Friday, June 23, 2017

"This is Robb, How Can I Help You?"

My husband always answers the phone the same way:
"This is Robb. How can I help you?"

It's pretty smart, really.   He can quickly sort out if they are calling Robb the pastor of Vintage Fellowship, Robb the sales executive for Three Tier Logic or Robb the candidate for United States Congress.

And, he is actually listening for how he can help you.

I'm sure that people who know us are wondering about this new thing, this running for Congress.
How does he have time for this? Isn't he mixing religion and politics?  Is he even qualified to do this? Can regular people just run for Congress?  Don't you have to have a lot of money or be famous or something to do this?

I can answer all of those questions.  Because I'm the one who got this thing started.

Just a few short months ago, I heard a podcast entitled "Zack Exley Has a Plan to Save U.S." For the first time in a very long time, I felt hope about politics in America.  Zack spoke in a way that made sense to me because he was describing something in the realm of politics that I have observed in the realm of religion for the last 12 years.   He spoke to a longing for something else.  Twelve years ago, Robb and I heard that longing in the church and we started Vintage Fellowship.  We have over a decade of seeing what is possible when people abandon peripheral negativity and focus on the minimalist version of their faith.  Like people who declutter their homes, they experience a freedom, a lightness, a fresh start.

I was tired of feeling like a victim of my government.  I handed Robb my phone and said, "You need to do this."

Zack Exley grew up liberal.  He got involved in politics, worked at high levels on the Howard Dean campaign, the John Kerry campaign, and was involved with labor unions.  Along the way, though, he met a girl.  She was a Christian.  And then Zack got really interested in Christianity.  And Jesus.  He worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign and wrote a book based on what he learned called "Rules for Revolutionaries."  And he started a group called Brand New Congress.

Robb Ryerse grew up conservative.  He got involved in politics when he was in high school and went to Teenage Republican School.  He marched at Pro-life rallies. He planned to study political science, get a job in Washington and become President of the United States.  At the end of his junior year of high school, he discovered he had enough credits to graduate early.  He had a "Senior Week" while his small Christian school scrambled to get him a cap and gown, and with no time to apply elsewhere,  he headed off to the Bible college where his parents had met and his two older sisters were attending. The plan was to spend the year knocking out a few general studies courses and get back to the plan of  studying political science the following year.  That year, our mentor Dr. Carter took Robb's class on a field trip to Washington D.C. where he required his class to interact with their representatives and meet with them in person.  Robb's Congressman offered him a job on the spot.  But by that time, God had intervened in the plan.  Robb had felt the call to ministry and became convinced that if he ignored it, all other work would be a step down.  He went on to take the Pastoral Studies course, finished a Master's degree in Seminary and spent the next 20 years in ministry.

Their paths would converge over the word "post."

We are post-denominational.
Brand New Congress is post-political party.

A time comes when the groups we use to define us no longer define us.  We are both/and. We are nuanced. We are non-dualistic. We are listening and leading at the same time.

For the last twelve years, we have led our church by giving people "a big back yard" to play in theologically.  We have welcomed doubt. We have allowed people to be on their own journeys.  We believe that with the freedom to explore their own faith, they will get stronger and deeper and healthier in their relationship to Jesus.  It seems to us that if the government could give people a big back yard to be in, they could be stronger, deeper and healthier as a community.  If they could be protected as individuals, freed up from life and death struggles for survival, and allowed to innovate without crushing regulations, maybe our country would be better off.

It is also curiously Providential that I completed my Ordination early this year.  In order to grow as a pastor, I need the chance to practice the craft of preaching and the opportunity to take leadership in the church.  It just made sense for me to step up and start doing this work at the same moment Robb felt compelled to give his attention to the leadership vacuum in our government.

The way Brand New Congress works is like this:  It is a national organization, running local campaigns from the national level.  There is a group of paid staff and volunteers working on the nitty-gritty of the campaign details, like administration, fundraising, advertising, and social media. People nominate candidates who they already respect for their leadership in regular life and Brand New Congress interviews and trains and supports those candidates.  They keep their regular jobs and campaign during nights and weekends.

Robb's campaign has already gotten some national attention.  Every week, he has had press coverage, interviews, and requests for more interviews, both here locally and also in other markets all over the country. I scrambled to get a haircut because a documentary film crew is coming this weekend. That's because he's the first Republican candidate being offered by Brand New Congress.  He's the first example that people with different ideas about how the government should be run can put their heads together and choose a platform they agree on, not because a political party or corporations say they have to, but because it is good for the people of our country. He is challenging the accepted definition of Republican just like he challenged the accepted definition of Christian.  And instead of jumping through hoops to make the party happy, Brand New Congress representitives can get to work for the American people.

Zack Exley sat on my back porch last week and told us that Robb could be the start of a movement.  We laughed.  But we also remember vividly how we thought we were alone when we started Vintage Fellowship. And then we found out that we were in company with a movement happening all over the world, across all denominations and faith traditions.  Every day, we meet people who hear about what we are doing and say, "This is what I was looking for!"

I know I'm not the only one who has felt that the government... what ever that is....isn't for regular people anymore.  This is our chance.  You want to be represented by someone like you?  Someone who works a regular job? Someone who has had to navigate health insurance on his own?  Someone who wants businesses to succeed?  Someone who works two jobs?  Someone who isn't so rich they've never needed free or reduced lunch for their kids, WIC, or other public programs?  Someone who cares for all life, not just the unborn?   Someone who respects women?  Someone who has opened his mind about the lives of LGBTQ people?   Someone who cares deeply about the treatment of people of color?  Someone who mistrusts big government, big business, and big religion?   Someone likable?  Someone who is listening?

You've already witnessed in recent months that the vote of a very small number of Congressional members can change the outcome of a vote one way or another.  Literally, one or two people can actually affect the details of your life.

It seems to me that we need to change the way we pick a candidate.  We've got to stop asking, "Do  they agree with what I think?"  and start asking, "Do they know how to get along with people that think differently from them?"

I see so much hand-wringing and frustration on Facebook.  I also see a defeated, disengaged attitude of "that's just the way it is."  I am leaving both those camps behind and settling in for what can be done.

Here's what you can do.  If you are in are in the Arkansas 3rd District, vote for Robb in the primary election, regardless of your party affiliation.  You don't have to wait until November to get our current representative out of office.  If you want to vote for the Democratic candidate in the fall, go for it because he's not a bad guy, but at least challenge the sitting candidate in the primary election.   It is imperative to vote the primary in May of 2018.

If you are not in our district or the great state of Arkansas, volunteer.  Like all movements, Brand New Congress needs people to carry the movement forward.  Brand New Congress is a national strategy, and they are looking for qualified candidates from both parties all over the country.  Listen to the podcast. Nominate other people who are suited to the task.  Share about it on social media.  Talk to people you know.  Be involved.  Don't sit and complain when you can do something very tangible.

Donate to Robb's campaign.  This campaign is not about big corporate backing. This is real people giving medium and small amounts to the work.  Because of structural issues, Robb's campaign fund is walled off from the larger group, even though he is being backed by Brand New Congress.  Don't be discouraged by the total today.  It's a long road. If you want to be represented by real, regular people, then real, regular people have to donate.

Finally, share this post.  This is an example of time when the simple sharing of information with other people can help.  You can help people know that there is hope for our country. You can help them get involved. You can be part of a movement.  If you are frustrated and scared, if you are disappointed with your government and long for a time when people were true public servants, this is the time to step up with courage and ask for a better leader.  If you or someone you know has a platform to share information with a lot of people, ask them specifically to share this post and others like it.  I would especially love to see strong female leaders like Kristen Howerton, Shauna Niequest and Jen Hatmaker, who have openly mourned the political situation we find ourselves in to join us.  

This is Robb.  How can he help you?


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