Getting to Know You

Wow, how did that happen? The president was reelected, and relatively easily, at that. And a lot of people were sure it couldn’t happen, either because their fellow citizens would finally see the light and vote for Mitt Romney, or because God would intervene on behalf of America, if not for the sake of the world as a whole. Didn’t work out that way.

I’m not a political analyst, but I suspect many undecided voters, or voters who were only tentatively on the side of Mr. Romney, decided that the known was better than the unknown when it came time to touch the screen. We didn’t really know what to expect from a Romney administration, especially by way of tax policy; and even if we didn’t like Pres. Obama, at least we knew what to expect. It’s something rather short of the mandate the victorious party unfailingly claims. Be that as it may, conservative Christians in great numbers have fallen into the trap of investing their political capital into a failed endeavor; along with it they have used up much of the apocalyptic language available, deeming this the most important, crucial, defining, etc., election in our national history. Just how would we know that, anyway? And what happens now that it has been lost? Is Armageddon inevitable?

Perhaps I exaggerate just a bit–but not much (remember, I read facebook posts). Many are left to wonder who in their right minds would vote for Mr. Obama. And maybe that wondering reveals a couple of things about the wonderers. First, it reveals that many of them travel and discuss things within a very narrow circle of like-minded people, leading to the conclusion that they are among the majority who think rightly (no pun intended) about things. Related to whom we do know and with whom we do not associate comes the other tendency we have in evangelicalism–we don’t know our neighbors.

We tend to forget that it is not some foreign power or alien race that has elected a president for a second term; it is our neighbors, co-workers, fellow citizens. And if we are wondering what they were thinking when they did so, maybe we should do the novel thing and ask them. The fact is that if we are willing to actually listen to them rather than to immediately refute their ideas we might make significant progress in getting to know them. We might hear their hearts, their hurts, their dreams, aspirations, misgivings, fears, anxieties, etc. And as we do we might give them enough of an open door to continue talking and then, only then, listening to an answer we might suggest. That, of course, is not a political answer at all.

May I suggest that Christians of all stripes vow to spend the next four years not in identifying the next crusader for conservatism, but in getting to know the people with whom we share this country, this state, our neighborhood? And it wouldn’t hurt a bit to offer to pray for the ones we begin listening to as well. That would give much more credence to the calls for prayer for the president we–the nation–have elected.

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Voting the American Dream

Yes, it’s really a new post. Just in time for the presidential election, too!

No, I am not here to endorse one of the candidates, as if it would matter to anyone were I to do so. And I am not here to bemoan either the quality of the candidates available to us or the character of the debates that have been held. And although it is a bit more tempting to chastise some of my Christian colleagues about their complicity in the ungracious incivility that marks the public conversation (yes, I am on facebook; I know who you are and what you post), that option will likewise be resisted.

What I would like participants to think about before voting is something often referred to, yet only vaguely and varyingly understood. We refer to it as The American Dream. You remember that, do you not? Some of us first heard of it when we were in elementary school. Every now and then candidates will pull out the phrase and attempt to position themselves as the champion of all that it stands for. But just what is that which we are expected to embrace when we vote the American Dream? In what sense does the embrace lead us to the particular candidate offering it to us? A moment’s thought would lead us to think foolish, if not treasonous, the person who would not vote for the person best representing the dream–our dream, the corporate aspirations of the great nation in which we are privileged to hold citizenship.

Republicans and Democrats seem to hold different versions of the dream, each of which has a long history leading to and through some very good people along the way. One version thrives on the theme of rugged individualism, an idea itself subject to some revision along the way. Whereas it once referred to the strength of will and bravery in blazing new geographic trails, it has gone through a scientific and, more recently, an economic (read:entrepreneurial) cast. Surely we recall from those earliest lessons in U. S. History the names of heroes who exemplified the quality; or perhaps it was groups of people who set out to settle the vast uncharted regions of the land, eschewing danger in order to forge a new, more successful, and (especially) less fettered way of life.

The second version has at least as long, and arguably, a longer history. This version belongs to those who sought not a place where each was on his own to make of life what he wanted it to be, but rather sought a new commonwealth, a place where the community was more important than the individual. Puritan founders has limits regarding how much land each person might be able to hold, fearing that a significant disparity would bode ill for the character and quality of life together. Being the keeper of one’s brother and sister was unquestioned; maintaining as much equality as possible was paramount. The kingdom of God was to be displayed in terms of values.

We have been trying to negotiate the proper balancing of the two versions of the dream for quite a long time now. Sometimes we get it more nearly accomplished than we do at others; sometimes the tensions between the two place us on the brink. I want to suggest that life in a world where sin is an ever-present reality virtually requires us to heed both sides of the dream. Rugged individualism, perhaps most especially in its entrepreneurial version, becomes ravenous, callous greed when allowed to run unfettered; the common good becomes something less than good when sinful persons (that would be about all of us) decide that sloth isn’t so costly after all.

And so we vote. Is the balance in danger of leaning to heavily in one direction or the other? We have our ballot. But let us not succumb to the notion that human institutions, however much superiority they may have over rival systems, can ever attain the righteousness or the holiness of God. If we remember that much we just might be able to learn something about ourselves and about our common good by listening to the people from whom we differ when emerging from the booth.