Jesus modeled and taught the way of the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. He gave us a prayer — some call it the Our Father and some call it the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean to pray that we forgive those who sin or trespass against us? What about those who differ from us in political philosophy and maybe our own overly-hyped sensationalism, hyperbole, seething and ravenous hatred for one man, or one man and his party, or that party that seeks only their own power, even if it means “the destruction of the country.”
Because many have modernized and enhanced our wardrobes to include wearing our emotions on our sleeves these over the last several years, have we grown overly emotional and have ignored reason, wisdom and thoughtful reflection? Have we grown to like the instant emotional payout that fits of outrage and disgust give us? Like a drug, they quickly addict us, and we want more. And so, before we even know it — because we’re not listening to understand where the “other side” is coming from — are we listening to be offended? But just how have those who differ from us politically — how have they actually offended us? How have they trespassed against us? We hold our opinions and beliefs to be nearly sacrosanct because we’re not wrong — we’re right. So, in this cultural moment that’s in crisis, we feel as though those with a different viewpoint have offended us and our sensibilities for speaking against our opinion.
Sharing their views or posting that meme is painful to us. It hurts; it’s harmful, right? But how is this a sin? How is this truly a trespass? How are they really enemies? Just who is our enemy? An invisible vortex has formed and is eating our nation from the inside. The black hole that is American politics traps those in its clutches and blinds their eyes to any other possibilities. For many, creativity and imagination have been sucked clean out of us because of our thin skin and the certitude that we are right and must be right at all costs, and all who don’t agree, well, in the classic words from “Happy Days,” you can “sit on it,” to put it in family-friendly terms. What’s the solution? The political system has been shaped over the last 30-plus years for the winner to be the declared savior of the country — from COVID, from the sinister clutches of that “wicked, evil, and immoral candidate and party.” It’s been said every four years with each new election that this one is “the most important and crucial election of our lifetime.”
We really want a savior. But sadly, for this black hole vortex of a system, there will never be one in the way that is being looked for. Candidates are scanned in hopeless desperation. There is a savior whose kingdom and way are not of this world. It’s one that calls us out of this system of fragility and prideful arrogance. The way of this kingdom teaches us to hold our opinions lightly as a feather. Opinions and value judgments are our thoughts. Our opinions are not facts or truth. Here’s the really good news. No one has to agree with us. We can be firm in our beliefs and learn the gracious art of mutual respect so that when we encounter someone who thinks differently, we’re not threatened by our differences. Those who hold a different viewpoint and share it haven’t sinned against me or you in voicing their opinion. But what we do with their voicing, how we act with humility or with prideful arrogance determines where and when sin enters the picture. And what if it’s in us and not them?
We use our opinions and talking points as weapons of war against a dehumanized monster of a party and presidential candidate. We sharpen our tongue, the fierce tool we have to cut and slash our way through the perceived battle. And for us Christians, we’re actually living counter to the way that Jesus created and ushered in for us. Because of the inauguration of the kingdom of God through Jesus we’re given a new way to be human. And because of this new reality, we are to live into God’s vision for the world given through Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2.4, NRSV).
It’s time for us to make God’s vision our own to find a new center and inertia from which to live. God is always working to correct our vision and our perception. Jesus, picking up the phrase from the prophets, said, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13.9-16). From this new center, we are pulled out of the black hole sucking the life out of us to find a new way to live and be in the world as we strive with others to create a more perfect union. We need each other. We are not a collection of individual nomads. We are “the people.” We need each other to help not only hold our government (national, state and local) accountable, but we need those around us who see things differently to gently hold us in check. Without it, we end up living inside echo chambers that form us to be fragile.
We’re invited to see the light that’s shining from outside the black hole. But we have to hear the gentle, still small voice of God’s kingdom calling us to be examples as salt and light to show the world where true identity comes from, where our wholeness and peace are found. Let it begin with us.
The Rev. Michael Scarlett is pastor of the First Methodist Church in Pocatello. He is a member of the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship.