In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. -Luke 18:2
As I sat down for my morning prayers today, I had a hard time shaking off the experience of watching last night's presidential debate, which was one of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable couple of hours I've spent as an informed American citizen - and citizen of the world.
It is not that politics have ever been pure and lovely. And it is not that our era is terminally unique. Ugly politics are standard fair in our world, and last night was just a new and different expression of the hate and division that has frequently been expressed among us in this nation. As I prayed on the gospel for this Sunday, I was reminded that nasty politics has been a feature of life for a long, long time. Witness the introduction Jesus gives in his parable for this Sunday. There are always people in power and leadership who do not have the greater good in mind.
As a person of faith, observing our anxiety ridden nation getting more and more polarized and combative, I find myself wondering what I am being called to do. I cannot change the personalities of our candidates. I cannot change the minds of people who see good where I see evil. I cannot change the way the media lathers up the conflicts among us as good entertainment. And I cannot change the growing level of anxiety in our churches, our streets, in online forums, and just about everywhere I look as a result of our quickly degrading level of public discourse.
The truth of the matter is that I can't change much of anything in life except myself, and sometimes even that is a challenge. But my self is something I can work on nonetheless, with some effort and practice. I can work on the way I choose to speak, act and react to others and the world.
So, I've had a practice of disengaging from the widely prevalent "us vs. them" dynamic by choosing to refrain from characterizing anyone as anything less than a human being. Sounds simple, but it really isn't. I have political opinions, and like many people these days, I have a hard time finding points of agreement with (or even, at this point, any understanding of) the political opinions of those with opposing views. It is very hard to disengage from the deepening sense of divide between us and from seeing my opponents as somehow deficient as human beings.
My practice is this: No matter how much I disagree with others, I will not call them jerks or idiots (or worse). When tempted to do so, I choose to say a prayer for them under my breath instead. This doesn't mean I won't disagree. It doesn't mean I won't name damaging or hurtful behaviors. What it does do is keep me from thinking of any of my fellow human beings as somehow less than I am. This has been a concrete practice of loving my neighbors - and not just the ones I like.
Can I tell you how challenging this practice is? This is a very challenging practice in a culture filled with insults and degrading names, but it is surprisingly powerful. I'm doing my best to stick with it. (However, I confess that last night watching the debate, I did not practice well. Ah - time to start fresh again this morning! Every day new.)
In times such as these, our faith practice is more important than ever, and it is relevant even in seemingly insignificant choices and behaviors. Every word we speak, every decision we make and every action we take, every day, either builds up the body of Christ or degrades it. Do our words proclaim God's light or deepen the darkness? Do our decisions encourage those who are anxious or fuel the fires of fear? Do our actions speak of God's love or add to our collective hatred?
Jesus asks his disciples, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" We can each do a part in keeping the light on. Join us on Sunday to share in the good news, and find spiritual support for the often challenging journey of life.