The Spiritual Landscape
Jesus, the President, and the Politics of Loyal Opposition
I envy my friends—real, virtual, and imaginary—who live in unassailable and untroubled party-political affiliation.
Navigating life as an independent is a lonely business.
You find yourself largely alone, constantly looking left and right, muttering, "but . . . " There are not easily recognized one-liners that everyone instantly "likes" on Facebook. And you find yourself equally uneasy with the bombast of Rush Limbaugh and the ads that compare voting for the President with losing your virginity.
Worst of all, of course, is being held up as the object of both parties' attention, although I can hardly complain. Unlike my fellow independents in Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, I am spared most of the campaigning, because Texas never swings. I have a friend in Virginia who points out that he longs for the return of Viagra commercials.
Still, being an independent always reminds me of the Far Side cartoon with the conversation between two bucks, one with a target printed on his chest. The caption reads, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal."
That said, I'm content to live here politically. It's not that I think that my friends are wrong to live where they do. They seem to be convinced of their position and resolute in their support for it. I simply haven't been able to make it work for me spiritually, intellectually, or theologically.
Perhaps some of it has to do with my own intellectual and spiritual formation.
Years ago one of the great intellectual and spiritual influences on my life was a man named Robert W. Lyon. Bob—as he insisted on being called—argued that to follow Jesus was to be a part of "The Loyal Opposition." He even had a later generation of students who formed what they called the "The LO Society."
I don't know how Bob would describe his convictions now. He was far too thoughtful and dynamic in his approach to be typecast and stereotyped. So, representing his point of view to the public is a tricky business and sadly, he is no longer alive to articulate it for himself. So, as a devoted student and friend, I need to admit that I don't "know" what Bob would say.
What I learned from Bob, however, was this: To borrow a phrase from another friend, God stands in "loving judgment" on our lives, eager to draw us closer into the Kingdom and nothing—nothing—ever quite captures the breadth or the depth of God's vision for our lives. As such, to be in power is to be subject to the criticism of the Kingdom. No theory, no instantiation of policy, no body of ideas will ever exhaust or capture what God wants for us.
- Because our nation and the Kingdom of God are not one and the same.
- Because no body of words or quantification of the Gospel's demands can capture what God wants for us or can be reduced to a party political platform or an administrative policy.
- Because nothing that claims to be the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of God, other than the Kingdom that God ushers in.
- Because the decisions we make as a nation are not forged with that vision of the future in mind and so, they are always fragmentary and inadequate.
- And, perhaps, most basically, because God is God and we are not. So no temporary and temporal expression of God-given community can ever claim to capture fully what God desires.
What conclusion do I draw for election night?
Once the votes have been counted and the clock ticks down to another inauguration, the process of "loving judgment" will begin again. Some good decisions will be made. Some bad decisions will be made.
And God will continue to beckon us onward to deeper, faithful obedience.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/