You don’t know me.  So why should you trust me?  Some church planter guy in West Virginia talking about leadership.  What do I know about you and your situation?

Of course, on the other hand, your cynicism might keep you from something that could create a breakthrough in your situation.  And what if you miss out on that?

This is the tension of insight.

And it has nothing to do with me.
(And everything to do with you.)

There’s this approach we often have to the world around us.  It’s the approach of cynical skeptics who for better or worse seem to believe that their own, localized situation buried in their context and assumptions and problems and opportunities has nothing to do with anyone or anything from the broader world outside their context.

And you know what?  They might very well be right.

But sometimes they’re not.

Sometimes a voice, a story, a spark of insight… Sometimes someone far removed from our life–a business owner in Germany or a Kindergartener in Iowa–sometimes these people learn something or see something or say something that sends lightning down our spine and speaks directly to our hearts as the Truth we needed to hear.

I know this because I’ve had it happen to me.  I’ve written people, things, and places off in a flash.  I’ve assumed they have nothing to do with me or my life.  I’ve brushed them away like the dust on an old book.

And I’ve missed out because of my approach.

The tension here is that maybe, just maybe, we should always be awake.  Maybe we should always have our radars turned on and our ears tuned in.  Maybe it’s better to assume greatness and wisdom in everyone and everything around us rather than idiocy.  Maybe the arrogant boss still has something to offer.  Maybe the annoying student has brilliance inside.  Maybe the broken single mother will paint beauty all over this world.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ve got something amazing too.


So there was this day, back in August, when I dropped my 11-year old daughter off at the local Middle School for the first day of 6th grade.  It was like that first day of kindergarten, but with a whole new set of emotions.  On Kindergarten day, I found myself sad because of her rapid growth and how quickly time was going and what it meant that she wasn’t at home all day everyday anymore.  But on Middle School day, sadness was replaced by nerves and fear.  I was watching her grow up too quickly again, but this time I knew she was entering a world of peer pressure and boys and mean girls and boys.  It was a hard day.

Until she came home.

She was so excited she couldn’t contain it.  She’s always been a lover of school, but on this her first afternoon in Junior High she came home talking all about every class, and especially Social Studies.

Now, as an aside you need to know that this summer my family grew (a bit too) obsessed with the soundtrack from Hamilton, the Broadway show that seems to be taking over a large portion of our musical preferences in America.

When I say obsessed, I’m talking about three little rural West Virginia white girls and their gorgeous mama rapping like MC Hammer circa 1992 to the lyrics of this show.  Not to mention, in this process, we learned a great deal about American history and this ten-dollar founding father.

Back to Middle School day one.

My girl came home pumped about the fact that her class was talking all about this portion of American history and she was sure that meant Alexander Hamilton and she couldn’t wait and by the way daddy, did you know there’s a presidential election this year???

Yes, honey, I had heard that.

Since that time, we as a country have observed three national debates, countless controversial conspiracies or conspiratorial controversies, the trashing and defending of the would-be contenders, and a news cycle that drips like Starbuck’s Americano.

And like most of you, I am incredibly tired of it all.

This is my fifth presidential election.  I’ve seen Bush part 2 for two terms, and Barack Obama for two terms.  I’ve also watched three complete rounds of The West Wing in the process.

So I consider myself fairly educated when it comes to presidential moments (read more sarcasm than arrogance in that statement).  But, this year, something’s different.  As I’ve watched the debates (or what I could stand of them) and read the news, my thoughts are a bit transformed.  You see, it’s no longer about my opinion alone because after every debate, my daughter has woken up and gone to school the next day only to come home and say daddy, did you know there was a debate last night?

And then we spend a few minutes talking about the debate and what the candidates did or said, because that’s what she’s been talking about in her current events time in Social Studies.

The earliest presidential election I remember was 1988.  I don’t remember much about it other than Michael Dukakis riding in a tank.

But I do know there were conversations being had around me.  I remember asking a few questions and hearing the familiar statements of parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends speaking into the heart and mind of a young boy curious about these two men so boring and yet so prevalent on television.  Statements like this:

“It’s our privilege to vote.”
“When it comes time to vote, it’s what you do as a duty of an American.”
“People fought so we have the right to vote.”
“It’s what makes our nation great–our freedom to vote.”

I don’t remember those statements meaning much to me until about six years later.  I remember seeing clips of this place they called South Africa–I truly believed it was the southern half of the continent; I didn’t know it was its own country.  I remember hearing this word Apartheid and seeing African men and women rejoicing as they stood in line to vote for the first time in the rural parts of this country.

As I started, in my adolescent mind, to understand the great racial brokenness in this country and what it meant to truly have a free election, I started to believe those statements I’d been raised under and the true greatness of freedom in my own country.

I have always looked forward to voting.  I love the presidential run-up.  I enjoy the debates and the strategy and the ongoing conversation with friends and family about who I should vote for and why they’re the best option.

But then this campaign happened.
And my daughter going to Middle School happened. 

Suddenly, I found myself entirely confused about this political season and specifically, how to raise my daughter in this conversation.  Now, as much as I love her passion for learning and her engagement of this Social Studies class and desire to learn about the election, I’m also wrestling against what to teach her.  In my mind, I should be saying the things I grew up hearing about the duty to vote and the obligation to honor the past  and the fight for freedom.  Honestly, I believe those things.  I do.  I love this country in so many ways.  But I also have this great struggle right now as I look at these candidates and this campaign…

This campaign and these candidates do not represent the America I believe in.

Again, I don’t want to incite a political commentary firestorm here.  I have many great friends who are soldiers and I know their sense of duty and passion for freedom and I am not dishonoring them. I have shared this conversation with them and they get it.  They are frustrated as well.

This pride and arrogance, and the driving attempts to destroy not only someone’s political aspirations but also their personal reputation and character fueled by the reality that these candidates have little to no personal character offers a portrait of a country that is not the ideal that we have for so long stood upon.

So, after this very, very long preface, how do we parent our children as they grow through these difficult conversations?  I’d like to make 5 suggestions.

1 – Teach them about integrity, honestly.

I think the very best thing we can do in helping our children and teens understand the political climate right now is to first teach them honestly about integrity.  I’m not talking about the stories of Honest Abe or the original George W.’s cherry tree.  I’m talking about the great difficulty that lies in attempting grow our daughters and sons as future men and women who live lives of character and truth.  Our kiddos need to know that integrity is a battle, and the political realm is a perfect example of what the Scriptures teach about fighting for the approval of humanity or the approval of God:

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
    but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”  (Proverbs 29:25)

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ…” (Galatians 1:10) 

What this means is that we ask them what they think of these political candidates along the way.  Let them think for themselves and engage in these conversations with you.  Ask them what questions they have and then allow your conversation to move primarily to the issues of integrity and character, not who you’re voting for or why.

2 – Teach them about dignity and worth.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of this entire campaign has been the disregard for the value and worth of common people given by both sides.  From Trump’s unacceptable defamation of women, immigrants, and anyone else he considers “the Other,” to Clinton’s uber-wealthy disconnect from real America, it is painful to know that one of these two future leaders will soon sit in an office at least philosophically built to guard and protect the people of this country.

The tension of this election with my oldest daughter has been the gift of opportunities to talk with her about her own dignity and value as a young woman and the importance of considering every other person around her with the same dignity and value.  No fear grips me more than the fear that my daughters will grow with a pervasive preconceived idea of what it means to look like the “perfect” woman.  So, I will fight tooth and nail with every conversation I’m given to allow them to hear of what true beauty and worth mean in the eyes of God.

3 – Teach them about the sovereignty of God and not a false hope in man.

Okay, so this isn’t a lesson simply for our children.  Maybe we all need this lesson.  A recent video of Andy Stanley shows him speaking to those over the age of 45 about the political climate and simply saying, “Calm down, you’re scaring the kids.”  How true is that?  If we allow ourselves to be swept up in the endless news cycle and rhetoric so permeated with fear we will do nothing but pass our fear to our children.

What this season offers to us as parents is the chance to demonstrate tangibly what faith in a God who sits over this creation, not in fear of it:

“That power [that raised Christ from the dead] is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:19-21)

So, we have the chance to live at peace in the coming days because we serve a God who is good and a God who is sovereign, and when you as parents demonstrate that peace and faith in the midst of your own fear and discontent, your children will see what trust in God truly looks like.

4 – Teach them history–good, bad, and ugly.

It never ceases to amaze me that as I travel and engage more friends in more places, I recognize the great diversity in worldviews in our country.  What I realize is that all of this ties directly to individual histories and the history of our country as a whole.  My friend whose grandfather died serving in World War 2 so that his family in rural West Virginia could remain safe has a very different understanding of America than my African-American brother who grew up a victim of systemic poverty in an urban ghetto.  The thing is, both of these experiences are American and both of these experiences are deeply rooted in the history of this country.

We are all products of the past, but we are not destined by the past.

It is essential that as parents we become (hi)story tellers.  We often do this in our own families, telling the favorite stories of the past around our holiday tables.  But the problem is, these stories are told through rose-colored lenses when we’re little and all we ever get is the shiniest version of our past.  As our children grow, as parents we must unveil not only the good but also the evil and disfigured parts of our stories.  We are shaped not only by the good, but by the evil as well.

The story of our country is much the same.  It is a land born through bloodshed and sacrifice but also tainted with a disregard for Native Americans and the enslavement of African-Americans.  The great men and women who built this country also had great blindspots.  America is not Fox News.  It is not CNN.  It is individuals like you and me, broken and messy and yet full of potential.

5 – Teach them civility and citizenship.

Finally, I’ve settled on a great passion to teach my kids about civility and citizenship.  It is more important in our family that we listen and listen well, that we seek to understand before being understood, and that we care deeply about the value of a person even with whom we disagree.  The great gift we have in relationships is that we can dialogue over the power of words, that we can see the world differently, and that we can still love the Other well.

In this campaign, civility seems to be the Great White Unicorn that all have forgotten.  Even children recognize that at the base level, these candidates are mean.  Civility recognizes that even in the midst of passion and purpose and defensive stances, we can be kind.

But not only civility.  Citizenship matters as well.  And citizenship is more than a patriotic duty to vote.  It is more than five minutes in a booth on one day every four years.  Citizenship is an ongoing care and love for place–our place–that says courageously, “This is not the America that I love, not the way these candidates are presenting it.  But I will work everyday to make it more that way.”  And then and only then, citizenship is waking up and loving our place by loving the people around us, caring for the communities where we reside and those who suffer because of broken systems and failing leadership.  Citizenship is recognizing that America is our responsibility; beyond the act of voting and flooding out in our everyday lives.

And by the way, citizenship, at least for those who call themselves Christ-followers, must always come down to something higher than America, or West Virginia, or Detroit.  Citizenship, for us, lies in what Paul says:

“But our citizenship is in heaven.And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20)

I love this country; but I love the Kingdom of God more.  I am a citizen of the U.S.  I am a West Virginian.  But I am a citizen of the Kingdom that Jesus told us was near first.  And, on November 9th I will speak to my children of the great purpose of God’s mission that hasn’t changed no matter who takes office.

How are you using this mess to teach your kids?

This is New Community :: Affirmation Station from New Community Church on Vimeo.

This is a video we shared with our New Community family a few weeks ago.  Never underestimate the power of affirmation and how you can bring grace to another person’s life.