Finding the Art in Everything

05 July, 2008

Real Political Change


A friend recently asked me, "Obama or McCain?" and I still don't have an answer. I hate them both. Politics has been a long-time hobby of mine, and people who know me marvel at my detachment from the current election. I, too, am startled by my own ambivalence.

But what is there to care about? I don't think either candidate is offering truth, love, and justice in their campaigns of partisan unilateralism that run so contrary to Christ's ministry of humility and reconciliation. I am deeply disturbed by all of the questions people aren't asking about all of the things the candidates aren't saying. In t his campaign frenzy, we have still failed to reach any point of real meaning. As a history teacher, I have spent the last year grappling with the weight of cause-and-effect. I have seen how nothing happens in isolation from any part of the past or the future. The campaign promises of both candidates show no grasp of this.

We have a great deal at stake in this presidential election, though it is hubris to say that it is more or less than any other era. Now, we are facing the first effects of our economy's own fragility, and we don't know how to fix the fractures because we act like we didn't even know it was breakable. Furthermore, fixing a fracture, in medical terms, causes permanent damage. And I don't think this serves as a bad metaphor.

But more than blaming the candidates for what feels like futility in the upcoming election, I think a big portion of my ambivalence comes from my loss of faith in structural power. What makes me a conservative is that I'm confident government is far from inherently good and should be as small as possible. But not matter the size, it is slowly becoming clear to me that our government is powerless agains the causes that really mean something. It can neither heal pain or mane peace, and any order it creates is hardly a guarantee for true justice. It can make laws, but those laws rarely reflect the kingdom of God where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

I have been fascinated by the quandary of Christians' role in politics. But maybe as Christ's followers, we should start by shaping society the way He did, which shows that love can only be applied person-to-person--not through any kind of structural reform or program.

You want to end hunger? Get your friends together and disburse food to 5000 people working with my friend Cassie at Feed My Starving Children. Jesus doesn't end hunger all at once, and He doesn't call on the Romans to care for their poor better. He meets the immediate needs of the people around Him a few thousand at a time.

Before the Civil Rights Act, before Brown vs. Board, my grandmother was feeding and teaching Black people in her kitchen from her house on wealthy, all-white Watauga street in Tennessee. She saw the worth and dignity in them as human beings and acted on that long before the law told her to.

Afraid of terrorists and the Islamic Jihad against the West? Certain that those people should hold no political or military power? Consider the Roman treatment of the Jews. Recall Jesus', with peace in the sovereign nature of God's plan, replacing the ear of His Centurion captor in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter had just cut it off in a fit of confusion and anger. I tis not a perfect model, but it is enough to second guess a policy of retaliatory aggression.

You want to end prostitution and take a stand against pornography? Meet a prostitute in her place of shame, and love her like Jesus did at the well in the middle of the daytime. Meet her where she is and offer a loving alternative.

You think gay marriage is wrong and those people are leading a life of sin? Have lunch with Zaccheus like Jesus did, and show that love and reconciliation are more important than his relationship to the laws that you know.

It costs us less to hold a government accountable for problems and solutions than it does to love a prostitute or feed 5000 personally. But these are not tasks Jesus turned over to the government. All of these changes are not a product of a vote or a campaign image. Indeed we should try to put people in office who are going to best administer the principles of love and justice (according to our finite understanding) but more important is the face-to-face love of your neighbor, and in this, the celebrity images of Obama and McCain are irrelevant. We vote because we are to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's," but we should probably stop confusing the one with the other.

1 comment:

and so it is... said...

truly, you said it all. i had this same conversation with a friend just a couple months ago. i am so grateful for the way you use your encouraging.
thinking of you my sweet friend.

ps...thank you so kindly for the email you sent a few days ago.