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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Confessions of a Swing Voter

The morning drizzle that had beaded on my windshield flung off wildly as my car’s wipers swept the surface of the curved glass. It was 6:15 a.m., cold and raining when I started my car and drove the half-mile to the old United Methodist Church to cast my vote.

“I’ll get there nice and early,” I’d thought to myself the night before, setting my cell phone alarm to go off at 10 minutes-to six. “I’ll beat the crowds,” I’d confidently told my wife.

When I saw the line of potential voters stretching across the back lawn of the church, I realized I’d probably made a mistake.

For the next two hours, I stood in the rain, along with several hundred other residents of Prescient 86, eagerly waiting to cast their votes in the election of our next President. But during those two hours, wet and shivering on Tuesday morning, my idea of presidential politics and what it takes to lead a country completely changed.

Leading up to this year’s election, I was pretty excited. Not only was it my first time voting (the only other time I was eligible in college, I’d forgotten to fill out an absentee ballot for my home state—which is really no excuse, but hey, it happens), but this time, I was being courted. I was a highly sought after “swing voter” being intensely targeted by both campaigns. My vote mattered. I’m 25 years old, a Christian, and in the last year, I’ve lived in two different, highly contested swing states—Florida and now Virginia. It was people like me, I was told by the media, that would decide the election.

For months I’d debated with friends, deciphered email forwards and blog posts on all sides of the political spectrum. Being a swing voter is a grave responsibility I’d decided.

One weekend about a month ago, I’d come home from being out of town, and my wife said some campaigners had knocked on the door and dropped off some literature earlier that morning. “Oh no!” I’d thought. “I just missed my chance!” I pictured myself inviting the door-to-door activists inside, engaging them in a heated dialogue before persuading them with my freshly acquired political knowledge.

A few Saturdays later I’d get my opportunity. I answered the door excited for an intense exchange. Surely, the campaign volunteer would see me and think, “A swing voter!” and prepare to do whatever it takes to get me to join his side. But, instead of the impassioned plea I’d imagined, after a minute of me talking, the guy gave me a flier, wished me a good weekend and went on to the next townhouse. “Hmmm, that’s strange … He must have been in a hurry or something.” I decided that this guy was obviously not a dedicated campaigner, otherwise, he’d have surely debated in my doorway in an effort to receive my coveted vote for his candidate.

As the weeks went by, I continued my research and political conditioning. Cable news, DrudgeReport, Op-Ed pieces—I’d seen it all.

Finally though, after months of research and discussion, the morning of Nov. 4 had arrived. But standing there, behind the old church wet and cold, in a line that was barely moving, I started to lose my resolve. This certainly wasn’t what I’d picture.

I had imagined a row of American flags, gently fluttering in the dawn air as the sunrise broke the horizon. I’d arrive at the polling station, grab a complementary pastry, and calmly stride to the booth as older on-lookers would whisper to one-another “He must be a swing voter!” After casting my ballot, they’d look at me with a smile, and give me a pat on the back, saying something like, “We’re proud of you son.” Most likely, there’d be a local news crew waiting for a young voter like me to interview and ask probing political and cultural questions to—they’ll be dying to know what I think.

As my shoes started filling with muddy water and I trudged forward in the snail-paced line, I wondered how I’d gotten it so wrong. There weren’t even any free donuts.

I ended up leaving the church at 8:20, slightly disenfranchised by the democratic process. The rest of the day I complained to co-workers and friends about the long line, the inefficiency of the voting system and lack of Krispy Kremes.

But later that evening, I started to have a change of heart. As I watched people across the country on TV, gathering to either celebrate or console, I started thinking about that morning. Just like me, there were millions of very passionate people around the country that also wanted their voice—their vote—to matter.

And they do.

For some reason I had felt like a grave injustice had been perpetrated on me just for having to wait outside for a little while to vote. But just like all my neighbors who also stood (far more patiently than me) waiting their turn, I cast one vote. And it counted. No matter what the outcome, I got to express what I thought. Isn’t that worth the wait?!

I had been so consumed with my own opinion, my own self-importance, my own physical discomfort, that I neglected to just look around and see everyone else standing out in the rain with me. If my biggest complaint is that I got a little wet and a little cold, than I have it pretty darn good.

And that’s what I learned that morning about what’s really going to influence a nation. It’s not just the President, new legislation and political ideology—it’s us. It’s our attitude. It’s our ability to look beyond ourselves (and conflicting ideas), and see how other people are in the same boat.

There are a lot of Christians who have varying ideas about the outcome of the election. But no matter whose living in the White House, real change happens through people caring for other people. Jesus understood that. He knew that loving people and living selflessly was often more effective than just words and ideas.

Yes, principles are important—but words without actions are meaningless. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1, NIV). And no one likes a clanging cymbal. I’ve learned that lesson before.

Right now, many Christians are dedicated to praying for the nation—which is important. But I also want to remember to pray for myself—that I could see beyond my own needs and see what God sees. That He would show me not just how to be a better citizen, but a better neighbor. That He would show us how to not just change our nation, but to change our neighborhood. Not just with policy, but with practice.

That He would remind us, He is no respecter of persons—even if you are a swing voter.

Political passion is important and expressing it is our right, but my prayer is that when Christians look around at the other people they share this country with, they‘ll see that despite our differences, we’re all standing out in the rain together.

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