the anthem-singers, or by the kneeling protestors.

Whether you are convinced that voting for an R- or D- is an objective good even if the name next to it ain’t so good this time around or you find absolutely no comfort in party platforms if the name after the hyphen is so tarnished that you can no longer make any sense of the letter before it, good parties will not save us and bad names will not damn us.

Whether you are a fervent believer – a patriot to the core – or a bewildered skeptic – unsure that nationalistic faith can ever deliver – take heart!

This is not the end.

I offer such hope as a professing skeptic, unpersuaded of the virtue of a vote for either candidate this week, and all but void of belief that either party can make America great again. But I am not afraid. I hope because our ability to live a rich and meaningful life does not rest on the greatness of America.

No matter how much you believe in America – past, present, or future – she will let you down. She will break your heart. She will do bad things and elect bad leaders and empower bad judges. She will try to ensure freedom and fail; she will decide to restrict freedom and succeed. America also will do all kinds of incomparable good, yes, but she will never prove a reliable anchor for anyone’s soul.

So rest. On this Sabbath before the 2016 election, rest, and do not be afraid.

This week we will work – work to offer what we can to make America better…or to keep it from getting as bad as we think it could…or to to shield ourselves from the whole blasted mess.

But today we rest. We rest, assured that imperfect America can’t give us liberty and lasting joy, but she can’t take it either. Whether led by the noblest or most deplorable among us, America is our geography and our history and our collective labor, but America is not our source or our end. We are created with care, made for wholeness, and freely offered a grace of redemption and life that no man, woman, or nation can take.

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
  our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
  when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
  for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.