Political Time-out?

Brickwall
Here’s an extremely thought-provoking article from last week’s Christian Century. The article was entitled, "A Political Time-out". The author–Carol Zaleski…professor at Smith College.

"Politics pulverizes," observed the elegant,
white-haired editor as she looked at me across her mahogany desk. She
knew about such things, having grown up a bishop’s daughter,
single-handedly raised several children, lost friends to war, managed a
farm and worked for the last decades of her life in journalism and
publishing. She died many years ago, but this one bit of alliterative
advice comes back to me time and again, bringing with it her imperious
and knowing regard, the glint of warmth in those imperturbable blue
eyes, and the white curls that gave a Pre-Raphaelite frame to the high
arches and columns of her face.

"Politics pulverizes," I seemed
to hear her say once more as I was reading the journals left behind by
a family friend, a remarkable woman who, after graduating from college
in 1908, devoted herself to socialist causes and lived to a lonely old
age unfettered by bourgeois marriage. When I was young I used to drink
tea with her in her New York apartment while she regaled me with tales
of her martyred friends the Rosenbergs. Of course, she assumed, one
knew what the truth was, knew who was lying, and knew who stood to gain
from the conspiracy. It was not to be considered that the facts might
prove otherwise. But now the hindsight of history casts a different
light on that whole era; an era of idealism gone awry, of lives
blighted by political passion.

I’ve seen milder cases closer to
home. A certain gentle matron in my family never spoke in anger except
to register her contempt for American political leaders. "They all hate
us," she used to say of the rest of the world, and seemed to derive a
certain bitter satisfaction from agreeing with them. Her daily diet of
political broadcasts didn’t help.

On the one hand, I’ve always
thought—I still think—that informed political awareness is a small
price to pay for the rare privilege of living in a fundamentally free
and decent society. On the other hand, as I look back at those times
when my political radar was most actively engaged, I’m sobered to see
how seldom my moments of political high dudgeon produced anything
beyond an unwholesome agitation of spirit.

"Politics
pulverizes" comes to mind again in this 2007-2008 election year. I live
and work in a New England college town where a certain enlightened
all-knowingness about politics and society is taken for granted, where
there is pervasive agreement about the war in Iraq, global warming and
the benefits of shiatsu massage. As the presidential contest heats up,
it seems more difficult than ever for the presiding majority to
remember that there are decent folks who have alternative views.

Some
conservative wags like to say that liberalism is a mental disease. But
the mental disease isn’t liberalism and it isn’t conservatism, it’s
utopianism—and the antidote to utopianism isn’t apathy, it is faith.
Faith isn’t a fix. Faith isn’t sure it knows in detail what’s wrong
with the world and how to repair it. Faith doesn’t drive out doubt, but
sits well with honest ignorance as to how hunger and poverty and war
and prejudice and disease and ugliness and cultural degeneration are to
be eliminated. Faith helps us discern the limits of what any government
can do to improve our fallen human condition. Faith saves us from being
seduced by totalistic schemes. Faith teaches us that politics is not
the only way to serve the polis. Faith enables us to make prudential
judgments with a measure of humility and realistic sangfroid. The
bumper sticker says, "If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying
attention," but faith would have us pay attention to the world’s ills
without outrage. Commitment with detachment—it’s a difficult road to
walk, and only faith makes it possible.

Meanwhile, would we be
culpably ignorant if we didn’t know the political views of our friends
and neighbors? Would we be culpably reticent if we kept our own
political opinions under wraps? The practice of monastic Christians may
serve as a model in this regard. Our monastic friends vote, to be sure,
and they read the news in order to pray for the world’s concerns; but
they maintain a certain custody of the tongue that makes it difficult
to detect their political colors. I’m not convinced that this tactful
silence diminishes their democratic voice; I am convinced that it helps
them preserve harmony within the community and openness toward the
guests they receive in Christ’s name.

As I look out at my
neighbors’ lawns, I see the placards of the incumbent mayor and the
write-in candidate who opposed her in a recent election still glaring
at each other across the street. The usual mild neighborly tiffs about
whose leaves have migrated onto whose lawns have unfortunately been
colored by these partisan differences. All this makes me wonder, purely
after the fashion of a thought experiment, what it would be like to
place a 12-month moratorium on lawn placards. What if we could drink
from the waters of forgetfulness and, for this election year’s brief
duration, lose consciousness of our neighbors’ political convictions?
Civic-mindedness, I hope, would be none the worse for it. We would
still have to fulfill our obligation to vote with an informed
conscience, after a suitable amount of careful reading and thought; but
to the secret ballot we would add a further layer of silence and
discretion. When we drive home from church on Sundays, after praying
for our leaders to govern wisely, we could listen to the Polka Hour
on our car radios instead of the strident political talk show that
replaced it. The only thing we’d miss, during our year of elected
silence, would be an all-too-easy way to size each other up.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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