I nearly skipped the liturgy. I almost didn’t head out into the cold night.
After two full and exhausting days at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I wasn’t sure if I had any energy to interact with another person, especially any of my literary heroes.
Yet, I made my way through the slushy streets and into a dimly lit restaurant, with a copy of Presence clenched under my stiff arm. I found a seat, snug between strangers, tucked tight into rows of chairs facing a simple microphone and small table.
Others stood on the edges of the room, sipping wine and eating hors d’oeuvres. I looked around the space, and felt too shy to offer my customary grins and waves to any face I recognized, because my body was tight with the feeling that…
For most of my adult life I have been incredibly fascinated with the interaction of politics and faith.
I was ecstatic when Pope Francis spoke to U.S. Congress last fall. I loved lobbying on behalf of the Catholic bishops in Iowa—and all the Catholic concerns for the entire state—when I interned with the Iowa Catholic Conference in 2004. And, I am a big fan of organizations like Faith in Public Life and Sojourners, who empower people of faith to advocate for justice.
Most of the time I am pleased with what I observe in the dance between politics and faith because I believe the actions of those of us who are religious—including our political actions—must be directed by our faith.
Many would agree that our religion must influence how we raise our voices, what we stand up for, whom we stand with and how—or whether—we vote. For those of us who are Christians, this means we aim to imitate Jesus Christ, who demonstrated that nothing was worth killing for and that real love makes everyone worth dying for, even in the political sphere. We are guided by Jesus’ most demanding teachings like “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) and “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5) and “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:15).”
As a Catholic Christian, I am grateful my bishops insist that every person has a responsibility to inform their conscience and follow it in the voting booth. I love this Church document and I appreciate media like this that summarizes the document and highlights the complexity of voting:
Certainly, it is complex to weed through the issues and options and arrive at a decision, to prayerfully follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the voting booth.
I also keep in mind that no politician will ever save us from all our problems.
Unsatisfied with every party and politician, a lot of what Shane Claiborne wrote in his book Jesus for President makes sense to me. This article from the 2012 election especially resonates:
No party feels like home. No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Federal budget cuts have begun to look like the anti-thesis of the beatitudes where Jesus blesses the poor and hungry rather than the rich and wealthy. You get the sense that if Mary proclaimed her famous “Magnificat” in Luke’s Gospel today — where “God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty” — she’d be accused of promoting class warfare. As one theologian said, “Our money says in God we trust … but our economy looks like the seven deadly sins.” What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?
There just isn’t much talk in the debates about caring for the poor and loving enemies, the stuff Jesus was on fire about. It’s hard to imagine a candidate with a consistent ethic of life, a candidate who is pro-life from the womb to the tomb. Many of us have grown tired of death, and share a faith that speaks of resurrection and proclaims the triumph of life over death and love over hatred. We want life—fewer abortions, an end to the death penalty, hospitality to immigrants, an end to extreme poverty, fewer bombs and wars and other ugly things.
Alternatives also fascinate me. Guided by their religious convictions, some folks have found other ways to participate in democracy and help promote God’s reign wherein all life is protected and peace and justice are triumphant.
I’m intrigued by those who choose not to vote, such as Christian anarchists. I can understand, somewhat, why they take that approach to help create social change. (Jesus for President is a good book to read to understand.) Personally, it is a big challenge to me that one of my heroines, Dorothy Day, never voted and was a suffragette. It is equally interesting for me to learn about those who will not vote this year, even though they voted a lot in the past.
I have never been convinced that the two-party system we have in the United States is the most fair or helpful: we are too diverse as a people to be divided into two camps. Related, I was excited to learn about the American Solidarity Party this election year and the presidential candidate Mike Maturen, whose platform is completely in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church. (I am not sure I’ll vote for him though.)
I am also fascinated by and well aware that, for many people of faith, political choices aren’t actually influenced by one’s faith but rather it’s the other way around—what they believe and accept as true is often influenced by where they sit on the political spectrum. This, of course, isn’t supposed to be the way it works. We are called to put our faith in Jesus before any political candidate, party, or nation. The Bible tells us repeatedly that to put anything before God is idolatry.
No matter how one decides to act, it is certainly complex and challenging for people of faith to participate in democracy. It takes a ton of study and prayer—and faith that God can make something good come out of anything.
Yet, people of faith are called to even more; we must move beyond the voting booth. Now, especially, we are needed to step to the front of the political haze and be healers and servants to a nation in need.
Such servant leadership requires communal prayer and discernment. Together we can create societal transformation by asking broad, visionary questions—questions that move us forward and beyond the violence, hate, and division that has wounded our nation, our communities. We must tend to those who are feeling left out, ignored, marginalized, neglected; those whose anger and pain has disturbed what we once thought of as normal. (Visionary questions and the need to care for the neglected are discussed in this in this On Being episode.)
With God’s grace, we will manifest hope, joy and reconciliation to people in need of freedom and peace. Following in the footprints of Jesus Christ we can be ones who show others that—really, yes—”blessed are the peacemakers” indeed.
Living our faith means struggle. I am reminded of this as I see this sign taped to door of an old Lutheran church:
In that church’s dusty dark basement I lead phone banks where church volunteers make calls asking people of faith to vote “no” on the voter restriction amendment this November in Minnesota. The struggle for the right to vote has taken many shapes over our history and continues today.
This story of faith and struggle must be the context when we think about our individual vote. In a time of monstrous corporate power and of unprecedented inflation of wealth and money in politics, it can easy to be apathetic or even hostile toward casting a ballot. Our politics can seem so frustrating and so many horrifying wrongs are done by our government here and abroad.
Yet the very idea that not voting separates us from our communal sins is an individualist fantasy. Participating is the struggle of faith in each other and our democracy. I say faith because a Christian’s belief in democracy is not the optimist’s view of gradual progress or a hope that democracy would bring the kingdom if people were only more reasonable and educated. It is faith because evil is present in myself and the world, yet God is also present and at work. Resting on the love of God for our world and our inherent goodness, we must take responsibly for who we are and the pain and suffering that surrounds us. We must struggle not only for charitable solutions for our immediate neighbor, but for political solutions for the entire community. We must struggle for justice.
Voting is only a small but important step in the struggle. It is not the solution or a score sheet of our complete moral character. We must make prudent decisions for our context that are difficult. Here are three points I think best summarize our duty. What leader and policy best: (1) responds to our most pressing local issues in a manner that is consistent with the common good, (2) respects the life and dignity of all, (3) empowers the poor and marginalized? (three steps adapted from: Evans, Bernard Vote Catholic: Beyond the Political Din, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007)
I spend my evenings in church basements and my days organizing as a Jesuit because it is at the core of our faith to participate with God in working toward racial equity and an environment so all can flourish. We can only do that if all have the power to be at the decision making table.
We must enter into the struggle, vote ourselves, and fight for the right so all people have a voice in our democracy on November 6 and beyond.”
About this week’s guest blogger: Ben Anderson, S.J. is a Jesuit and an organizer with Isaiah, a faith-based organization that brings congregations together to work for racial justice and economic equity in Minnesota.
But we can wonder, and we do. Wondering about what God is doing makes me feel like I am the size of an ant in an expansive universe. Actually, I am, in a way.
Somehow, though, I am part of it all.
Paradigms of planet, church, religion and humanity are shifting all around us. Sometimes, these shifts are gradual and gentle, like water flowing silently downstream Other times, though, the societal changes are so bold we almost feel damaged. We collapse on crosswalks and sprint down the streets of tomorrow while the statues of our ancestors laugh at our blindness. Can we see the beauty that surrounds us today?
But, it’s hard to know beauty when there is a lot of clutter. As we listen to the news and hold it up to what we’re working for, we quickly become discouraged. The mess is confusing and we’re worried. What’s happening to our democracy? What’s going on in Christianity? Passions and power quake the church and government and we wonder what to have faith in.
Could it be ourselves? Or shall we, can we, have faith in God?
A week ago I was a participant in a wonderfully strange conference. Giving Voice, a national organization for young women religious, sponsored an inter-generational conference in Chicago to discuss what is happening in this life of ours, religious life. We came with a sense that God is up to something new and different. Together we wondered what that was. The wondering was strange because we were talking about something that we didn’t know.
In Madeleine L’Engle‘s book A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit sighs and tries to answer the questions of children. “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words.” I desire to explain what I’ve experienced and sensed, but what is emerging seems to be beyond anything we have ever known.
I know it though, God is up to something. Paradigms are shifting; the world is changing right under our feet. When the earth moves, it can feel dangerous. We don’t know what will break around us. We grip to reactions based in fear and power and doubt survival. We crash and forget what we most need to move on: eachother. As tumultuous as all the crashing and changing may feel, we can trust God and have hope. God is in control and shifts can be good.
At the “young nun” conference we sought to contemplate the goodness that vibrates through the groans. The process was deep and profound. We listened, prayed, shared, played, questioned, connected and organized. We learned too. We were blessed to be with Sandra Schneiders, who is a great historian and theologian. She’s pretty much the expert on religious life and what is has been, is, and could be. In other words, Schneiders is a woman who can speak quite well about how God has worked with people throughout time.
We pondered what it means to be religious women in this time of unknowing. We leaned in, all 150 women religious seemingly stuck in 2011. We felt connected to the deep roots of our ancient tradition and movements toward the future. In these moments, I pondered how our human minds limit understanding what time really is. Science agrees with what my spirit senses, too. Time, as we know it, is an illusion.
So, we’re a part of this illusive time and God needs us to work. Schneiders’ analysis of this Kairos was based in her insights that the signs of these times are globalization, secularization, pluralization, and de-traditionalization. We are called to respond to what’s going on and how it impacts spirituality, politics, service and poverty. As I listened, I felt relieved, actually. We can commune in the struggles together.
Through it all I kept wondering. What are we supposed to do? If the needs of this time are so great- and they are- then how are we supposed to be present? What actions do we need to take to birth a new paradigm and way of being?
As we ponder the power of Now, we get to listen to the whispers of the Spirit who always compels us to grow and change. At the end of the conference, consciousness brought forth the art of poetry. We peacefully walked through the shift and blessed the words of wonder. There was silence as we gazed at what the time had emerged.
In art there are answers. We need not worry about how to bring forth a new paradigm, after all. We can just focus on living the reign of God. After we do this for some time, then we’ll be able to look around and be awed that God has used us to help create something new. Thanks be to God!
I am unpatriotic. I don’t like flag day or other patriotic celebrations. I feel like I am repeating myself a little, because I have written about this before (see my comments in this post, especially), but I dislike patriotism. I really, really do. I dislike patriotism so much that it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach. Seriously!
What’s with my dislike of the flag? I think that it was the peace educator Coleman McCarthy who originally woke me up to how the flag doesn’t fit with the Gospel when I heard him speak about peace while I was on a college service trip to Washington DC.
I remember that Coleman McCarthy boldly acknowledged that no young person should have to choose between the flag and the cross, as they are opposites. In our culture, though, it seems we glorify both, equally. We even put the flag right next to the cross by the altar in the front of churches!
The flag has become a symbol of freedom caused by violence. On the other hand, the cross is a symbol of freedom of caused by nonviolence.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I am a woman of the Gospel. Sure, I am an American, and I appreciate the freedoms of our democracy. I am grateful that I have the freedom to publicize these non-patriotic views, for example! The reality, though, is that my freedom comes from God. Although I may have more courage to be expressive of my views in this nation, I suspect I would still be vocal about God and the Gospel no matter where I am, and no matter what trouble it might get me in. But, I am much more loyal to my faith than my country. I believe that God will love me no matter where I am, no matter what.
I have major concerns about how many Americans turn to the flag and nationalism as a source for comfort and strength in times of turmoil.
I would rather everyone would turn exclusively to the cross, the True source of freedom. Or, even better, Jesus, Love Incarnate.
p.s. I know this is radical and challenging stuff. I’ve learned that a trouble about having a message is that people may become uncomfortable and offended, because values are tied to emotions. Know that I still love you, even if we disagree. Peace!!