Archive for October, 2012

Warning: Christian theological stuff ahead.  Not for all tastes.

 See Part 1, an “excursion” and Part 2 of this series

(God) through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ… (St Paul, 2nd Letter to the Corinthian Church, Chapter 5 Revised Standard Version)

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

(Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody” from the Album “Slow Train Coming, 1979)

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands… (“The Pledge of Allegiance”, written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942)

On a long train ride across the USA I started reflecting on why I decided to write this series on not voting in this year’s elections.  You know as well as I do that motives are a tricky thing.  As I have taught students in my research methods courses over the years: “Avoid asking ‘why’ if you can.  People usually don’t know why they do the things they do but they will always come up with an answer.”

Despite that counsel, I had to ask myself—really—why did I do this anyway?  Was I just seeking to jerk some chains?  Was it an exasperated reaction to the inanity that this whole political process has become? Was it anger at the bipartisan agreement about the necessity of the wars waged by every single administration that comes along?

Well…

“Why” questions are always hard to answer and my reason for taking on this short project is probably wrapped up in all of the above.  But, as the miles rolled by I also discovered that under it all is a motive I will call the “Revealing the Anti-Matrix” motive (aka The “(Re-)Discovering our Shepherd[i]” motive). Allow me to explain.

My overall sense of where I am—and where most of the people I know are—is that we are living in a reality that is manufactured[ii], like the program world in which Neo lived but only suspected was not real.  The difference, of course, is that while Neo was a slave and his manufactured world (the Matrix) made him believe he was free, our manufactured world (the Anti-Matrix) enslaves us while the truth is, we are free.

Our reality tells us that our identity (our relevance) is bound up in the destiny of the nation (and one of two political parties of the nation) of which we are citizens.  Our reality tells us that if we don’t support certain politicians, certain causes, certain positions, bad things will happen.  It tells us that we must act to hold back the forces of evil and that refusing to act is to abdicate responsibility for assuring that the worst does not happen.  It wraps all of this up in a non-ending election cycle in which evil is pitted against good (or, at least, the lesser evil) and our vote is the only way to assure that we hold back the tide of a catastrophe that will depend on the “most important election of our lifetime” (this one, of course)[iii].

This synthetic reality thus binds us to lives of, if not despair, then a persistent anxiety about ills that will befall us if we do not act a certain way.  Downtrodden. Bereft of hope. On a treadmill of manufactured outrage and fear.  We are sheep without a shepherd.

We are confused about where our allegiances lie and not even aware that we are caught up in serving something that only prolongs our enslavement.  Am I being too dramatic?  I am pretty sure I am not. I sit in a “privileged” space in which (I am pretty sure) most Americans of today do not sit: I have dear friends and family who span the spectrum of what might be called “the left” (okay, I acknowledge that these labels are part of the whole enslavement thing but I need a shorthand). I also have dear friends and family who span the spectrum of what might be called “the right.”  When I say “span”, I really mean it (but don’t make me prove it because I will have to name names and it would get ugly).

From this “privileged” place I see something strange: the reality inhabited by both “sides” is strangely similar.  Except for one thing: the evil of one side is the good of the other and vice versa.  When I say evil and good I mean, according to their own words, EVIL and GOOD.  You have to admit, this is a strange vantage point from which to observe our “reality” and it explains why I know that it is not real.

What is even more troubling for me is that followers of Jesus inhabit both realities and no matter what side they are on they are both, notwithstanding their commitment to the Christ, harried, worried, fearful and angry.  Now, I guess you can argue that Jesus’ words are open to lots of interpretation, but I don’t see anywhere where he suggests his followers will have these characteristics.  Indeed, I think there is ample evidence in the teaching he left us that Jesus taught that these things would NOT characterize his followers, but rather they would be characterized as people of hope and love—people who would not worry about tomorrow and not be afraid because they KNOW that Jesus is with them always.

And so when I see my dear friends and family—when I see myself—spending so much time being un-Christ-like in the face of the challenges of our world, I must conclude that we have been mesmerized or blinded by, or in thrall to an “unreality” that has turned us into something we were never intended to be.

My motive in writing is thus about waking me (us) up from our reverie; about escaping this Anti-Matrix; about beginning to live into the reality to which I have been called. I believe that non-participation in the national election process is critical to doing these things (though more than that is certainly needed). (more…)