Monday, August 13, 2012

Here's why I think Jesus really hates the political process.


It started as a conversation with my extended family during a dinner get-together. For the most part, we all tend to be a little left of center, so we were all in agreement about the political events of the day. The big news: Mitt Romney had chosen his running mate.

We’re not a gnashing-of-teeth kind of group, and we also tend to be pretty polite, especially given that there was a person in the room who was new to our gatherings, and folks wanted to be careful not to offend. But some of us were questioning the influence of the Tea Party in the running-mate selection, and the conversation turned to the role of Christianity in the formation and growth of the Tea Party movement.

And then my son, 23, asked the question that shaped the rest of the conversation: “Why do politicians claim to do all these things in the name of Jesus when what they actually do is so far from what Jesus would want them to do?”

A few disclosures here: I was raised Catholic, and although I don’t fully identify with the church anymore in light of recent events (involving unconscionable abuse, the roles of women, and regard for individuals who happen to be gay), I’m in possession of a strong Christian faith. I was asked once how a liberal Democrat can also call herself a Christian, and I’m here to tell you it’s absolutely possible.

I won’t go into great detail about my personal beliefs, but suffice it to say that I ask God a lot of questions, and God usually answers them with a reminder to love others as I’d want to be loved … and if that’s not enough, to love them a little bit more. And I have to admit that usually works.

Let me also add a caveat: When it comes to the “love one another” thing, Democrats don’t automatically get a free pass. Some high-profile Democrats have proven themselves to be pretty crappy people. But by and large, parties subscribe to overarching ideologies that make up their platforms. How individual politicians interpret and run with those ideologies is their own deal, and those individual interpretations are what impacts us all as the election nears.

Growing up in Catholic school, I learned a lot about Jesus – albeit a very pale, honey-blond Jesus who resembled a better-looking Nicolas Cage and mysteriously spoke with a British accent in the videos we watched about him. What we learned, and what formed the way I feel about my faith today, is that Jesus was all about helping those who can’t help themselves. As simplistic as that may sound, I think it defines what we should aspire to be: kind and generous and helpful.

Jesus hung out with the folks at the very lowest echelons of society -- the lepers and the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the heathens. His friends were the ones who today would be homeless and jobless and perhaps in and out of prison, the ones who would visit methadone clinics and soup kitchens; they’d sell their plasma for a bottle of Boone’s Farm and a pack of unfiltered Camels. They probably didn’t smell good, and some of them probably suffered from alcoholism or drug addiction or mental illness.

According to the New Testament, these folks often weren’t nice to Jesus, either; some refused his help and kept chugging along in their wickedness. But what did Jesus do? He kept trying. He fed them and held them and loved them. When others questioned him about why he didn’t give up on the lowest of these people, Jesus admonished them not to question, but to jump in and help. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren,” he said, "you do undo me.”

I can’t help thinking that Jesus -- the same Jesus quoted by the politicians who tell us we should vote for them because they are Christians -- wouldn’t be about tax cuts for people who already have a lot of money. He’d be about taking whatever money we can spare and using it to help stock the shelves at the local food pantry. He’d be about donating that money to fund vaccinations or clean water for babies in developing countries. He’d be about opening our homes to people who have no shelter and children who have no parents.

Would he be about taking personal responsibility and teaching others to fish as opposed to just giving them fish, and all that? Of course. Read virtually any parable and you have the love-one-another component, but you also have the “OK, person who was helped, go off and do the right thing” component.

Before my Republican friends start crying “foul” -- no, Democrats are not perfect, not by a long shot. You can, and do, make valid arguments around the pro-life/pro-choice issue, for example (although I think we need to do a much better job, as a society, of caring for babies once they've left the womb). But I find it ironic that the people who talk the most about religion and “family values” are the same ones who espouse policies that, I’m sure of it, leave Jesus shaking his head and saying, “What do I -- or my teachings -- have to do with anything you're saying?"

There's a fine line between encouraging someone to take personal responsibility and realizing, with a compassionate heart, that some people simply can't. And it's our duty to help the ones who can't, and to keep helping them. (And let me just say: If you made, say, $21.6 million in a year, that's a whole lot of opportunity for a whole lot of helping.)

Do I always do what Jesus wants me to do? Of course not; I fall short far more often than I would like, and I’ve made some pretty big mistakes involving how I’ve chosen to treat others. But as I get older, one thing is certain: To again quote my very wise son, our duty as humans is to leave the world in better shape than we found it. If I can, with my one little vote, help the country achieve what I think it really is that Jesus wants us to do, I’ll feel I've done my job.

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