This particular Saturday evening found me somewhat preoccupied with races. In China a Romanian woman was clearly in the lead on her way to a gold medal in the women’s marathon. In Lake Forest, California, two other individuals were involved in a race which appears to be a bit closer, and which, in the end, may prove to be about as grueling as a marathon. I am drawn to both of these races, the first because I like to run (although the 100 -150 miles a month I run at 9-9 ½ minute miles hardly compares to those whose training involves 750+ miles per month and time well below 5 minute miles). The second, because, as Rick Warren stated so well in his introduction to the forum interviews, while I believe in the separation of church and state, I don’t believe that politics and faith can be or should be pursued in isolation from each other. How my faith is reflected and expressed in what I give support to matters deeply. However, from my perspective anyway, in the case of both these races the country or party the various runners represent is of much less interest to me than what I observe about them as they run.
The outcome of one race was decided that evening, the other remains to be.
In the case of the as yet unresolved race, one of the things I walk away with Saturday night with, in contrast to the sense of embarrassment that I too often feel when members of the evangelical community decide to engage the political process, was a sense of being proud of the way the evening was crafted and conducted. I am grateful to Rick Warren for modeling how conversations like these can be civil, open and respectful. How refreshing for the church to finally take the lead instead of simply contributing to the problem! What's more, something else that I come away with is a sense of being deeply impressed with the remarkable contrast listening in on this conversation provided between the candidates. While I am sure many have conclusions and impression different from my own, there were a number of contrasts that resonated with many of the themes that have surfaced for me in this blog. Others may or may not agree, but the places where I felt points of connection or resonance include these:
- Style of Interaction. I found myself drawn more toward thoughtful, nuanced dialogue in which you sense that the other person has really heard and understood not only the question but it’s complexity (and is willing to hear and entertain competing perspectives before deciding), than the kind of dialogue where answers are swift and forth coming often before the question has even been fully stated. One reflects a more open, invitational engagement, the other a more agenda driven interaction. Generally speaking, I usually feel more confident about a physician who finishes listening to and trying to understand my symptoms before they prescribe the treatment.
- The Problem of Evil. The ability of someone to recognize that evil is not primarily a matter of us vrs them, but something that is more pervasive and invasive than that, and therefore requires both insight and humility when we deal with it seems pretty foundational to me. While we do take strong stands in confronting and dealing with evil it in whatever form it takes, being able to see and respond to more than just one manifestation, and having the willingness and humility to be honest and responsive to ways we may contribute to it is pretty important. Part of this may be reflected not only in our ability to recognize that we too have our own moral failings, but our willingness to understand the reasons for them and what it takes to move beyond them is also significant. When we locate evil as primarily outside of ourselves we may be the most vulnerable to it.
- Sacrifice and courage. Interesting interplay between different expressions of sacrifice and courage. On the one hand, the ability to endure pain and physical torture at the hand of an enemy out of loyalty to others and a code of conduct . . . on the other, the willingness to sacrifice and do the hard work of caring for the needs of “the least of these” and living responsibly (socially and environmentally) within our means even if it costs us a little more financially to do so, so that our children to not have to carry the consequences of our neglect. There was the kind of courage (that both candidates would support) that says regardless of how those who style themselves as our enemies may conduct themselves, we will not conduct ourselves in that way (use of torture, for example). In subtler sorts of ways, one wonders if perhaps courage also involves not resorting to mockery as a form of argument? Perhaps there are many sides to courage, including the kind of courage in which we continue to be responsible for protecting the environment and the planet we live on even in the face of difficult economic times, and do the difficult work of finding clean and lasting long term solutions even if it means sacrificing a bit of comfort, convenience and maybe even the scorn of some in the short term - for the sake of my children and their children?
Wherever we find ourselves in the matrix of political ideas and perspectives, one thing the dialogue of Saturday evening does is to invite us to be more serious about asking the question of where God is in all of this. Asking the question, “What would Jesus Do” (as trivialized, over simplified and commercialized as that phrase has become in recent years) is still a legitimate question. When we look at the world through God’s eyes, try to see the way God sees, and spend some significant time looking into the eyes of God with honesty and humility, I suspect we might find our perspectives shifting more than we might ever imagine.
It was Paul that first tapped Olympic imagery to describe the real race we are called to run in [1 Cor 9:24 ff; 1 Tim 6:12; ]. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [Heb 12:1-2(NIV)]. Paul returns to the imagery again in Phil 3, as he talks about running the race in humility and hope.
All things considered, perhaps Saturday night was not such a bad time to be caught up for a moment in the dynamics of the races that surround us, as we reflect on the ones we find ourselves in.