How I’d Improve the Presidential Election Process

At 29 1/2, I’m barely old enough to vote. But as a young adult, registered independent, in Florida, if my vote is really as important as all the pundits say, here’s what I would do to make this whole election process more appealing to people like me:

10. Get-to-Know-You Games in the Line of Voting Precincts

Maybe it’s just the youth minister in me, but I see this as a win-win. With a long, necessary wait, we all need something to pass the time that is more productive than typing “Gee, these lines are so long…” on Facebook. Also, by November, we should all be ready for a holiday season full of “Forced Family Fun”. One more wouldn’t hurt, especially with our neighbors on both sides of the aisle.

9. Amendment Voters Must Demonstrate an Understanding of Said Amendment

I am scared by Amendments entitled, “Amendment to Love Puppies” that then begin with “Whereas the prohibition of this amendment will prohibit the prohibition…” because it always leaves me unclear as to whether or not said amendment is actually saying puppies are good or bad. Therefore, any person who wishes to vote on an amendment may do so after proving that they know what it says.

8. Candidates Must Say Five Nice Thing About The Opposition

Courtesy of Sarah Lund

Don’t start your victory speech with a call for bi-partisanship, START your campaign with one. My parents used to implement this rule when my little brother and I would fight, it seemed to work okay.

7. Any Political Facebooker Must Yield Equal Time to Opposite-Minded Friends

You know, we’ve been hearing about the cyber-bullying that comes as a result of one-way, near anonymous communication. And this is another example in a grown-up (sorta) environment. While these posts are not annonymous, too many of us have been posting without accountability to those wishing to disagree in dialogue. If it’s not worth a dialogue, save it for a debate. It’s far too easy to be disrespectful and impractical when we’re talking to a screen and not a human.

6. Veri-Sign Ability to Track Our Votes

Unfortunately, we are living in an age where it is appropriate to question the integrity of EVERY process. If I am able to track my Ebay orders from door to door and everywhere in between, I oughtta be able to track my vote to make sure it counted. Don’t ask me how? Not my job. I’m too busy changing the world here…

5. Greater Emphasis on Fact-Checking

Courtesy of Huffington Post

Please people, instead of covering every corner of my TV during the debates with charts and graphs about who’s happy and sad and which candidates facial tic is saying what, show me a + or -, is what he saying fact/crap? That’s what I wanna know.

4. Anybody Who Asks Me Who I Voted For is Subject to a Punch in the Face From the Same Lady Who I Once Asked, “How Much do You Weigh?”

Remember when it used to be rude to tell me how to think and why I was wrong if I disagreed? Yeah…

3. If You Aren’t Allowed to Vote for a Certain District, You Should Never Have to Even Watch the Commercial for Either Candidate

Living in Vero Beach, I’ve been watching the West Palm feed of Allen West vs. Patrick Murphy in what is the most grotesque political battle I’ve ever seen! Each side claimed the other was an absolute jackweed. And they were right. But after hours and hours of research, I picked the least jerkier of the two. I can’t even tell you how pissed I was in the voting booth when I realized that these yahoos weren’t even on my ballot. By my estimation, that’s 497 commercial breaks I will never get back.

2. Jon Stewart Moderates ALL Debates.

For the love of God, we need to start having a sense of humor about these things, it was the only thing that saved professional wrestling… Seriously though, Stewart’s liberal bias is no more than the same liberal bias put on all media and Stewart has a good record of following-up, clarifying, and not backing down from his questions, even with those he disagrees with in a way that is still polite and fair. And Number One…


I have a colleague who saved her “I Voted” sticker from early voting and retaped it on her blouse. How awesome is that?!

Bigger stickers.

Shinier stickers.

What says America more than pinning a brand name to your clothing.

Courtesy of

Stickers! Stickers for all!

I’m Neal Watkins and I approve of this message.


One Week After Sandy: A New Kind of Power

Donna Schaper is a friend of mine who I met when I was far too young to understand her brilliance. Sometimes, I worry that I am still too young to understand her brilliance.

She is a pastor at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in New York City. Recently Donna has been posting updates about her experiences in the first several hours after Sandy. You may read them here.

The other day, after leading a community vigil, Donna shared these thoughts.

Hear the brilliance in the grief and hope she shares:

Many Different Kinds of Power

Last night at Judson about 20 of us gathered, along with one dog, to light candles, sing a few songs and say a few prayers. We also walked the giant canvas labyrinth, which was easy to put out in the dark. It has white stripes. We observed what our hearts know: there are many different kinds of power. Too many people are saying they are “out of power,” or “powerless.” More precisely, we are without electrical power.

Last Sunday I innocently preached about the need for new folkways, new rituals, and new ways of being. I actually said, “For most of us, the major ritual of our lives is to remember to plug in our cell phones.” I pontified, “Wouldn’t it be great if we kept a good Sabbath with such rigor or also prayed intentionally before we ate or before we slept? Not to mention how great a Jubilee, an automatic normalized forgiveness of debts, would mark our political economy?” Well. Since Sandy hit, we have been wandering around with cell cords in hand in lower Manhattan, looking for a plug that had power. No lights, no traffic lights, no hot water, and no working plugs: that is the reality post Sandy. It is dark outside and sometimes also dark inside.

To keep from being a complete fibber, we just had to do a service. We had to remind ourselves that there are different kinds of power than the kind we don’t have. There is people power and candlepower, physical power (you can’t volunteer for the Red Cross if you can’t lift 50 pounds or stay for 12 hours), magical power, the kind that makes you think the A train will be humming again soon. There is the power to hear words anew: infrastructure, nature, air, wind, fire. There is the power to recognize, as the labyrinth shows, that in every end there is a beginning. New York will never be the same. We know that. Worship helps us say what we know out loud. The word Katrina came to mind. We have known for a long time about climate change and aging infrastructure. Now we know that we know, in a different kind of power, the kind that moves people to change.

As we went back to our dark homes and our meager food, we didn’t forget to give thanks for the Sabbath we had just had because nature had demonstrated astonishing infrastructural failure.

The “Best Man” I Know

When I met Drew Angotti, Jamal Mashburn was the Miami Heat’s Small Forward,and along with Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, the Heat were expected to make it all the way to the first NBA Championship in franchise history.

I was introduced to Drew Angotti at my Papa’s funeral.

I was told he was going to be my new youth minister.

Drew has been sharing the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and everything in between, with me ever since.

Drew wore his cap backwards, cussed occasionally (just the PG-13 words, Mom), and excelled at everything he touched – basketball, football, art, literature, whatever.

Drew had no clue as to what he was doing as a first-time youth minister.

But there was something about this man, his wisdom, his fresh look on things, his sincerity… he did more than just make Christianity cool, to me and the other hood rats on the Coral Gables block, he made Christianity real.

Despite what he’d say in opposition to this flattery, you could still have a very tough time convincing me that Drew Angotti doesn’t walk on water.

We used to joke about growing up and becoming friends, you know, visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame, going to Tobymac concerts, and starting a youth -not-for-profit together; and truthfully, I think that was just my hopes at talking about staying in touch at all.

Wouldn’t you know we have stayed friends! It’s been neat to feel and acknowledge God’s movement through the way we’ve grown as individuals, as friends, and as brothers.

Drew was the best man in my wedding. His kids call me “Uncle Neal”.

Drew has since “figured out” what he is doing as a youth minister. He’s led some of the largest youth programming in the country in several different states and has taken several students to different missions in different sectors of the globe including the rainforest in South America and Kenya, Africa.

We feel called to begin a partner-based ministry, “CatchFire Youth Resourcing” (Name Pending), where he and I will seek to together be a presence in the national conversation around youth and youth ministry. And even though we can’t been together in proximity, it has been a blessing to share my ministry with him in spirit from the sands of Vero Beach, to the sand on the floor of the Upper Room.

This isn’t at all to say that we don’t argue. Matter of fact, we argue daily – it’s what makes both of us better. Hopefully, our friendship is a small scale model of what our theology is about; that we stand to grow and learn more from the conversations in between what we think and what we know.

Drew argued that Jesus was a revolutionary and I much later agreed that he was right.

Drew argued that (at the time) 15 years later, Tupac Shakur would still be a legend and nobody would remember who the heck “Master P” was. Years later, I admit, he was right.

Drew argued that there was nothing un-manly about unscented candles in the living room. Again, Drew was right.

In the 15 year span, so much has changed, the Miami Heat have gone from a Big Three of Jamal Mashburn, Alonzo Mourning, and Tim Hardaway walking into the loser’s bracket once again, to a star-studded Big Three led by Small Forward All-Everything-yet-Mr-Bad-Guy Lebron James, just one win away from the franchise’s second championship.

Some things have changed drastically

and some things remain the same.

But yesterday, Drew told me that Lebron James does not deserve the hate he’s been getting.

As an avid Lebron-Hater ( I’ve been rooting for the OKC Thunder… even as a MIAMI NATIVE), I rattled off my list of reasons why Lebron James is bad for basketball:

-He’s spoiled

– He broke the “system”

– He whines alot

– He’s too Tim Tebowie

Lebron: TOO Hated?

However, once again, Drew found a way to relate basketball, my faith, and reality, in a way that made it all so clear for me:

Granted, the guy screwed up…terribly! But since then what his been his crime? What exactly has he done wrong? I never hear him speak poorly about the opposition. I never hear him too boastful or proud. He always seems to say the right thing at the right time. He works his behind off. I would not even have a problem if he were someone my son or daughter wanted to listen to or follow.

So at a time where he has played the best basketball of his career, and is on the cusp of winning his first ring (probably as the finals MVP), can we possibly just ease up on the hating…even a little bit. I am not saying that we need to love the guy, but during a time when we seem to be able to forgive sports figures for animal abuse, adultery, drunk driving and domestic violence, can’t we forgive a guy for making a poor P.R. decision when he was barely a grown up?

Forgiving Lebron is something that is going to be good for me – and it represents the type of world I want to live in. And it’s the healthy, fair, (gasp) Christian(?) thing to do.

Do me a favor, head over to Drew’s blog and show him some love for me? (Read Drew’s blog: here)

As for me, tonight, I’ll be rooting for the Miami Heat.

How about you?

The Best Man I Know