Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Poison of Politics

After many days of sunshine, the clouds have moved in again and the threat (or promise) of rain is just beyond the horizon. Ever since a drought threatened a local drinking water supply a few short years ago to the point that officials were considering having the National Guard truck in water, I have vowed never to complain about rain again. Still, there is nothing quite like a crisp autumn day with a slight chill in the air and the sun shining brightly. Being prepared to receive rain with gratitude, however, does not change the foul mood that cloudy days can sometimes bring.

This morning’s news brought more information about the tsunami in Samoa, an earthquake in Indonesia, and a typhoon in Southeast Asia, each disaster claiming hundreds of lives and leveling entire villages. The United States government is still embroiled in debates about health care to the point that abortions may well be covered under some proposals. Americans are still losing jobs by the thousands, and Iran is still developing nuclear weapons. So I ask readers the same thing I am asking myself right now: how much should I care about politics?

I often ask people about their passions because I like to know what moves people, where their interests are, what excites them. Often these to whom I pose the question can get caught up in their lives and in describing their energies and true loves, so it is rare that they will turn the question back to me. And this is a good thing because it is hard for me to pin down anything I am genuinely passionate about. There are many things I just do because they need to be done or I do things because I certainly believe in them, but I often seem to lack a genuine passion for anything.

There is a young man who is currently incarcerated with whom I have been corresponding by mail, and he recently threw me a curve when, in a return letter, he posed the question to me that I had previously put to him: so, preacher, what excites you? What drives you? What stirs you up? There was no way I could simply put him off as I had so many others; it was time to face up to the one thing I can really get stirred up about, the one thing that can elevate my blood pressure and also give me a certain sense of satisfaction.

It is politics. I am passionate about politics. It is what excites me and infuriates me. It is what depresses me and enlivens me. And while I have plenty to say about almost any political issue one could possibly think of, I have found myself trapped in a prison from which escape has become necessary for the sake of ministry. I have found myself entirely too wrapped up in and focused on politics to the point that I spend much more time reading news than reading Scripture. And I have found myself far too often being tempted to interject politics into my sermons. While real-world stuff is often useful in trying to make a theological point, too much of such things can take away from the spirit and the heart of the message … and the point. It can direct entirely too much attention and too much emphasis on political players (and actors!) and not nearly enough on the Lord. And during such challenging times as these, we need the Lord far more than we need politics or politicians. We need spiritual leaders, not political leaders. It is time to make some adjustments.

How these adjustments might go from this point is anyone’s guess because there are certain political realities that cannot be ignored, spiritually or politically. In light of such political realities within the realm of the theological, though, the question becomes: who is the go-to? Within the political spectrum that is the health care debate, for instance, who are we as a nation relying on to provide for us or protect us? To whom do we go and direct our concerns and our fears and our anxieties? Obviously we are directing our concerns and our anger and our frustration toward our elected representatives because they are the ones trying to “reform” health care, and it is an issue that cannot be ignored. But what kind of reform is needed so that a dose of aspirin in a hospital does not cost more than a new personal computer for the home? What kind of reform is needed to ensure that a sick child can get the necessary care to prevent the spread of the illness and contribute to the child’s well-being without sending the parents to the poor house?

Many are saying that the health care delivery system in the US is just fine and does not need any sort of reform, but these many are much more likely to be of the more affluent class and/or with adequate health insurance. They are fine with the status quo because they are not forced to pay out-of-pocket for the entire cost of their health care or be forced to go without. But before I digress into an entirely political diatribe for or against government-sponsored health care, maybe I should step back and focus more on where the Lord needs me to go rather than to depend entirely on my own personal or ideological opinion.

Some have suggested that politics is my passion because the Lord is calling me to a career in public office. Such a notion might not be entirely false, but the fallacy of that argument can be found in something as obvious and as seemingly random as sexual attraction. Just because we can be excited about sexual intimacy does not mean we were all created to be porn stars. Just because we have a genuine passion for sports does not mean we are all meant to be star athletes. Or NASCAR drivers.

Passion most certainly drives us, but doing what we love involves no personal sacrifice. Within the realm and theology of Christianity, personal sacrifice is intimately connected to the genuine spirit of “agape”, that sure and certain love that puts self aside for the sake of something much greater. It has been said that if worship does not involve some sense of “work”, then we are giving nothing of ourselves.

For me, then, it may be time to pull back entirely from politics at least until I find some sort of balance. It is far more important that my parishioners understand their place within the Kingdom of Heaven especially in the midst of our secular culture and society. Certain realities cannot be ignored, of course, but within the realm of Christianity, there is much more to life than merely living for oneself and personal gain. I hope I can come to write and preach the things of inspiration, things that are uplifting and edifying to faith and the Church. There is nothing useful in provoking anger, which seems to be all that political discussion is good for these days.

I will attempt to leave the political discussions to the TV talking heads and ambitious politicians. As for me, I will “put away the foreign gods which are among [me], and incline [my] heart to the Lord God” (Joshua 24:23).

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