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I have to confess that I am weary of the political season.  I am tired of hearing good people talk badly about each other.  I am weary of the collective monologue that seems to pass as debate in this day and age.  I am tired about the zero sum game that too often dominates religion as much as it dominates politics.  I’m tired and I just want to go to sleep and wake up and find out that it’s all over–or even better yet, that it was all a bad dream.

I’m not merely tired of partisan politics in government here or anywhere else in the country, I’m tired of the diversions from doing the work of heralding the Kingdom of God that sidetrack the Church as well.

I was reading a little book by Teilhard de Chardin the other night before going to sleep that made me sit up and take notice and helped me to refocus and fight the urge to flee from the struggles of politics.  In “Building the Earth” Chardin writes these words…may they rekindle your hope and focus your energies as they did mine.

Fundamentally, in spite of the apparent enthusisasm with which large sections of mankind go along with the political and social currents of the day, the mass of mankind remains dissatisfied.

It is impossible to find, either on the right or the left, a truly progressive mind which does not confess to at least a partial disillusionment with all existing movements.

A person joins one party or the other, because if he wishes to act, he must make a choice.  But, having taken his stand, everyone feels to some extent hampered, thwarted, even revolted. Everyone wants something larger, finer, better for humanity. Scattered throughout the apparently hostile masses which are fighting each other, there are elements everywhere which are only waiting fora  shock in order to re-orientate themselves and unite.

All that is needed is that the right ray of light should fall upon these people as upon a cloud of particles, that an appeal should be sounded which responds to their internal needs, and across all denominations, across all the conventional barriers which still exist, we shall see the living atoms of the universe seek each other out, find each other and organize themselves.

We must unite.

No more political fronts, but one great crusade for human advancement.  The democrat, the communist, and the fascist must jettison the differences and limitations of their systems and pursue to the full the positive aspirations which inspire their enthusiasm, and then, quite naturally, the new spirit will burst the chauvinist bonds which still imprison it; the three currents will find themselves merging in the conception of a common task; namely to promote the spiritual future of the world.

I believe that force that can bring an end to the systems and allow what’s best in them to coalesce around the promotion of the spiritual future of the world is nothing more or less than the Gospel of Jesus.

Should you, like me, find yourself weary, stressed, fearful, lonely, or whatever else in the coming months of high uncertainty, pick up the stories of the Gosple and let the Good News re-orientate you to work for the spiritual future of this world and all of God’s children in it.

I have to say that it’s taken me less than a week to become weary of the ‘conversation’ between the two major presidential party candidates.  What disheartens me is the shrill character of what passes for dialogue on the real and pressing problems of the world we live in today.  I don’t see a conversation, I feel like I’m witnessing a collective monologue where people and groups of people don’t talk to one another but rather at or past one another.

I’m enough of a pramatist to know that this isn’t likely to change soon.  What I will say is that the labels, whether they be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ take on a perjorative tone.  I find this remarkable since these are not nouns, but adjectives.  Maybe that’s for another time.

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting interview with author Peter Korzen about how church moral teaching, in his case Catholic moral teaching, can inform dialogue in the public square in a meaningful and faithful way.  He has recently co-authored A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division with Alexia Kelley and talks about the book and its premise in the interview.

For me the most interesting challenge in the arena of partisan politics today is how communities of faith, made up of people with differing views, can contribute in a meaningful way to the process.  I would hope that we are still willing to claim a voice in the public square that is not demeaning, shrill or condescending.  One of my mentors told his students often, “The highest compliment you can pay anyone is to take them seriously.”  What would happen if supporters of major political candidates would take the other side ‘seriously’ and allow that people of good will can disagree agreeably?  I’d love to see how that might play out.

I guess for small communities, like the one I serve, we can do that by asking honest questions of people that we disagree with and have a conversation of understanding before we try and ‘convert’ them to our particular worldview.  We can share the experiences that bring us to certain places, but we cannot expect others to treat them as if they were their own and ‘better’ experiences.  That doesn’t take ‘the other’ seriously and involves a certain arrogance and hubris unbecoming of the followers of Jesus who, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5

Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.(Philippians 2)

Korzen and Kelley appeal to a great ideal that might help us to shift the conversation to the center from the poles, namely that we seek the common good above being right (or left for that matter).  I may be a hopeless optimist, but it won’t ever happen if we don’t try by our life and example as people of faith to make it so.

I’m more hopeful about politics than I’ve been in a long time.  I pray that hope grow into fruitful dialogue.

My prayer is that this hope can be rewarded with a substantive discourse on ideas and not devolve into the politics of name-calling and fear.  I want to say up front that I mean that in both directions, both the left and the right.

Two snippets give me hope (maybe I’m just looking for a half-full glass).

  • Barack Obama’s description of John McCain as ‘a good man’ when talking about his impending nomination as the Republican Presidential Candidate
  • John McCain’s congratulatory message to the Illinois Senator the day following Obama’s nomination

I believe that regardless of our politics, we as people of faith should really pray for, to borrow from the Apostle Paul, “a more excellent way” to emerge as part of this important time in our country and for the life of the world as God’s creation.

To that end I am going to commit myself to praying for God to sustain all of the candidates and not just ‘my’ candidate.  Will you join me in a commitment to such a prayer discipline?

In closing I offer this from the Book of Common Prayer as template for such a discipline.

Almighty God, giver of all good things:
We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.
They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich
variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.
Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

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