By Joe LaGuardia
I came off of a very productive Lent this past season. My Lent involved fasting from politics–from listening, watching, reading, and, well, reading anything having to do with politics (and, in many cases, religion).
That was a good exercise. Before Lent, I was up too late watching CNN, wasting away in the midnight hours reading The Washington Post, and subjecting my family to the XM politics station during road trips. It was bad.
Lent is not only a time to give up something just to give it up, but to consider why that which you are giving up has detrimental effects in your life. While I fasted from politics and yearned for the XM, I had plenty of time to pray and reflect on my politics addiction. The news was definitely affecting my life, setting me up for exhaustion, and (at worst) producing in me a moodiness that rippled through my whole family.
I decided that once Lent came to an end, I would limit my access to that kind of toxin. It has been about three days now, and I have not watched CNN or Fox. I only stayed up late one night to watch clips from The Daily Show and read articles on my cellphone. I’ve listened to the XM channel, but not while my family was in the car. Fair enough.
Yet, as I have taken in only a spoonful of the news, I have already seen the affects draw on my mood. Since Sunday, I’ve been annoyed by a terrible United Airlines incident, frustrated with a misstatement (and I’m being polite here) about the Holocaust from Sean Spicer, and flustered by an inability to assess a coherent foreign policy strategy from the State Department as it relates to our allies and those not so friendly to the United States. I can’t make heads or tales of it.
But in catching up and staying abreast of the news (as minimally as possible, mind you!), I have come to realize something that frightens me a bit: It seems that many policies and the politics of the day have not turned a corner to bring about the type of bipartisan compromise and legislation that I had hoped for since the election in November. Rather, there seems to be a reckoning or sense of punishment in contemporary politics that has stifled the promise of good, modest governance.
Could it be that healthcare reform–much needed, for sure–did not happen not because there weren’t better plans on the table, but because the spirit in which reform arose was out of an eagerness to punish the opposing party? And, by way of that, appearing to punish people who have benefited from the Affordable Healthcare Act?
Could it be that a coherent foreign policy has not surfaced because we are still trying to punish belligerent nation-states that stand in the way of peace and progress throughout the world?
The election is now five months over, and I am still hearing about emails, Benghazi, healthcare, financial crises, conflicts of interest, careless rhetoric, and unwieldy town hall meetings even this week alone–Holy Week! I watched a video in which an innocent doctor was bludgeoned and punished for not volunteering his seat for which he reserved and paid on an airplane.
So, please give me Lent again. Put me into a cave, bury my head in the sand. Let me live in the dark where I can stumble on my own with as little damage to others as I can possibly muster. I’ve even started listening to bluegrass more than politics in the car to stay grounded, to live into a sense of being at home as I recall the many vacations and sabbaticals that we took from the world by venturing in the foothills of North Georgia.
But then again, its Easter. My sermon for Sunday quotes Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That’s not just about evil–(don’t read into my quote, ya’ll; this is not a partisan article!). Its about the choice of either doing nothing or working constructively–together–to bring about the change and transformation we all long to see in the world.
Right now, we have to change the tone of our politics. We have to move from punishment to progress, from bickering and hostility to conversation and compromise, from one-upsmanship to friendship. It doesn’t take an act of congress, it only takes a commitment to get over ourselves and do what is right, for people to stand up to corporate and big-money interests, and for voters and constituents to be involved in the workings of government. As the adage goes the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and the only way to be the presence of Christ in the world is to be present in the world.
I guess the cave will have to wait. Christ calls me to live in the light, not the darkness of the tomb. Christ calls me — and you — to live into God’s future by God’s miracles, not the present realities that stumble along by happenstance and coincidence. Its a word of hope, but easier said than done. As Holy Week unfolds, I’ll still wrestle with that whole notion. I have a feeling that bluegrass will continue to soothe my aching ears and heart until then.