What if our calling as people who have been set free is to begin making radical changes to the way we operate within political culture—from the inside? What if we start in Congress? What if all of those changes are driven by a deeper knowledge of freedom? What if instead of letting the status quo beat us down, we set to work bringing healing? What if bringing this sense of purpose to our work gives us a framework for reimagining our work culture, structure, and leadership; our messaging, communication, and political debate, and our personal well-being, including health and nutrition, fitness, and rest?
If we reimagine our work and see it as a creative pursuit, it will change everything. Our ability to move forward and begin the change needed in each of these areas will hinge on both our belief that these changes are critical, and our determined focus to follow through on making them.
The changes that need to come to our political culture are not out of reach.
If the Congress were to follow through on the ideas that Paul Ryan outlined in his speech to the House when he assumed the Speakership, the impact would be dramatic.
Before we examine them though, there are a few parallel points that need to be made to clear the air.
1. As people who have been set free, our calling requires determination to work with House leadership more than secret meetings to replace that leadership. There are, of course, cases to be made for and against potential leaders of the House—but if the right is continually stuck in a cycle of trying to find the most “Conservative” (whatever that means) Speaker, we will never actually be able to get to work solving issues.
2. Our calling is to see that the problem is not “out there,” but rather it is “in here.” In our politics ultimately we must stop projecting the problems as all “out there,” and instead look inward. If we did, and if we are open to the idea that the Congress and our political culture do need radical, life-giving change, we would find that there are many steps staff working in Congressional offices can take inwardly that would yield impressive results for solving dysfunction.
For followers of Jesus, there’s a strong spiritual element to this point, too, and it would impact our personal relationships and the way we message, especially when we reference the other party (although what we often think of as “evil” in our political culture is often—but not always—simply a difference of opinion. We need to learn to distinguish them). In his book Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, Richard Rohr discusses the “in here” this way:
As long as you can deal with evil by some other means than forgiveness, you will never experience the real meaning of evil and sin. You will keep projecting it over there, fearing it over there and attacking it over there, instead of “gazing” on it within and “weeping” over it within all of us.
The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground. Forgiveness is probably the only human action that demands three new “seeings” at the same time: I must see God in the other, I must access God in myself, and I must see God in a new way that is larger than “an Enforcer.” That is a whole new world on three levels at once.
We are the only religion in the world that worships the scapegoat as God. In worshiping the scapegoat, we should gradually learn to stop scapegoating, because we also could be utterly wrong, just as “church” and state, high priest and king, Jerusalem and Rome, the highest levels of discernment were utterly wrong in the death of Jesus. He was the very one that many of us call the most perfect man who ever lived! If power itself can be that wrong, then be careful whom you decide to hate, kill and execute. Power and authority itself is not a good guide, if we are to judge by history. For many, if not most people, authority takes away all of their anxiety, and often their own responsibility to form a mature conscience.
Much of history has been determined by powerful people telling us whom to fear and hate. (p. 194).
3. Our calling is to build a deeper sense of community instead of living out fake identities created by a culture of fear and condemnation. In Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy, Donald Miller relates a conversation he had with a political strategist:
“My job is to scare the hell out of senior citizens in southern Florida and convince them that their medical benefits are going to be taken away,” he said.
“Is that true?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said with a bit of regret in his eyes.
“But that’s not the worst part,” he continued. “The worst part is what we all do to each other. When a campaign gets to the national level, it gets ruthless. On both sides. You would think these candidates are big enough to take it, but nobody can take it. Every day on a television somewhere, you’re being lied about. Your character is being assassinated. People turn and walk away from you at the grocery store. They pull their kids close. I’ve seen very powerful men reduced to tears. I’ve seen it happen with my candidates, and I’m sorry to say I’ve done it to others.”
We talked for the better part of two hours. He talked about how when he was young it was almost fun. It was a war. But he’s old enough now to see the damage.
The most frightening thing he said to me was this: “Don, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to convince the American people that a perfectly good man is a demon.”
I’ll add this to the mix too: I believe God is a fan of people connecting and I think the enemy of God is a fan of people breaking off into paranoid tribes. And I think all the clanging pots and pans in the kitchen to scare people from the territory we feel compelled to defend is playing into the hands of dark forces. I think a lot of the shame-based religious and political methodology has more to do with keeping people contained than with setting them free. And I’m no fan of it. (pp. 123-124).
If all of us in our political culture find ways to work with leaders we don’t really like (both President Obama and the Tea Party wave of 2010 wanted to do something about the national debt, remember!), if we take a comprehensive look at what’s going on “in here”, and if we open our minds to building a deeper sense of community, absolutely everything will change in our work culture, our communication, and our own personal well-being.
Ideas for rethinking our political culture are not tucked away in books though, although these preceding ideas certainly complement and strengthen points Paul Ryan outlined before the House. He talked about praying for each other – not for conversions, but for a deeper understanding of each other, a deeper understanding of perspectives. Actually understanding each other will take harder, more focused work, which is why the overall changes to our work culture, our communication, and our personal well-being would be dramatic. Priorities in our day to day would shift and change by necessity, because the point of our work would finally be life-giving.
He also talked about the House being broken – but that it’s a place where there is endless opportunity to do good. But we need to rethink our calling; doing so will lead us to make actual, tangible changes. And while I believe there are many, many more than the ones outlined in his speech, at least we are beginning.
“If you know the issue, you should write the bill.”
What if congressional offices only wrote bills on issues about which they knew something – or were focused enough to learn the issue and move the bill forward to be enacted into law, not just for fundraising and news releases?
“We are supposed to study up and do the homework they cannot do.”
What if congressional offices took risks to push the opinions of the grassroots, leading them forward, instead of letting the grassroots, even if well-meaning, hold Members captive from entering into real debate and finding real solutions? What if that alone radically changed how congressional offices respond to constituent mail and assigned legislative issues?
“I believe a greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us.”
What if congressional offices pursued relationships solely for the sake of greater clarity? What if instead of floor speeches to no one, Members actually spent time on the House Floor responding to each other’s ideas, point by point—for the sake of debate and pursuit of Truth? What if committees instead of isolating by party and pre-written talking points, set up hearings for the purpose of exploring a diversity of opinions and letting a deeper understanding of Truth shape legislation?
“We show by our work that free people can govern themselves. They can solve their own problems. They can make their own decisions. They can deliberate, collaborate, and get the job done. We show self-government is not only more efficient and more effective; it is more fulfilling. In fact, we show it is that struggle, that hard work, the very achievement itself that makes us free.”
What if as a nation, we realize that freedom isn’t an ideal held hostage by the opposing party, but rather it’s our ability to enter into debate, to pursue truth and beauty creatively—both in our personal lives and our culture at large?
What if instead of fighting a constant war against our own neighbors, we learn to love them as ourselves, reimagining every day through the lens of a new anthem: LIBERATUS—we are set free?