Saying Goodbye.

 

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Photo Source: C-SPAN

I am leaving the Oklahoma legislature. Last week was a week of formal goodbyes.

I gave a farewell speech to the House, which you can watch, if you’d like. Go here to see the video. The House Democrats held their annual Sine Die Party, and roasted me and other departing legislators. The Democratic Legislative Assistants prepared a delicious luncheon (Covered dish. All their best cooking. It was to die for.) with a cake with all our names and said another round of good-byes. I even got a small — and lovely — good-bye editorial in the Oklahoman.

We are still in the busiest time of the legislative process. We haven’t shut down. Not at all. That means I’m going to be tres busy until we actually do sine die. (Sine die is the motion we make to adjourn the legislative session.) But I am grateful beyond words to my colleagues for giving me these many avenues of good-bye.

Each of these things is a rite of passage for what has to be a huge transition in my life. Leaving the legislature is a little bit like a soldier, coming home from a war. You are leaving a combative, total environment which engages you on every level and returning to a world that now seems out of kilter by comparison.

Wherever people are for a period of time, that becomes their normal. Normal for me has long ago become the totally unreal world of elected politics.

At the same time, I am way past glad to be leaving. God gave me something like marching orders for the rest of my life a few years ago when I was sitting in the cathedral at Fatima. I’ve dithered since then, occupied and preoccupied by the legislative wars and the many needs of my constituents. If you don’t think that these things are a 24/7 occupation that devours of all your thoughts and passions, then, you my friend, have never been a legislator.

Those of us who legislate or who have legislated know that there are very few jobs that swallow you whole like legislating does. It is difficult to disengage enough to maintain your friendships and family and retain something of your personality.

As for fulfilling the call that God gave me, I found it well nigh impossible. I need more than corners of time in my days to write the things He wants me to write. I’m not going to discuss in detail what I think this is all about. I have a lot of praying to do first.

I do know that I am not going to abandon the political process. I am also not going to stop writing about the intersection of public life and Christianity on this blog. I will, if anything, be a lot more free to talk about these issues now that I’m not bound to protect the privacy of so many people.

That is not to say that I will be talking about closed door conversations with my colleagues or divulging the almost endless private things that my constituents have shared with me through 18 years of elected office.

I have represented, cared for and cared about thousands of people for a very long time. In the course of that, many of them have opened their souls to me. I have never and I will never talk about the people who trusted me to be their voice in government and who honored me by opening their lives and hearts to me in conversations that were in fact and in truth non-sacramental confessions.

All these things I take with me to my grave.

What I will talk about is the intersection of public policy and publicly stated comments, actions, etc. I’ve operated for a long time using the standard that if something is published and circulated publicly, I can talk about it. That won’t change. It will, rather, be enhanced by the fact that I know what’s behind these things. I will be a lot less guarded in my opinions in the future when I do not have the responsibility for many thousands of people on my shoulders.

Christians in America have a mountain in front of us. After more than two hundred years of having things our way, we are faced with a society in which we are beleaguered. We live in post Christian America. Our task is to re-convert our nation to Christ.  Right now, we are not up to that task. We are, in fact, confused, divided and overawed by our opposition.

That’s what I’m going to write about. Because somebody needs to do it. And because I am uniquely qualified for the job.

 

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My favorite Representative Hamilton photo. From Rose Day 2014. 

I tried to remember to thank everyone in this speech, but I somehow forgot to mention — even though I wrote their names down and they were right in front of me — two of the most important people. Louise Scoles, who fought for my election and was my sponsor when I entered the Catholic Church. And George Violette, my brother by another mother, who is family in every way except blood. I love both of you.

The “Tony” I introduce in the video is Tony Lauinger, president of Oklahomans for Life and Vice President of National Right to Life. He is my friend. I know that he will remain my friend after I leave office.

If you want to watch the speech, go here.

 

Miracle Story: The God Who Doesn’t Care

A reader asked if I had written about my conversion. I wrote this a while back and republish it here.

I’ve written about other people’s miracle stories. Now, I’ll tell you about one of my own.

I think most Christians have miracle stories. Mine is the fundamental Christian miracle, the accessible and universally available miracle. I am going to tell you about the day I stepped, blundered actually, from death to life.

I lived about 17 years of my life in an anti-God mindset. There were reasons for this. To this day, I understand myself and accept that when I made the turn away from God, I did the only thing I could have done under that circumstance.

I didn’t decide that there was no god. I tried. I read the atheist books of the day; Passover Plot among them. I went back a few decades and read Why I Am Not A Christian. I actually wanted to believe there was no god. It would have been a great simplifier for me in those days.

But the books I read were essentially self-refuting. You can’t think them through too seriously and miss the train-sized holes in their line of reasoning.

In truth, I knew there was a god. I’m not sure how I knew. But I did. My problem wasn’t that I thought he wasn’t there. It was that I thought he didn’t care.

I didn’t come to a point where I decided Today I Will Become Anti-god. I just sort of segued into it, one decision, one discussion, one opposing commitment at a time.

By the time I was into my 20s, I was thoroughly launched on my anti-god way of living, thinking and reacting. The fight to defend Roe v Wade and legal access to abortion pushed me hard toward an aggressive anti-god mode.

What had been a walking away became, through the catalyst of my pro-abortion stand, a fierce resentment. I detested the various churches for their opposition to Roe. I thought, believed to my core, that they were utterly indifferent to the sufferings of women.

This wasn’t all just a web I wove in my own mind. I knew of actual instances of churches turning away from women who were in great distress; of them abandoning these women or even attacking them.

To say I was angry over this hardly touches it. I was enraged, bitter and hard as a diamond about it. I knew there was a god. But I also thought I knew that he didn’t care. I had no use for him.

I did a lot of things in this period of my life that I regret now. I wish I could tell you that everything I ever did that I regret I did then, but that isn’t true. However, my most dastardly deeds, including the one time I ever hurt another person deliberately, selfishly and with full intention, happened during those years.

I was, in the way I judged myself at that time, certain that I was a good person and that everything I was doing was not only right but morally superior. Even the one thing that I absolutely knew was wrong didn’t bother me.

This peculiar moral certitude of moral ingrates is, I believe, a direct consequence of being your own god. If you decide what is right and wrong, it’s pretty easy to be morally proud 24/7. I encounter it in people who are their own gods all the time. The difference being that now I know it for what it is.

As time went by, this one thing I couldn’t justify to myself ate at me. I knew I had hurt another person. Worse, I knew that I had decided to hurt another person and done it for entirely selfish reasons. I stood convicted in my own court by my own rules. That brought me face to face with one of the sadder realities of living life as your own god: When you come to that place where you see that you have really been wrong, you can’t make it right.

You are stuck there, you and your guilt, in a battle for your peace of mind that you can only win by hardening your heart and “going on.” If you do that, of course, it will be much easier to do the wrong again. And again. And again forever until you die. You become wedded to your sin and in time it becomes who you are.

I was stuck there, at that precise fork in the moral road. I could either tell myself to forget about it, or even, as many people do, blame the person I had hurt, or I could face my own fault. It’s never an easy thing to face the fact that you are really not such a good person. But in truth none of us are. We only pretend, and mostly we pretend to ourselves.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t able to take that sharp turn into the abyss and send my healthy and completely justified guilt away. I knew what I had done.

I didn’t talk about it. Didn’t share it with anyone. I kept it inside me.

The tension grew.

I have tried many times to find the words to describe what happened next. But I can’t do it. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no words.

I was alone in my car, driving to Enid Oklahoma to make a speech. Without thinking about it or really understanding what I was doing, I blurted out two words. Forgive me, I said. I said it out loud. But I wasn’t talking to myself. I was talking to the God who didn’t care.

Here’s where words fail me. I’ll try, but please understand: I have no words for what happened next.

I said Forgive me, and it was as if someone, some Being, Who had been right beside me all along without my knowing of it, reached out to me. I felt this Being’s joy for me, experienced His absolute, ecstatic love. I had a physical sensation of this love, pouring into me, filling me with His joy.

As I said, there are no words. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening. But I knew it was real. I also learned in one instant that the god who doesn’t care was my own creation. God, the real God, loves us beyond anything we can comprehend, or, in my case, describe.

I didn’t understand what had just happened. I went on to my meeting, made my speech, and said not a word about it to anyone. But it wasn’t an apprehensive silence. The Being I met in the car that day stayed with me. He kept me enveloped in love and I basked in it.

I also waited. Waiting is not something that comes naturally to me. I am most definitely not the waiting around kind. But this time, waiting came easily. I didn’t know what to do next, so I waited, with complete peace of mind that the answers would come, for this Being to tell me what to do.

About a month later, it came into my head to go to a large metropolitan church. I did, and over time, that path has led me to where I am now.

As I said, this is the most prosaic and commonplace of miracles. It is freely available to anyone who asks for it with a sincere heart. It’s free for the asking. But I wouldn’t say that it’s cheap. I’ll talk about the cost in other posts at other times.

Today, I just want to add one of my miracles to the ones I’ve been sharing. I also want to make it clear that the real miracle here isn’t that I experienced these things, but what they meant. I said two words from my heart to a God I had come to believe didn’t care, and I stepped from death to life.

That is the miracle that lasts for eternity.

 

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