Election

Letting go of the soapbox

It all started last week when I was coming out of the supermarket parking lot, onto a street with road construction.  The light turned yellow and another oncoming car was approaching. My first instinct was to gun it and make my left turn.  My second instinct was to slow down and allow the other car through, well, because it’s Christmas.

Actually, it’s Advent. But that’s not the point I’m getting at right now.

We often feel a little more charitable this time of year.  We will give out our spare change, hold the door for others, etc. all in the spirit of the season.  For those of us in clergy/leadership positions, we will speak about hope, peace, joy and love. We will ask our congregants to model this in their daily lives.

But we also will use these seasons to preach out.  We will speak out about commercialization, consumerism, the “real” meaning of Christmas, and the inclusion of other holidays.  We will speak out for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the marginalized, the homeless.

All of these are good things, but they can quickly turn into soapboxes, and often soapboxes=negative campaigning.

After coming through the election season we just faced, I realized I have had it up to here with negativity.  I feel it not only in the emotions of anger, bitterness and frustration, but I feel it in my very bones and muscles. Negativity has worn me out.

I’m tired of standing on the soapbox preaching against things.  Instead, as I approach the halfway point in Advent, I’d like to turn to encouragement, trust, hope, love, peace and joy—all those things that are traditionally part of the Advent season, all those things we often preach but don’t even practice in our preaching.  Perhaps we get a little too John the Baptist from the pulpit at this time of year instead of being more like Mary and Elizabeth.  Not to create a masculine/feminine dichotomy, but rather, singing and praising the wonders of God rather than calling those who aren’t like me “You brood of vipers” is a little more appealing, and a little more enjoyable (although I do love me some good John the Baptist moments) after this last election cycle.

So as we continue to prepare for Christmas, maybe this year, let’s rant less about consumerism and say more about how to celebrate the coming of Christ into our lives in a new way that doesn’t require consumption.  Let’s find ways of encouraging and building up one another rather than ranting soapbox-style about everything we perceive as Not From Christ.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place to get angry. Our Savior didn’t turn the tables over for nothing. John the Baptist had a good reason to get angry.  But we’ve had four years of anger and bitterness in this last election cycle, and the anger and bitterness is still spilling over into the political discourse right now over the fiscal cliff.  Maybe it’s just time to try a different approach, at least for a while, to take a breather.  For we remember the same Jesus who before the cross said “Woe unto thee,” and after the cross said, “Peace be with you.”  There is a time and season for righteous anger.  There is also a time and season for encouragement and joy in what God has done and is doing.  Maybe it’s time to let go of our soapboxes, at least for a while, and give in to hope, peace, joy and love.

Election Lament

By Douglas C. Sloan

If only the United States of America was a Christian nation.

If only the USA would be a nation that rejects the ethos of the Roman Empire: war, conquest, piety, peace.

If only the USA would be a nation that rejects, scripturally and theologically, a capricious and wrathful patriarchal God who metes out eternal binary judgments based on an infinitesimal mortal existence.

If only the USA would be a nation that rejects a God who requires human sacrifice instead of righteous living. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not a story of faithfulness and not to be admired or respected. Instead, it is a lesson of how God does not want to be worshipped – that a human sacrifice to God for any reason by anyone is an eternally repulsive abomination.

If only the USA would be a nation that worships a God of no nationality and not of any religion. Worship a universally accessible, personal and persistent God of unrestrained love and unconditional grace – a God whose will, desire, and passion is that we have long healthy lives.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who do not see each other as sinners and who do search for new ways to see each other as sinners.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who hear the Good News as a divine calling to be part of a global community of justice and compassion.

If only the USA would be a nation where justice is not punishment, vengeance, and death – instead, justice would be about repair, rehabilitation, restoration, and – where possible – reconciliation.

If only the USA would be a nation whose sense of communal compassion would embrace the call of the Torah (best translated as “instruction”) where forgiveness is requested or offered 20 times. The Torah has 9 divine calls for justice to be offered to all people and for justice to be applied fairly – even to immigrants and aliens. In the Torah, 19 times we are told that the poor, the widows and orphans, and even strangers are to be treated justly and compassionately and they are not to be allowed to go hungry or naked. In the Torah, every time, for reasons of health or purity, that someone is removed from the community, there is always a way for them to return to the community and be restored to their place in the community.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who, without conditions or exceptions, would provide compassion that feeds, quenches, clothes, heals, visits, welcomes, opposes war and oppression, and opposes systemic injustice and poverty.

If only the USA would be a nation who sees and holds that the power and authority of the Torah is not in legalistic behavioral restrictions and ritual requirements, not in definitions of sin and cleanliness, and not in prescribed punishments and exclusions. The meaningful weight and central purpose and overarching goal of the Torah and all scripture is in how it points away from tribal justice and through and beyond nationalism and legalism and through and beyond ordinary human conventions and relationships. The Torah and all scripture are a path of resurrection and transformation that leads to all people living as the family of God in the Kingdom of God, living here and now as a godly community of justice and compassion. One of the universal lessons and binding threads that can be gleaned from the Torah and scripture is that we are to constantly strive and look for ways to grow in our understanding and practice and sharing and evoking of the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God. God does not want our understanding to be static or stuck in one place. The Torah and scripture are constantly calling us and urging us to journey forward to a better and enlarging and enriching and more inclusive and more mature understanding of what God wants for us and for this planet. God is always calling us from Exodus to the Promised Land. God is always calling us from Exile to return home. The will and desire of God is that Life, at its best, is to be a journey of moral and spiritual and intellectual growth – and marked with moments of joy, both great and sublime.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who value scientific inquiry and scholarly study and increasing knowledge. If only the USA would be a nation of people who value education as a process that enhances the uniqueness of each student and develops the unique strengths, talents, creativity, and problem-solving skills of each student. If only the USA would be a nation of people who realize that education is not a rigid industrial process that treats each student as an identical widget. If only the USA would be a nation of people who understand that the purpose of education, unlike training, is not to have uniform results or constantly increasing aggregated test scores. If only the USA would be a nation of people who understand that the focus and purpose of education is only the individual student and not any future corporate work force.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who value the political supremacy of individual liberty and individual rights. If only the USA would be a nation who is not swayed by or even pays attention to the shrill voices of fundamentalist extremists who covet the power to define and control how we live our lives.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who hear and embrace and provoke the Good News as a message and a calling for here and now, for how we live together as one family – where, as individuals, we fearlessly live non-violent, non-vengeful lives of inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service to others.

If only the United States of America was a Christian nation.

This election – Tuesday, November 6, 2012 – I will vote.

I know that, like all of us, no candidate is perfect. So, this is how I will choose to cast my vote: I will not vote for any candidate whose values align more with the ethos of the Roman Empire, thus favoring the monetary greed of a few wealthy elite or the power greed of a few fundamentalist extremists. I will vote for candidates whose values align more with my political values of individual liberty and individual rights and my Christian values of justice and compassion.

(Here's a pdf of this article.)