A long-winded bunny trail begins at the intersection of Politics and Gospel

…with no real end in sight, today….

Last night I attended the first of eight lecture nights from a Speaker’s Series I have subscribed to for over a decade.  Featured were Vermont Governor and former Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean and Karl Rove, Former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush, in what was to be a dialogue about politics today, the election, and the pressing issues before the country.

Two more polar opposites couldn’t be had. And this is exactly the kind of pairing and dialogue that makes the series so compelling and why I subscribe to the series year after year.

Here is how the forum organizers describe the series, followed by a short list of some of those I have been fortunate enough to hear:

The forum brings eight speaker events per year to a local venue – all designed for the exchange of ideas, opinion and perspective for the enrichment of the community it serves. Speakers represent a wide variety of subjects from world affairs and politics to business and economics, education and the arts to the environment. Speakers are chosen on the basis of their extraordinary – usually lifetime – achievements and unique expertise in their particular field of endeavor.

  • David Brooks
  • T. Boone Pickens
  • Bob Newhart
  • Thomas Friedman
  • Tony Blair
  • Simpson and Bowles
  • Pervez Musharraf
  • Jared Diamond
  • Ted Koppel
  • Sandra Day O’Connor
  • Newt Gingrich
  • Dick Cavett
  • Fareed Zakaria
  • Andrew Weil
  • Charlie Rose
  • Jeffrey Toobin.

The forum is designed to enlighten, not inflame. There are no votes to be had, agendas to be forced.  Instead, the speaker speaks to what got them to where they were – how their life experience and thinking moved them from point A to point B, what informed their formation as a scientist, politician, actor, writer, researcher, traveler, teacher or religious leader.   And why do they hold the opinions they do about whatever field of expertise in which they worked.  A very civilized, substantive way to unpack complicated, dense ideas.  Dialogical.

For the most part my experience as a subscriber and attendee has been positive, and especially edifying during election seasons where I find myself lacking interest or energy to break through the shouting and sound bites coming from the two parties.

I bring with me to the lectures the intention to hear, to be open to what the person has to say, to be humbled and to learn something.  I bring with me, also, my world view – my lens – the gospel lens –  so that I may hear and understand the speaker’s words though my understanding of His Word.

And, indeed, I do  learn something nearly every time.

But last night threw me a curve ball when I realized mid-speech how easily I could get up and walk out, so offended was I by the audience – not the speakers – the audience who’s collective arrogance and self righteousness reached a fever pitch.  Hissing – I mean it – actual hissing when Rove spoke about the 2000 election in the context of a question about electing presidents by popular vote vs the electoral college.  And booing whenever he challenged the facts regarding the deficit and the entitlement culture.  And raucous clapping when Dean made a derogatory remark about “the rich.”

I was restless in my sleep last night thinking about the divisiveness that characterizes the political climate in this country – a divineness ushered in at that 2000 election, briefly salved by the tragic terror attacks on 9/11, then re-opened and widened by an economic collapse that seems to have pit US against THEM, pick a side.

And this morning the restlessness continued.  I actually had a visceral reaction to words in these verses from Psalm 119:

50 This is my comfort in my distress,
that your promise gives me life.
51The arrogant utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law.
52 When I think of your ordinances from of old,
I take comfort, O Lord.
53Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
those who forsake your law.

This is how I felt last night at that lecture, surrounded by a self-righteous, arrogant, holier-than-thou, entitled, utterly disrespectful  audience of affluent, mostly Caucasian, dare I say, elitist, well-educated, over-50, Americans.

But just as the psalm conjures US-THEM in seeking to make a case for the psalmist’s righteousness before God, so too, do I, no?

The adjectives I use to describe the audience last night combined with the ‘hot indignation’ I felt towards them is really only a reflection of me and my judgments, and distinguishes me for my own purposes from THEM.   Those who I deride – THEM- would not describe themselves as self-righteous, disrespectful or any of the other pejoratives I use.

I am thinking about this and how anytime I encounter US-THEM, whether in Scripture, in Church, from the pulpit or from the political arena, I am struck by how the accusations and the judgments of the other deafen the ears, blind the eyes, close the heart to what is being said.

And at the same time I’m back to thinking about Scripture and realizing that I encounter the whole US-THEM scenario  – one that seems to compel an individual or group to judge the other, to name them as an enemy, to see their sin but not their own thereby rendering them deaf to the other – I am realizing I encounter this most often in the Old Testament.

The US-THEM of Jesus is not divisive but unifying.  We are ONE in and of Him.  The distinction between you and me  – US-THEM is not exacted by demeaning, belittling, or presuming sin in the other.  We believe…and others do not, and that’s all the difference between me and you, US and THEM.  Though, what a difference it makes.

Wow.  Totally too long and no time to review an edit and clean up.  Sorry but thanks for hanging with me.

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