If someone were to ask me what I believe politically I might tell them to listen to this song.
Here are the lyrics:
Don’t teach me about politics and government
Just tell me who to vote for
Don’t teach me about truth and beauty
Just label my music
Don’t teach me how to live like a free man
Just give me a new law
I don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me
I want a new law
I want a new law
Gimme that new law
Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice
Don’t teach me about loving my enemies
Don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Just give me a new law
What’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
For one you can that cannot get you anything
Do not be afraid
There is probably as much of Derek Webb’s thoughts in the following statements as my own thoughts added to them, nonetheless:
1) Political life is a complex and difficult reality. I want my convictions to be equal to my honest ignorance about what’s best, who’s best, who’s wrong, what’s wrong, and what we ought to do next. I don’t want to mis-identify the truth because I’ve given a premature political label to something or someone. Each thought deserves its own contemplation. Labels and easy associations stop good political thought, just like a passing comment about Derek’s music might cause someone to never give him ear. I want to love the Truth through my political life. I cannot do that without resisting the compulsion to label without studied contemplation.
2) I don’t want to let fear compulsively spur me towards overly confident political figures or their proposed laws, even if they’re right. They might have some truth but my dependence upon them will be untrue to my human dignity. God wants me to “live like a free man.”
I also don’t want to run in fear of power structures and powerful governments because I’ve been hurt by them, much like “Stardust” had been in Rogue One. Goodness required the absence and eventual murder of her father, and political despair kept her from fighting the good political fight. I don’t want to be enslaved to politics by letting fear of them direct my path. God wants me to “live like a free man.”
3) I don’t want to let fear or rage compulsively spur hatred, shows of power, or violence. People might be wicked; they might raise my taxes, legalize abortion, outlaw gay marriage, convict certain races more than others; they might draft women into a war, or fail to fight when they should, or they might tell African Americans they cannot vote, or they might take away my guns. Whatever happens, my desire for a different law cannot be based on a desire to assert myself above the previous law makers. If that is what motivates then I will end up becoming the oppressor I resented. Because I, like they, would not be motivated by love for my neighbor. There would be some part of me that actually wants evil to befall those who’ve harmed me before, some part that wants to put my foot on their necks. Don’t “gimme a new law” to satisfy any part of my wicked heart.
Do I really believe that by telling myself or others not to make laws motivated in some part by fear, rage, or a desire to control, that I or they can simply do that? Do I think that I’ll always realize when that is happening to me? Nope. And this is one reason why I think you cannot have a healthy political life without a healthy life of prayer and confession. But that’s a topic for a separate essay.
4) Don’t settle for the binary, bifurcated, or the bi-sexual (just kidding that doesn’t make sense here) presentation of all issues. That is slothful, and sloth, when conceived, gives birth to (political) death. Endless money is poured into the advancement of certain narratives about a whole range of political issues on all sides. Lackadaisical receptivity belies an intellectual overconfidence and naiveté. I think many intelligent and self-seeking people would love to play Moses for me. That is, they would love to do the hard work of climbing the mountain, facing “the truth,” and delivering me the answers. To become a more active political truth seeker, reading varied news sources with varied interests is a start, but more is required. Let me recommend reading history books by reputable historians. History books are more political than most kinds of books. The issues are, in truly good ones, typically somewhat removed from our immediate concerns and therefore allow for more impartial judgements. Further, a good history book allows you to take somewhat of a bird’s eye view of all manner of political issues. God save us from easy answers and our love for political sloth. God save us from those who would “bring it down the mountain for (us).”
5) A habitual life of prayer is necessary for a healthy political life. One of my many reasons for loving the Book of Common Prayer is the treasury of political prayers. I’m reminded that judges, juries, debtors, prisoners, presidents, senators, councils, travelers, immigrants, farmers, voters, all inhabit a political reality every day, about which I’m mostly ignorant, and about which I don’t know what to think. Prayer reminds me of my great lack, but reinvigorates my great hope that the Spirit of God is brooding over political life. Most Christians, when considering a new move or whether to take a job, they pray for discernment and ask others for prayer. They feel the unknowns into which they are stepping. Oddly, the same earnestness is not present when voting, as far as I can tell. But shouldn’t voting represent a greater unknown? Do I really know how a law will affect everyone? Do I really know how a particular economic policy will change my neighbor’s life? I feel a deep urgency to “listen to the Spirit” in the face of such great unknowns, for the Spirit searches out all things. I feel an honest anger at those who would cry “gimme a new law” in a state of unsubmission to the Spirit of God.
6) I want to know what moderation and liberty look like in political life. I don’t. We don’t.
7) Do not be afraid. I love that Derek Webb ends by saying this too many times. In my own life, fear has thoroughly dominated my political thinking, feeling, and voting. Fear of where we are going as a country, fear of un-Christian laws, fear of economic collapse, fear of terrorism, fear of major corporations, fear of corruption, fear of not having healthcare, fear of being in debt, fear of big government, fear of other countries, fear of not being “the number one” military power, fear of voting Republican and being labeled, fear of voting Democrat and being labeled, fear of people being too dependent upon the government, fear of ideologies in public schools, fear of political correctness, fear of political bullying. At one time or another I have felt fear about all things political. But fear is a no good master, and it’s an even worse political guide.
Do not be afraid.