Seldom do I struggle to write for this blog, but this week I have struggled. There’s a part of me that wants to reflect on the US midterm elections. There’s a part of me that wants to avoid writing on anything that sounds like politics—even if the focus is more on the local impact, which is why I couldn’t resist sharing the photo above!
There’s a part of me that wants to focus on an interesting conversation with members of my spiritual directors’ peer supervision group a couple of days ago. Sparked by a poem read by our session’s convener, we talked about how we cannot change others, and how we hope and work so the world can be changed through us. We discussed concepts such as humility, courtesy, respect, civility, and balance.
So many of these ideas are not valued in our civic discourse these days (despite the clear common origin in the words “civic” and “civil”). Polls have shown that courtesy, respect, and dialogue do not win elections. Fear wins elections. Fortunately, many of us do not focus on the fearmongering. We educate ourselves and vote, to the best of our ability, for the betterment of the whole.
I really don’t want this to turn into a politically oriented blog, yet I find it sometimes difficult to keep politics and faith apart. Take the word humility. Humility is not about becoming a doormat. Instead, it is the recognition that I have my own sins, faults, and learning curves, just like anyone else. I am no better—and also no worse—than any other human being. I have gifts to offer and things to learn. We need to be in dialogue and shaped by a variety of opinions and experiences. Is that political? Once it wasn’t, but it increasingly seems that American society brands, and condemns, it as such.
I believe one of the most dangerous aspects of American culture today is the microcultures we have created for ourselves. We can increasingly now associate only with those who look, think, and act like us. We don’t engage in cross-pollination. We don’t approach those who are different with courtesy, respect, and curiosity. If we are to return to being a set of truly united states, civic change will need to happen.
So here I am, writing about the intersection of civic and spiritual life. Perhaps this should be a natural inclination. Perhaps the artificial separation of church and state that was written into our country’s founding documents should be impossible to uphold on the practical level.
In fourth grade, the word that I spelled incorrectly in the spelling bee was citizen. I still remember that fact. Perhaps it has daunted me all my life. Perhaps it’s about not knowing, at a gut level in a stressed-out moment, how to “properly” orient the elements of citizenry in my brain or heart. Honestly and openly engaging in civic life is a challenge.
I do it, in part, because people like Jesus could not. Then and now, there are millions of people who have no say in the government that controls so much of their lives. Voting and participating in the civic process are incredibly precious privileges. I am pleased to see so many in America waking up to that fact, if the percentage of people voting in these midterm elections is any indication.
What does it mean to you, on a spiritual level, to be a responsible citizen? What is your civic duty?