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Vermont's One Small Step: Jim & Jason

One Small Step conversation partners Jim and Jason during their virtual one-hour talk.
One Small Step conversation partners Jim and Jason during their virtual one-hour talk.

This One Small Step installment features a personal conversation between Jason, from Franklin County, and Jim, from Chittenden County. The two come from different political perspectives. Their virtual talk illuminates how similar life experiences sometimes lead to very different outcomes.

Jason: My name is Jason McConnell. I'm 43 years old, and I am in Franklin, Vermont.

Jim: And my name is Jim Dean. I'm 76 years old. I'm in Burlington, Vermont.

Jason: We live in a time and culture that is so largely fractured politically and socially. And it seems like people are very quick to spout off their positions and ideas.

Jim: The bubble I live in is highly educated, articulate, and generally politically liberal. I don't know anyone to have a substantive conversation with who has a different socio-political background.

Jason: I generally consider myself on the conservative end of the political spectrum. I think my political values are shaped by a number of different things. One of those certainly was my upbringing. My family, I think, leaned Republican growing up, maybe even a slight libertarian bent.

Jim: Like you, I grew up in a family where my dad was more or less of a Republican. Over time, I have become way to the left of the political spectrum.

I had two brothers, an older brother, who was 15 months older than me, and a younger brother, who was nine years younger. About fifteen years into his career, he was laid off. My brother shattered like a piece of glass, just absolutely broken. My younger brother, I never really knew. He did not make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. He killed himself at the age of 23.

I had a turbulent adolescence, I was confused young man, a minor delinquent, which that would become very significant for me later because my major career was in criminal justice.

Following graduation from high school, I entered a Roman Catholic seminary, after one semester, found that to be unsatisfactory, went to a Jesuit University for a semester and then went to a second Catholic seminary, where I spent four years. These were very intense years for me, intensely troubling. And it was quite clear to me at that point that the answer was no, I didn't want to be a priest. So I left the seminary and felt liberated.

Jason: A lot of people find it interesting that I'm a pastor of an evangelical church, but I didn't grow up in the church. Actually, I never stepped inside of a church until I was 17 years old. I was raised in a blue collar, coal mining family in western Pennsylvania, and we just weren't church going people. My mom had me when she was 18. And the short story is she became a heroin addict and had a boyfriend that overdosed and she wound up committing suicide when she was 22. I was four years old.

I became an alcoholic in high school and was drunk most nights of the week. I was always curious about church, but I had never been and I was scared to death. I walked in and it floored me, I was just so amazed with the church. I saw genuine love, perhaps for the first time in my life. Here was a group of people they were not biologically related, and they really loved each other. What about your own faith during your growing up years, your parents were devout?

Jim: I very much internalized Catholicism, but I started to experience challenges to that. Because of my experiences in the seminary.

As teenagers, we were in a fairly similar place. But prior to that, very different and then into adulthood, I diverged away from religion and you diverged into religion as a life career.

Our life paths are interesting.

StoryCorps’ One Small Step is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Karen is Vermont Public's Director of Radio Programming, serving Vermonters by overseeing the sound of Vermont Public's radio broadcast service. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She has produced many projects for broadcast over the years, including the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke, and interviews with local newsmakers with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb. In 2021 Karen worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.