This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Well, since I routinely blabber about religion here, and will occasionally play armchair-sociologist, I figured, like everyone else who has a blog, twitter account, Facebook page, or self-merited forum, I’d try on my political swagger, so here it goes…
In 2016, I was approached by a friend who was seeking genuine pastoral advice, when he asked, “Who should I vote for?”
He was clearly torn.
Like Vizzini, he felt he was staring at two goblets trying to decipher which one had been laced with iocane powder– odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man. If he could just deduce whether it was the goblet before him that he would normally choose, or the goblet across the table:
But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool. You would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
However, I believe that election caused a deeper question than “Who should I vote for?” The deeper question is “What should I do?”
Whether your person won or lost back then, the question “what should I do?” should remain at the forefront.
In the past, it was easier for us to go in, pull a lever, vote a particular party and figure we had done our civic responsibility. That way we could return to our offices, homes and schools abdicating any personal responsibility, and blame the politicians for our mess. We did our civic duty…we voted…then we can sit back and complain about the gridlock in Washington. But what if the gridlock–what if that election cycle–is calling us to do more than vote?
Each election season I like to quote this book, How the Scots Invented the Modern World. “Gridlock at the public level guarantees liberty at the private level: this was the dirty little secret Madison dared to unveil in the Federalist Papers.”
In fact, Madison had proposed that there needed to be three presidents in order to avoid authoritarian rule. Political gridlock is good, because it necessitates that we as individuals actually have to do something.
However, Madison relented when he realized at times, like war, a singular decision was necessary. That is why originally, before the 12th amendment, the person who came in second in the electoral college was elected Vice President. By creating gridlock and tension, Madison was devising a political system that sought to guarantee personal liberty.
The challenge is that this mindset of intentional public gridlock to encourage personal freedom would require that people stepped up and then lead up the chain of command. Leading down the chain is easy. “Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain. Leading up, the leader cannot fall back on his or her personal positional authority. Instead, the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge [and] communication.”*
This means that those of us who are Christ followers are called to be politicians–in the purest sense of the word. Polis is the greek word for “city.” When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he wept for the city. Do you weep for the city of Charlotte? Like Jesus who could see beneath the facade of the beautiful buildings and noticed the pain and sin of our messed up lives–do you weep?
This is the challenge Jeremiah lays at our feet. If you think our national political rhetoric is bad, imagine the people of Israel. God carried them off into exile from the Promised Land. Destroying their homes, their livelihood, tearing families apart and utterly destroying the Temple. They are in a foreign territory called Babylon, when God speaks up.
What does He tell them to do? Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what is produced. Marry, have kids, get your kids married…He is saying, invest in the place that I have taken you to. Engage, don’t disengage. Lead. Invest. Invite.