“So who are you going to be voting for during the Midterms?”
“Oh . . . Well I’m abstaining like I did in the last election.”
Silence fell in Grandad’s car while the miles of Southern Missouri rolled by.
“Why would you do that? Don’t you know it’s your duty? It’s the responsibility of living in a free country.”
“I mean, I don’t really think it’s a ‘duty.’ It’s optional and I’m choosing not to take the option.”
“But . . . It’s also part of being a Christian. You have to make sure you’re voting for people who will put forward things that God would want us to do.”
“Yeah, I disagree. I think we’re supposed to be part of ‘another world’ and shouldn’t have anything to do with this one. The ‘world’s’ issues aren’t ours, right? And besides, there’s no real way to be adequately educated on the people and issues enough that I’d feel comfortable picking someone . . . plus, I don’t want to have to choose between ‘the lesser of two evils,’ do you?”
“That’s not how it always is. You can be as educated as you choose to be. And sometimes there is a right answer, not just two evils.”
I shrugged. Frustrated, Grandad shook his head the way most people in the older generations do when confronted with the cocktail of competing ideologies that are we Millennials and changed the subject.
A lot’s changed since 2014 when for the second time I chose to abstain from a national election. In the four years since that conversation, we’ve had our third child, lost a second ministry position, officially joined the Episcopal Church, and moved to Bloomington so Mikala could resume college after a decade. Interwoven with these changes, we’ve witnessed out our social and theological beliefs shift dramatically, with radical responses to civic activation.
I still remember the day in late 2015 when I shared a booth with my friend Kiriana, looking at my computer as she directed it to multiple sites in which politicians answered questions about their stances on particular issues. One in particular, ISideWith.com, actually allowed prospective voters to take the same quizzes offered to candidates and then showed which party or parties you aligned with.
So much for the “uneducated” argument.1
I remember listening to Rob Bell’s RobCast while I mowed our weed-infested yard and the feeling of revelation I experienced in his simple claim that “politics is a good word.” Sure, I’d learned in Bible college Greek that the word polis denoted society—a place where people gathered and shared an organized life together. But wasn’t the Church the ecclesia–those called out of the polis? I found out that wasn’t the case, such “called out ones” were not taken away to somewhere better, but rather set aside for special, intensive engagement. I realized if I lived in places taking care of such elemental issues as running water, functioning roads, and electricity, I was a political actor–whether I liked it or not.
I can still envision how the late afternoon sun slanted through my office blinds as I read Walter Brueggemann’s small book, The Spirituality of the Psalms. Though I’d encountered such views before, apparently my mind’s conditions were finally right to receive the message that the authors of the Bible were . . . you know . . . people. Individuals who existed as members of a time and place, within particular cultures and traditions, occupying particular stations in their respective contexts. I was once again floored by the simple recognition that someone who wrote a psalm about God always providing, blessing, and exercising control over life was likely experiencing a secure life; that it reflected the upper echelons of society. People whose lives were ordered—where all was as it should be.
Conversely, those who looked up from the dusty streets into the lit upper rooms of the elite and heard the laughter and sounds of feasting would write psalms from that perspective. Those who wondered where the God of provision, blessing, and control had gone. They shook their fist at the window (or was it the empty, unanswering sky?) and felt their abandonment all too keenly.
Both groups were political actors. True, some had control over the laws and course of life while others were left to be controlled, but all were parts and products of their system.
But what about Jesus? And what about the still-troublesome “lesser of two evils” argument? It wasn’t effective to write-in “The Christ” on a ballot–and no candidate, no matter how charismatic or ideologically pure, was ever going to reflect 100% of my idiosyncratic beliefs. So how could I ever in good conscience elect someone whose actions and beliefs I didn’t fully endorse?
Then I actually looked at the life of Christ.
What I saw was not a man whose life and message abstained from civic life or acted as though his followers were to be hermetically-sealed from the world. I didn’t read about someone who told people to forget their worries and woes and just hold on till they evacuated from this mortal frame. Rather, I read someone intimately engaged with the way people in his world acted and were acted upon; someone who saw a community of political actors, some of whom created and reinforced the system, some who had learned to game it for their own advantage, and some who were crushed beneath its weight.
I saw a man who neither endorsed the Zealot’s violence and anarchy nor the Sadducees’ manipulation of wealth and religion. He was not an Essene, seeking refuge from the world in the desert, nor a Pharisee, controlling the powerless by taking ownership of God’s word. Jesus’ followers were neither encouraged to give up and give in to, nor to fight against, the system.
He taught them instead how to subvert it.
Jesus Christ posited the radical idea that engaging with his ideas would call you out and then take you deeper into the lives of those around you, leading to love and acceptance of all based on their simple existence as creatures of the Divine. He taught that his Kingdom could never be overcome because it did not exist in the stones of a castle or the steel of a sword, but within the beating hearts of all who sought to break chains, set captives free, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and love the lonely.
Jesus believed that this world could actually change, that entire societies could be organized for the betterment of all if each person would individually choose to make their enemies into their neighbors and their neighbors into family. If we all realized that our collective flourishing depended on each of us giving without stopping to ask if everyone else was doing their “fair share.”
Jesus was not a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Socialist. He never cast a vote for a president or even a school board member. But he fed those without the means to provide for themselves. He healed those who couldn’t afford the physician’s exorbitant bill. He spoke for those whose voices had long ceased to work, results of generations of poverty, patriarchy, and neglect.
It was Jesus who showed me that none of us ever fully arrives, that if we wait for perfection (of ourselves or others) before we engage, we never will. That life is lived by the broken vessels while those who are whole and clean are the ones that stay on the shelf.
I voted on Tuesday, not because I believed any of the candidates or measures were perfect, but because they and I were in the game together.
I voted for the voiceless: because I’m a straight, white, married man with full-time employment and a college degree, whose life may be reasonably well-ordered, but there are others who don’t have the ability, will, or resources to play the game even for their own benefit. I voted for them
I voted for my children: being strongly reminded of them as I waited an hour in an elementary school which denotes its hallways with educational monikers like “Patience Pkwy,” and thinking of the sort of world I’d like to leave them and the ways in which I hope they engage for the benefit of others without their privilege.
I voted on Tuesday because it was my duty: not to some imaginary thing called “America,” but to the very real, flesh and blood Kingdom living within me—to the Divine spark leaping (however imperfectly) from my ballot into the lives of my friends, enemies, neighbors, and family.
1. I’m sure others shared similar information, but if I didn’t give Kiri a shoutout and she read this, I wouldn’t be long for this world.↩