February 21, 2013

Good night friends! Tomorrow begins a 40 day Facebook fast for Lent. Looking forward to being fully present to those around me and to clearing out mental clutter to more clearly hear the still, small voice of God.” ~ Facebook friend

Still Small Voice 2

These words and images appeared in separate status updates from friends on my Facebook last week. It was just after I blogged about tuning out Facebook a bit more in order to be more fully present and to find a new state of mind. It seems many of us were thinking about seeking more stillness.

But how well are we doing?  As for me, I’ve been struggling for a while to be still.

In 2009, I was exploring running for the Chicago City Council.  The director of the “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office” women’s political practicum in which I had participated was asking me when I was  going to move from working others’ campaigns to launching my own.

As I tried to discern the right timing and path for my personal entrance into the political fray, I gathered a group of friends to meet with me regularly to pray.  A number of months into the process, one of the women told me that she believed that God had given her some words for me from Psalm 46:10– “Be still and know that I am God.” She and the other women prayed over me.  Shortly thereafter, I accepted that I indeed needed to be still and wait on God for some other opportunity to launch a political career.

A huge burden of stress was lifted from my shoulders.  I literally felt the difference.

In retrospect, I realized that I had been working too hard and too alone.  A number of people who had originally encouraged me and had signed up to help weren’t following through.  Though I had successfully begun raising money, and it looked from the outside like all systems were go, I had the sense that something wasn’t right.  I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and I had plenty of understanding about and preparation for the challenges of running for political office. But I had been asking myself how hard I should have to struggle to pry doors open. Were the obstacles and questions I was facing signs that this was not what the universe had for me at this moment? It wasn’t until I stepped back that I was more fully able to hear the still, small voice.

Yet I surrendered to the call to be still in some ways but not others.  I felt good about my decision not to run for office at that time.  But I didn’t take my friend’s prophetic words to mean that I should disengage from politics altogether.  Shortly thereafter I jumped in full throttle to a mayoral campaign.  I don’t know for sure that I was supposed to take that route.  It wasn’t until I nearly collapsed in exhaustion after the mayoral race that I finally truly sought to be still.

My year-long-sabbatical from politics gave me more perspective.  As I have listened to that still, small voice, I have come to believe that God is going to have me keep waiting and trusting for a while longer. I must admit that I wrestle with that on a regular basis.  And I sometimes get confused when others’ voices encourage me to put my hat in the political ring sometime soon.  It’s hard to know which voices are which.

In the midst of this on and off conversation with myself, friends and colleagues, and God, my impatient self ran across a booklet by Joyce Meyer: When, God, When? Learning to Trust in God’s Timing.  The funny thing is, I don’t think I had ever read anything by Joyce Meyer.  But this booklet somehow ended up in a stack of devotional readings I had crammed in my bedside table. It caught my eye just at the right time.

A couple of thoughts particularly spoke to me.  Meyer suggests the following:

  • Enjoy the present while waiting for your calling to be fulfilled.  Too often we get so focused on the goal that we forget to appreciate the process, and even the waiting.  And life passes us by.
  • Sometimes God is preparing others that are supposed to be on the journey with you.  You may be ready, but your partners may not.

The latter really rang true for me.  As I was reflecting on Meyer’s writings, I noted with amazement how God is so clearly at work in the life of one of the people I had most expected to have by my side in my political journey. And I am excited to think about some significant support-system relationships where baby steps toward reconciliation have begun or new ones have been born.  Meanwhile, I realize that there are other key characters who are not yet fully bought into my dream.

So I’m trying to heed Meyer’s advice. I try to focus on being faithful in the little things day to day.  And to not miss out on joy by trying in my own strength to force the birth of my vision in my own timing. “Be still and know that I am God.”

More than three years after my aldermanic exploration, two years after the mayoral campaign, and nearly six months after my year-long sabbatical, I keep trying (and often failing) to be quiet and listen and be still.



A New State of Mind

February 13, 2013

Today, a Facebook friend posted a comment about how she was going to sign off of Facebook for a while.  She said it wasn’t necessarily for Lent, but it was part of an effort to simplify her life.

A few hours later, here I am watching people’s Facebook posts while I watch the president’s State of the Union address.  Now many of us multi-task that way.  I did the same during the Superbowl a few weeks ago.  And even last night while I watched The Bachelor.  (Yes, I admit, my husband and I have gotten sucked into this particular season.  And I checked my Facebook to see how many people were as happy as I was that the bachelor sent Tierra home last night!) Facebook has made things more complicated, hasn’t it?

My addiction to Facebook actually was facilitated by politics.  As I often do with new technology and such, I got dragged onto Facebook kicking and screaming.  My grad school friends encouraged one another to sign up as a good way to keep in touch with each other.  That was actually a great idea.  But I didn’t start engaging actively with Facebook until I decided to use it intentionally to connect with more people and raise my profile as I explored running for political office.  It was all downhill from there.

I took up not only a Facebook addiction, but a technology addiction, in addition. I got my first Smart Phone to enable my habit.  I could now post on the go.  Keeping up with Facebook and e-mails became my commuting routine.  It became something I’d do whenever I was bored.  While I was waiting for a friend who was running late to meet me for coffee.  While I was walking down the street, even!

And, for the next few years, my husband complained. I was never fully present because I was always paying attention to my phone.  While we were watching a movie at home.  While we were out to dinner.  He’d get up to go to the bathroom, and by the time he got back, I’d be in another world.  I’d be mad about some nasty political comment I saw on Facebook or responding in my mind to some work-related e-mail.

So six months into my sabbatical from politics, I decided to get what I call a Dumb Phone.  No internet access.  I can text and call.  That’s all.  Now I read a book while I’m on the “L.”  Or I just think.  Or I pray.  Or I just plain space out and let my over-worked brain cells rest.  And at home, I remain much more focused on my husband (and our mutual enjoyment of The Bachelor!)

It was a bit hard at first.  And I have to be a bit more organized since I can’t email someone to let them know I’m running late or look up directions while I’m on the move.  But I’m no longer addicted to having constant Facebook and internet access.

It wasn’t for Lent that I originally weaned myself off a Smart Phone. In fact, Lent hasn’t been a big part of my Christian tradition.  The personal opinion that I formed over the years was that having an attitude of sacrifice all year round was much more important than eating fish on Fridays for what seemed to me to be legalistic reasons.

But in recent years, I have come to value Lent as a time to get in a new state of mind.  I find it a good frame for thinking about how to reorder my life. A good time to think about areas of my life where I’ve been going overboard.  A good time to develop new habits.  Forty days of reflection and discipline can really change things.

Tonight our country reflects on the state of the union and the possibilities of this presidential term. And some of us put on Lenten reflection and sacrifice. How will you get in a new state of mind?

The Great Facebook Debate

February 6, 2013

“Hate can’t drive out hate.  Only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s just too easy for strong words of disagreement to come across as hate on Facebook.  Or at least as unloving.  And as one who aspires to promote love rather than hate, that was a plenty good reason to put myself on a fast from Facebook debates as part of weaning myself off of politics.

You see, when I’m on a political high that is further stoked by Facebook debate, I’m probably not the best monitor of my own words.  Maybe I’m spewing something not unlike the very hate that I hate so much.

I had used my personal Facebook account quite prodigiously to promote my candidate during the mayoral campaign I worked.  I had commented a lot on other people’s posts in an effort to encourage real dialogue about policy and politics based on facts and reason.  My number of Facebook friends had expanded greatly during that period as folks I met on other people’s pages “friended” me.  Either they wanted to engage with me because they agreed with me, or they thought it would be fun to argue with me.

Much to the surprise of some people, I actually don’t enjoy arguments.  The many people who used to tell the teenaged me that I should be a lawyer might beg to differ, as might my husband.  I probably do have an argumentative streak in me.  But that’s exactly why I don’t need any extra incentive to argue.

Sure, there’s a role for debate.  Debates are an important element of politics.  But too much of the time, we call something a debate simply to justify being argumentative or to hurl insults.  We want to prove ourselves better or smarter than another person.  We want cover for simply being mean.

I had to “block” a few people during that campaign season.  That was the first time I had ever done that.  They aligned with the same political party that I tend to, but they supported different candidates than I did.  (In Chicago, the question usually is not whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.  It’s what brand of Democrat you are.)  But who they planned to vote for wasn’t the reason to disengage.  It was their orientation toward hate.  Rather than simply discuss their policy position or point out a politician’s voting record on a particular issue, they tended to use language of attack.  Attacks on me or attacks on candidates other than their own.  Personal and ugly attacks.  Hate.

In other cases, I’ve found a need to hide the comments even of people who share my political views and/or my faith.  Some of them share both with me.  Others share one or the other.  Either way, there are some people whose comments come across as hateful and disgusting, even as they think they are promoting something good.

So when my sabbatical started, I decided that I would not:

  • post any political commentary of my own;
  • participate in debates about politics on other people’s pages;
  • “share” newspaper articles about politics;
  • promote my favorite candidates—friends who were running for office.

That last one was particularly tough.

But I saved myself some pain by staying out of many-a-Facebook debate.  And I saved myself from possibly representing myself in ways I might regret later.  Giving myself a hard and fast rule had really helped me to just stay out of the fray.  Once my sabbatical was over and I waded back into the Facebook political debate space, I surely have irritated some people as some have irritated me. But I have tried really hard to avoid spewing hate.

So should one participate in Facebook political debates? In the end, I think it’s about moderation. And constant self-monitoring.

You see, I’ve found some sense of community by representing my political persuasion on Facebook.  And I consider it to be part of my witness.  So I don’t want to have to disengage completely from those conversations.  Despite the dangers, I’m afraid I’ll miss out.

I’ve connected with some old classmates from Christian college, for example, who I would never have expected to have similar views as mine.  And some of them have expressed to me how refreshing it has been to them to find others like me who share their faith AND their not-so-conservative political points of view.  Rare birds we are.  So I want to walk with them in sharing non-hate-filled policy and political positions with others.  I hope that we can positively influence others to think in new ways about how we together promote good government and the common good.

But to do that, I have to keep focused on love.  And not being argumentative.  Because as someone once said, “No one ever changed their mind because they lost a debate.”

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