We praise you for his life which informs our living,
for his compassion which changes our hearts,
for his clear speaking that contradicts our harmful generalities
for his disturbing presence
his innocent suffering
his fearless dying
his rising to life breathing forgiveness and restoring us forever to you.
I said these words just today at a mid-day service, and they struck me particularly strongly in relation to yesterday’s elections, and our on-going political mess. I don’t mean to speak in a partisan way: when I speak of our on-going political mess, I am talking about the way in which our democracy has stopped working, a situation in which we have been living for many years now. Very little has been accomplished by our political system, and most of the participants in that system spend much of their time figuring out how to sabotage each other rather than how to be of service to the people who elected them.
And we, the huddled masses who are yearning for something different, and voting, I think, largely out of anger and/or fear, are a part of the problem — and we are largely unwilling to acknowledge it. For, in the end, it is we who elect people to office, and if we are casting votes out of anger or fear, then it is hardly surprising that the people whom we elect act largely out of anger or fear. And they know that if they wish to remain in office (which, it seems, is often their highest aspiration), then they must continue to appeal to the raging, scared part of us. And so we live in an unending cycle of fear and anger and, in the end, the real purpose and art of politics gets lost.
This leads me back to the words of that Eucharistic Prayer. It seems to me that they point us toward what our lives are meant to be seeking and embodying. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, our lives are meant to be informed by the life of Christ. And in that life, we meet the compassion of Jesus which seeks to make us more compassionate; we are reminded by him of the ways in which our generalities about others, particularly those who disagree with us, are harmful; his presence as One who questions what we are doing, and whose own innocent suffering reminds us of how we can be a cause of suffering to others, should disturb us, and make us examine our speech and actions more carefully; his fearless dying reminds us that we are called to think of others first, and that this is costly; and all of this reflects the shape of a risen life, a life transformed by deep forgiveness and love that restores us to the One from whom that life comes. This is a spirituality of humility, a spirituality that is meant to place us in relationship with others so that our spirits might be enlarged so as to include more than our own harmful generalities. It is a spirituality that asks us to replace our ideas of other people with actual experience of other people in the fullness of their humanity, in the depth of their need.
We have been searching for a way out of political gridlock for some time now. It is hard to find anyone who is at all happy about our situation. I think that if we are to find a way to a better place it needs to begin with a kind of inner revolution, a deepened spirituality that is capable of moving beyond fear and anger to positive relationships with others. And that recognizes our political life is meant to serve all people, and not just some people.
As Ghandi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We have no right to demand change of others until we are willing to commit to it ourselves.