Politics and the English Major



Where can I rest my head?

Today we watched Barack Obama deliver his second inaugural address.  On the day that we honor Martin Luther King Jr. we watched our first black president begin his second term as commander-in-chief.  Many are elated and it truly is an important moment in American history.  If you’re an American you should feel some sense of pride in your president on a day like this.  This is the next step in the hard struggle for freedom for all Americans.  And certainly, I appreciate the historical significance of it all.   So why do I feel the way I do?  Why am I not thrilled?

Let me bring you up to speed.  For a significant portion of 2012 I was heavily invested in the presidential election.  I followed every story as it broke and I looked into the candidates that interested me.  Through research and discussion I chiseled away at my political positions until they hardened into bronze beliefs.  Fox News and talk radio washed over my being as I prepared for the great battle of our age between big government tax and spend  liberals and small government fiscally responsible conservatives.  Obama was an enemy to “freedom” and somehow hated the very core of what America was, and no matter who replaced him that person would be an improvement.  When it came to Romney, I found a way to like and support him as the better alternative.  After the first debate I really got excited about the prospect of a conservative victory and increased my political presence on Facebook.  Post after post I passionately made a plea for conservative principles.  Right before the election I started to get feedback from friends that I had become too zealous and my words were losing their power.  Even those who agreed with my politics were becoming annoyed.  Admittedly, I was swept up in it. And then, after months of passionate reasoning and arguing, came the election.  Oh, the election.  I can sum it up in nicely in five words: Everyone…I…Voted…For…Lost.

After months of investing myself in politics I felt the awesome pain of total defeat.  Seriously, even the little people I voted for lost.  And to top it all off, I came down with a bad cold amidst the slaughter.  Right before falling asleep, I spoke on the phone with my friend Steve who bet me a dozen Cadbury eggs that Obama would win.  Though he assured me that everything would be ok, I went to bed physically ill, emotionally exhausted, mentally strained, and spiritually shaken.  It was the sleep of a lost soul floating aimlessly in a hostile political sea.

So these past months have been a time of humble self-reflection.  But they have also been a time of unease.  You see, I’m truly struggling with my political identity.  I’m in the midst of an identity crisis, you could say.  If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve probably gathered that I have long wrestled with my conservative principles in an increasingly liberal culture.  For instance, today my president said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”  Alright, so all that talk about gay marriage must be over.  Now I’m the bad guy if I don’t compromise my beliefs about marriage and morality.  And at the same time I recognize that gays have been treated with a special disdain within my Christian conservative community, and it’s hard not to view my side as the aggressors who are in the wrong.  Why is homosexuality uniquely wretched while divorce is basically accepted?  Where does evolving culture end and timeless truth begin?

So I’ve described to you my current political state.  My party has become a national joke and lost its ability to speak with authority to the greater culture.  There’s no Republican version of Obama.   My core political beliefs don’t have a champion in the arena and so I’m left to wander for a while in the wilderness.  Meanwhile, I’m wrestling with what it means to be a Christian in America today.  It’s all quite humbling, and I believe in my heart that I will come out of it a better man.  I just wish, in the meantime, I had somewhere to rest my head.


What This Flower Can Teach Us


Take a look at that amaryllis plant.  Do you notice something strange about its appearance?  Its skinny green stem shoots up over a foot while a fully formed flower sprouts straight from the bulb.  This is not how an amaryllis is supposed to grow.

It should look like this:


The stems grow long out of the bulb before blossoming out of the top.  This plant is well-developed and quite beautiful.  There is even new growth sprouting up with the promise of more flowers.  When the conditions are right, an amaryllis will bloom in a spectacular fashion.

Growing up in the “country” with a dad who kept a serious garden, I learned much about plant life.  I learned the values of cultivating and appropriate watering.  I learned that different varieties have unique needs when it comes to fertilization and sunlight.  But I didn’t just receive an education on how to keep plants alive; that’s not the true purpose of a garden.  The purpose of a garden is to produce fruit.

When I say fruit, I don’t just mean apples and oranges.  I am referring to any desired product.  So in the case of something like parsley or oregano,  the fruit is in the leaves.  With potato plants, the fruit is in the roots.  The fruit of flowering plants, like that amaryllis, is the flowers themselves.  Fruit is the reason you grow in the first place.

Plants do a curious thing when they are perfectly content.  As my father says, “If a plant is too happy it will make a lot of nice looking leaves, but not much fruit.”  He likes to recall the early years of his garden when his older neighbors would stop by to poke fun at him for his pepper plants.  “Nice big plants you got there!”, they would say.  My dad didn’t know at the time that it was possible for pepper plants to be too happy.  He figured that if they liked a little fertilizer they must like a lot of fertilizer.  But when the plants are living it up in comfort, they aren’t too concerned about making fruit.  They’re like the grasshopper in that story with the ants.  He lives in comfort all summer while the ants are storing for the winter, and when the winter comes he’s in a lot of trouble because he has no food.  When you think about it, the whole reason a plant makes fruit is to pass its life to the next generation (or germination if you like).  Fruit is evidence of a type of wisdom within the plant; a wisdom that prepares it for hard times ahead.  Plants that are too content to make fruit are foolish, so to speak.

So what about that funny looking amaryllis plant?  It was on track to grow normally until a small child (my cousin’s son, Sam) decided to test its durability.  If you look at the picture you can see where the stem was bent, about a third of the way up.  That unexpected calamity left the plant hunched over, looking sad and defeated.  But over the next week the stem slowly straightened again, and a fresh blossom appeared out of the bulb.  In no time at all a new flower bloomed at the base.  This was how the amaryllis plant responded to adversity: to make fruit.  With no care for its looks, or concern for being different from the other plants, it straightened up and turned tragedy into new life.  Yes, it had to mature faster than it would have liked, but it had the wisdom to mature.  And now that it has time to grow in a safe environment, I expected new growth to shoot up the way it was intended.

We all experience adversity, and it is how we respond to it that determines our outcomes.  Will we learn from our pain and mistakes and grow in character, or will we let fear and bitterness keep us bent over and without fruit?  Likewise, when the times are good and we are content, will we grow foolish and forget the fruit that our lives are meant to produce?    Fruit like patience, kindness, courage, perseverance, discipline, and love.  Wisdom cries out to us from many places: even a broken amaryllis plant.