Willing to Be Changed — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Willing to Be Changed

Politics: Old and New

Willing to Be Changed
Friday, November 22, 2019

For a long time, it seemed that politics in the United States was “old hat.” I sometimes thought that supporting one party or another was almost like choosing Coke or Pepsi; you might have a preference, but it didn’t really make a difference. But recently our politics have grown more and more divided with many religious people exclusively focusing on narrow issues of abortion or sexual identity while disregarding the lives of so many—refugees, the poor, the incarcerated, the abused or addicted, people at risk from climate change or pollution. What will it take to come together and work for the common good—not only our personal interests? The old way of doing things just isn’t cutting it for anyone anymore, not on the left or the right.

Often what seems new, and sometimes rather shocking, is actually a return to our roots, to traditional wisdom that precedes the founding of the United States and the violence of settler colonialism. Peter Armstrong, an alumnus of our Living School and seminarian at Yale Divinity School, looks to the Gospels for practical guidance to help something new emerge. Peter writes:

Just as Jesus was moved to ministry by entering into relationship with other people along his path, we too are moved by stories and relationships. For me, it took actually showing up at different events in order to learn about white (and male, and straight, and other forms of) privilege—and meeting people who were experiencing the negative side of this phenomenon—for me to have my heart transformed with compassion and a desire for action. In short, I could read all about redlining, mass incarceration, and the case for reparations, but it wasn’t until I actually started showing up at actions with the intention of being transformed through relationship with other people that I began to want to become a better ally.

As a straight white man whose faith has been formed in contemplative Christian circles, places dominated by white, male speakers (even if the majority of audiences consist of women), I need to seek out voices that are different from my own. In a multicultural, multiethnic, pluralistic society, choosing to live comfortably in a bubble of people who share almost everything in common with me—as I have done for most of my life thus far—is a rejection of God’s work of Creation, for God didn’t create us all the same. We are not meant to live isolationist lives, because God created diversity and it was good (see Genesis 1). . . .

The work of getting to know others different than ourselves, made so difficult by our society’s divisions, is nevertheless the work of following Jesus. . . . Many say that their faith is personal and not to be mixed with their politics. But, in my journey . . . I’ve come to understand that religion has everything to do with politics. Jesus wasn’t executed because he went around healing people; he was crucified as the worst kind of criminal because his Gospel message was viewed as dangerous by the ruling class. In fact, the entire Gospel of Luke is one long lesson in speaking truth to power—to the corrupt elite in Jerusalem. If we Christians claim to have anything to do with Jesus, then we must inherently be engaged with the political issues of our time.

Peter Armstrong, “Faith in a Prison Cell: A Personal Narrative of Transformation,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 73-74.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (detail), Théodule-Augustin Ribot, before 1870, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: My prayer has led me . . . to know that reflection on the Gospel leads to compassion. Compassion often leads to much more nuanced analysis. . . . This more nuanced approach comes out of my prayer and call to care for the 100%, but it does come at a price. . . . The Spirit has pushed us out of our comfort zone of acceptability in order to meet the needs of people we had not known were ours. —Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
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