I was listening to the news this morning on the radio and heard some snippets of Michelle Obama’s appearance yesterday in Olympia, WA, stumping for Patty Murray’s re-election to the Senate for another six years. I thought about the Patty Murray ads I’ve watched over the past two months, as well as those from her opponent, and realized that in both the cases, the plea for my vote is based on one declaration: “I’m not as rotten as the other candidate.” The Elephants and Donkeys are paralyzed to the point of disgust, because those who go to Washington are supposedly the brightest and best–yet we’ve nearly nothing substantive to show for it other than spiraling debt, dramatic increases carbon emissions, foreclosures, and unemployment statistics.
It’s easy to see why there’s a desire to return to a simpler time. Back in the day, our nation paid its way. Personal responsibility, thrift, and a sort of Amish “barn raising” care for our neighbors, were values that have been nearly vaporized from our 21st century landscape. They’ve been displaced by entitlement mentalities, fiscal irresponsibility, marriage meltdowns, and an educational crisis that is, perhaps the greatest national security threat of all. It’s a mess! We raised our children reading Little House on the Prairie books by the woodstove in the mountains, and it’s a short hop from there to longing for the simplicity of a wholesome past, believing that if the government would just quit spending for us, and trying to control us, we’d rise out of the ashes of this current crises and be great.
Here’s what’s wrong with this picture:
1. The past wasn’t as good as Little House on the Prairie – There’s a lot to cherish about years gone by, especially the values of personal responsibility, but there’s a lot for which we need to repent as well. Of course, we know this, but we forget. We forget that in the era of small government and deregulation, people were free to own slaves and abuse them, free to force children to work, up to eighty hours a work. Shall we mention our treatment of Chinese immigrants and the fact that they were declared ineligible for citizenship from 1870 until 1943? The truth is that the blood of oppression is mixed in with the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of the past. We’d do well to pay attention to both sides of that equation, seeking to revive the sense responsibility, and end the oppression. How has oppression been addressed historically?
2. The oppressions of the past were held in check by government intervention and regulation. The only reason slavery, child labor, or separate water fountains ended was because the government stepped in and mandated changes, moving us closer to the “liberty and justice” stuff we say we’re about. It’s romantically naive to think that if the government would just leave us alone, the market forces would fix everything, for history has proven time and again that when left alone, people will build empires on the backs of others through forced labor and unjust practices. Nobody is suggesting that governments gets it right all the time, or doesn’t have its own covert agendas. Both parties have shown both their ineptitudes and their greed in past decades. Still, a realistic view of history reveals that left to their own devices, company owners and market forces don’t lead to free access to a vote, or equal pay for equal work. It was true in 1800, and it’s true today.
In the end, though, the tea party’s edited version of history is trying to revive a time that never existed, at least not for women, slaves, millions of immigrants, and children who were forced to work. Let’s not go back.
The answer? It comes in the form of the simple realization that, however we vote, we won’t be ushering in the reign of Christ through government interventions, or even government shrinkage. In fact, we won’t be ushering in the kingdom at all, not even through the church. That’s why the early church cried, “Maranatha” which means “come quickly.” They knew that while they’re called to embody hope and truth, the visible presence of Christ’s reign would be a mere mustard seed, a drop in the ocean. On the other hand, it’s a still a drop; it’s still a clinic in Uganda, it’s still a law to end child labor, it’s still vaccinations to end polio, it’s still laying hands on someone and praying with them, it’s still simplifying my life so that I can live more generously, it’s still a cup of water in Jesus name, it’s still spilling hope on the canvas of our broken world. That’s all God asks of us, and living into that calling is mysteriously life giving and joyful, in spite of the darkness of our days.
I welcome your comments.