Thursday, September 20, 2012

On Politics, Polemy and the Prophetic Imagination, or A Mea Culpa of Sorts.

My name is Luke, and I love to argue. What's more, I love to be right.

It's really a problem.

Nowhere is this problem more evident than in the quadrennial failure that is my attempt to not get sucked into the hateful rhetoric of US electoral politics.

Each election cycle, the process is remarkably (and depressingly) similar.  I begin with a genuine desire to stay above the fracas, and end having tallied up dozens of reasoned, polite, meaningful conversations about important issues that everyone forgets, as well as five knock-down, drag-out diatribes that everyone remembers because of the extreme level of d-baggery I display (all along with my wife shaking her head disapprovingly in the background) and I just end up looking like this guy:

Like I said, it's a problem.

It's a problem especially because I not only tend to be vocal about my politics, but also about my faith, and in the cases where I end up flipping the switch and coming off like a complete tool, I can't help but feel like I am, to put it lightly and be particularly easy on myself, perhaps sending mixed signals. But let's really be honest, if what I do or say is the only example some people see of what Jesus is like, then what I'm really putting out there is:

Jesus is a jerk.

Now, I don't think that Jesus is a jerk, but this brings up the ever-important question that lies at the intersection of faith and politics: is it possible to be both political and faithful to the life and teachings of Christ? Has our political discourse become so polarized and so downright hateful that it's impossible to participate without running up against the values of peacemaking and enemy love expressed in Christ's life and teaching?  Well, if I'm being honest, I'd have to say:

Almost. But not quite.

Walter Brueggemann says in his book The Prophetic Imagination:
The prophet is called to be a child of the tradition, one who has taken it seriously in the shaping of his or her own field of perception and system of language, who is so at home in that memory that the points of contact and incongruity with the situation of the church in culture can be discerned and articulated with proper urgency. 
Or, perhaps more simply:
It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.
We have something new, something better, something more to offer the discussion. We have a Hope that is not contingent upon the outcome of an election or a referendum.  That is not to say that we needn't participate (I think that much is up to the individual), but when we do, I think we have to remember the prophetic tradition, the imaginative, explosive, contrarian way in which the prophets spoke truth to power, yet always pointed back not to themselves, but to something bigger, something greater, someone greater. 

But is that enough? Can we simply speak in such a way that our words point back to God, or do we need to be certain that the God we're pointing to doesn't end up looking like, as I so eloquently stated before, a jerk?  This, I think, is the really hard part, especially when it comes to politics, extra-especially around election season, and super-extra-especially when the electorate has been conditioned to hate the other side so passionately (thanks a lot, cable news). But I think it is possible, if we keep one simple truth in mind.  It's a realization that I came to a while ago, and subsequently shared with my wife and of which she continually reminds me (much to my chagrin, of course) when I'm venturing back into d-bag territory:

Being loving is more important than being right.

I'm never going to argue someone into relationship and community, but hopefully, if I remember this one simple thing then maybe, just maybe, I'll get a chance to see a little of that Kingdom Jesus liked to talk about.

So if you've ever been on the receiving end of one of my tirades, I do apologize.  I reduced you to your political beliefs, and forgot, if just for a moment, that you were a human, that you matter, and that you don't deserve to be treated that way even if we do disagree.

Photo Credit

4 comments:

  1. For the record, your discussion on Pakistan and drones with me was serious, but not hateful. Those types of conversations are important, and hard, but necessary and good. I believe you walked that line in our conversation, even when I was disagreeing with you.

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    1. Kacie, having spent quite a bit of time in the AF/PK region, I have...ahem...strong views about US policy there. It's one area where I can get a wee bit testy (that and veterans issues...don't even get me started there), but I'm glad we were able to have a civil convo about it, and even avoid unfollowing each other on the twitterz. :)

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    2. And since I do as well, since my family also lived there..... high five for making it through. :)

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