Washington politics has the feel of a three-ring circus, with high-wire walkers balancing above the lion tamer in center ring, the elephants and horses circling in the others, while the media sideshows are where the hawkers of magical thinking and optical illusions preside. It is not hard to be overwhelmed attempting to sort the false from the true, the spun from the bare facts.
A recent survey done by researchers from the University of Nebraska reports 40% of adult Americans are feeling distress about national politics, with 20% of the most involved saying they are so concerned they are losing sleep, feeling chronic fatigue and sadness about the future of the nation. A similar survey done by the American Psychological Association describes the struggle of adults to stay informed as voters: 63% report that trying to stay current with national news has become a major source of personal stress.
Are you described by these statistics? Whatever team you route for, whatever side of the aisle your politics, we will need to be even more mindful of our minds as the election cycle comes around yet again. Practically it all comes down to creating a sustainable balance between awareness and personal action for the country and the same awareness, effort and sustained care for our own individual lives.
The country’s concerns will not cease if you stop taking care of yourself, but you sure will. Those amazing portable computers we call cellphones? They have become the center of this very personal struggle to stay well and informed.
Have you created a set of habits around your phone that allow you to not be drawn to every bell and whistle it makes? Can you turn it off when you go to bed, plug it in and forget for hours, occasionally leave it at home when you run an errand? If not, the time is now to get control of its habitual pull the way we worried about the television a generation ago.
Now let’s widen our perspective on political power. To think about this issue from the aspect of faith is to see it with a second set of lenses. Theologically — that is, speaking about God — we trust that politics is not the only overriding power in this world.
Yes, we are subject to the laws, courts, borders, law enforcement and military that our country has established for order and justice. In the language of Christian theology, we believe that this human authority is a reflection of God’s care for human life when it works for our common good — and an expression of human brokenness when it doesn’t.
But we also believe that there is a second force or kingdom of authority in the universe that has been called the Kingdom of God, functioning within and around all of us permanently. Christians believe that the life of Jesus is the greatest demonstration we have of the qualities and authority of God’s power.
The kingdom of God is displayed when love and justice prevail. We experience God’s power when we share kindness, hope, compassion, forgiveness, healing, peace, wholeness and well-being. These relational and interpersonal qualities and actions, while not the hard power of weapons and prisons and warfare, are the very powers that bring human beings to fullness of life. These are behavioral choices that make living this hard life possible and even joyful.
As we study and remember the life of Jesus, we see that these human actions are divine attributes. They are how he embodied holiness. They are so powerful, and the rulers in Jerusalem were so frightened by it, that after three short years of public preaching they sentenced him to hang on a cross with other enemies of Rome.
The human struggle to manage life in community is endlessly hard. That’s what politics is all about. God’s authority and strength extends beyond our limited political structures to the greater realm of unlimited grace, love and inclusion. Should we face political despair, we can remember to commit ourselves to God’s greater vision of life. We can feed the hungry; we can visit the sick. We can care for the earth, forgive a slight, welcome a stranger and give our money to sustain works of mercy.
When the human circus feels out of control, let us remember that there is more power in this world than greed and fear. We can participate in God’s kingdom where justice, mercy and peace are central to life. We are its citizens, and we can be its ambassadors every day we have life within us.