This is not a post about voting or candidates or issues.
I repeat: this is not a post about voting or candidates or issues.
Mostly because I am tired of even thinking about voting and candidates and issues – and I say this as someone who has been spared the barrage of political ads thanks to a decision to try out internet television instead of cable. (My mother hasn’t been spared. She is even more tired of it than I am.)
What this post is about is the hysteria that crops up, both daily and especially every four years, about “the future of America.” The question “what will become of the country?” seems to be the repeated focus of every interview, every article, every debate. No one seems to know, or everyone knows, and everyone argues about it. And what I’ve noticed most of all is that all our answers to that question center on politics.
What will determine the future of our country? Some people say it’s a particular candidate or a particular vote. Some say a particular set of laws. Some say a focus on a particular set of issues. And these answers vary not only from American to American, but from Christian to Christian. The debates are heated. The stakes are high. And I suspect we are all making a mistake, because when we focus on these things we are focusing on worldly structures and worldly authorities – yes, those granted their authority by God, but worldly to their core nonetheless.
May I humbly suggest a different way?
First, a personal story: I volunteered recently at a local city carnival. My church was fielding a large part of the volunteers for the carnival. The event was intended to be a church-wide ministry to the community, one that occurs only twice a year. The event, the church told us, required one hundred to one hundred-fifty people to volunteer at sundry low-impact jobs that required little in the way of labor. (The attendance at my church, taking into account members who attend different services, is somewhere around the three-hundreds).
Seventy people signed up. Seventy.
The event was still manageable even with the low numbers, thanks to many of the volunteers taking on more than their allotted share of work. But on the day of the event, I arrived at the carnival to find that out of five scheduled and signed-up church volunteers for my shift, I and another man were the only ones who showed.
Seventy out of a hundred-fifty. Two out of five. That’s an abysmal showing. As a result, the church’s presence at the carnival was pretty underwhelming. To top it all off, a Sunday after, I heard some grousing that these church-wide events “never produce much in the way of results or church attendance.” Could it possibly be, I wondered, because over half the congregation didn’t bother to be involved or even show up?
It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to pretend to ourselves that one vote or one candidate will make or break something. It’s a lot less easy to go out and do the work of love. For all of us who sit around complaining about the way the world is, I wonder: have we been doing all that we can do to serve? (I don’t just mean individually, to those of you exhausted from your 24-7 ministry schedule. I mean as churches, too, with full participation.) Take a look at your congregation. What percentage of people actually do the work of ministry? Have we been living love and service within our own communities? Or are we putting misplaced faith in institutions and other people to do the work that God put us here to do?
When we see things around us that are broken, what are we doing on the personal, individual level to fix them?
Christians can affect change on an enormous scale simply by being themselves. Christians throughout history have been, to our shame, sometimes associated with murder and violence, but we have also been associated with large contributions to the public good, founding non-governmental hospitals and charities and orphanages and aid organizations and wide-scale service groups. The Bible instructs us to feed and care for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, and the oppressed. On a large scale, if the majority of believers in every church community took this dictate seriously, can you imagine the nationwide result?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever think about candidates or politics or issues or laws. (Although the early Christians managed to go on serving and changing the world just fine in a time when the laws were very much not in their favor). What I am saying is that instead of growing hysterical in debates and discussions about how all of these things will turn out, or worrying or complaining about them or spending time in long discussions about the future of the country, we’d do well to remember that the future of America is not in the hands of politicians or institutions. And that if that future is bleak, we bear at least part of the responsibility for not standing up to serve when we are called to serve.
The future is in the hands of God.
And it’s in our hands, too.