Thursday, November 17, 2016

Faith & Politics: What Comes Next?

In the final week of our four-part series at St. Paul's called Faith & Politics, we opened with a brief litany of thanksgiving from The Book of Common Prayer (pp. 838-839), For the Nation:

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.


From there, we began to tackle the organizing question for our final session: What does it look like for a faithful follower of Christ to live politically? These were the group's brainstorms:

- Listen to both sides.
- Ask questions. Get curious about people, feelings, issues, history. Do your homework, and don't expect others to take the time teach you. Trust, but verify.
- Be with and support the disenfranchised (see Matthew 25).
- Read Micah 6. What does the Lord require? Justice, mercy, humility. Humility means, "I might be wrong. I might change."
- Trust the process, BUT act at the right time. God is nudging you.
- Follow your passion and your pain. Popeye used to say, "That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!"
- Don't just vote. Our voice as citizens encompasses many more avenues.
- Be "wise as serpents, innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
- Act as a whole person, not just your mind. Engage your heart, body, and soul as well.
- Trust that God is (ultimately) in control. This led to an acknowledgment that the Bible presents us both with a God who is intimately involved in decreeing every detail, and a God who gives us free rein to act independently. These two theological narratives live in tension.
- Question your relationship to power.
- Be a storyteller! Our understanding of the world is in narrative form, not just a bunch of scientific facts. What will be your story? Remember that our narratives are fluid.

At this point someone noticed that most of these examples are individualistic. So next we asked, "What does it mean for a Christian community to live politically?" We tackled the question in a roundabout way by asking what practices we have undertaken at St. Paul's:

- We are accepting of diverse people.
- We work specifically on hunger and homelessness. Are there other issues we should be tackling as well, bearing in mind that we can never do it all?
- We have an active Contemplative Prayer community.
- We focus intentionally on children and youth.
- We ask (not just invite) people to get involved.
- We are open to change.
- We call each other by name.
- We represent a "simple complexity" that is especially evident in our liturgy. Our structure leads us to greater freedom. We put a fence around a safe space.
- We are free and encouraged to ask questions, and this is a big deal for some people coming from certain other Christian traditions.

At this point we realized that we'd spent a lot of time patting ourselves on the back. We acknowledged that there's nothing wrong with being proud of our congregation to a point, but that we're really just doing our best to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So ... what are our next steps?

- Some would love to see us do a similar series outside of the election cycle, when passions may be a little more contained and we feel that we can go deeper.
- At the very least, we'd like to hold a follow-up conversation sometime after the inauguration.
- We reminded ourselves to think globally and act locally.
- We encouraged each other to be hopeful. We drew a distinction between optimism, which suggests that things are always going to get better with or without my involvement, and hope, which does not negate action.
- We gave appreciation for God's love for us, which does not depend on any action of our own.

Evaluations of our efforts were, in general, positive. Some wished we had stretched it beyond four weeks. One person would have liked more time to share our own stories with the entire group.

Most importantly, I think, one person noted that the group tilted in one direction politically. "A more diverse ideological group could have provided some different perspectives." Amen.

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