A Politics of Perpetual Movement

A Politics of Perpetual Movement April 23, 2021

I doubt anyone prefers being literally homeless. Most of us probably don’t like it metaphorically either. We like to belong. We like to know where we fit politically. Having a point of reference, a North Star, gives us a sense of comfort and security. For those who have found that same or similar star or reference, it means finding a community, a home.

We seem to live between two extraordinary tensions right now as American citizens. On one hand, are those who hate the bickering, blaming, and anger in our current politics. Thus, they want nothing to do with it. They don’t want to talk about it, read about it, and they avoid those who do like the plague. Their battle cry is “political parties and politicians are all the same—a pox on them all.” They ignore the political and know little of current events in that area.

Then, there are those who live and breathe the political. Whether of the left or right, Democrat or Republican, practically everything is viewed through the prism of their political views. Thus, they perceive the first group as ignorant “low information voters,” lazy, and those who reap the benefits of political activism, while sitting back and doing nothing but complain.

Is there another path? Is there a way to be engaged, informed, and active, without at the same time making one’s entire life about the political where it almost becomes an idol of sorts? The moment we say “everything is political,” we are really, in my mind, making a theological statement. However, the moment we say nothing is political, or we completely check out, we reveal an irresponsible selfish bent that ultimately harms our neighbor. Wouldn’t it be wise to try and navigate a via media?

I was reflecting upon this notion while re-reading an essay by David Bentley Hart entitled, “No Enduring City.” The title is taken from the 13th chapter of the book of Hebrews:

“For here we have no enduring city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (14- NIV)

Hart makes, in my mind, two critical points. First:

“I am saying also that Christendom could not indefinitely survive the corrosive power of the revelation that Christianity itself had introduced into Western culture. Christian culture’s often misunderstood but ultimately ­irrepressible consciousness of the judgment that was passed upon civil violence at Easter, by God, was always the secret antagonist of Christendom as a political order.”

And second:

“So perhaps the best moral sense Christians can make of the story of Christendom now, from the special vantage of its aftermath, is to recall that the Gospel was never bound to the historical fate of any political or social order, but always claimed to enjoy a transcendence of all times and places. Perhaps its presence in human history should always be shatteringly angelic: It announces, even over against one’s most cherished expectations of the present or the future, a truth that breaks in upon history, ever and again, always changing or even destroying the former things in order to make all things new. That being so, surely modern Christians should find some joy in being forced to remember that they are citizens of a Kingdom not of this world, that here they have no enduring city, and that they are called to live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

Allow me to suggest we think of a via media in the light of Hart’s reflections here as both the theological and philosophical grounding we need for such a path. No matter how much we might build a civilization that echoes the good, the true, and the beautiful (or it’s opposite for that matter), the Gospel always breaks in as something strange, something that judges, something that brings all before it up short. It’s only in the matter of degree that it does this to every cultural, tribal, or national story—but it will always do this.

Therefore, we build, but we do not worship what we build. We can appreciate what we and others produce, but we do so with a sense of its temporal nature and impermanence. We need a sensibility of movement, of motion, as to our place in time and history and what that might mean as to our politics.

Consider the journey of the Hebrew people out of Egypt. If seen as a metaphor of the Christian life, as we make our way to the Promised Land, from death to life, from a place of slavery to freedom, from hell to heaven, then we can see ours is a faith in motion, of movement. We are pilgrims, nomads, and wayfarers. Ours then is a politics of perpetual movement. We tabernacle; we do not settle down somewhere.

This isn’t to say that our core values (love) change or “move;” it’s an acknowledgement of our finite and limited viewpoint, whether in the political realm or any other. What the extreme left and right lack right now is humility and a sense of perspective given time and history. And we need not think of this motion or movement as in a straight line, or from point A to point B. Often our journey is a recapitulation, a circling, where we often come back to things we had left behind or forgotten.

Just like at the Transfiguration of Christ, our want, our tendency is to remain in those moments and build something permanent. We want to rest there but such is not the Sabbath rest for us. Our rest is still to come. We move on.

However, motion and movement doesn’t mean we can’t contribute. It doesn’t mean we check out and live selfishly because we are only passing through. Without idolizing our community, state, or nation, we can still be positive, peaceful, hard-working, and engaged contributors to each’s wellbeing. We can try and leave each place better than we found it. Such is a true patriotism and not the vapid and ignorant chauvinism of our current white Christian nationalism (a heresy).

Here are some suggestions in light of these reflections:

  1. Christians should sit very loosely as to political parties and view them all somewhat suspiciously.
  2. We should neither idolize the political nor ignore it.
  3. We should always work for the greater good of our wider community, especially the “least of these,” and never only for the interests of one political party, whether our own or another.
  4. Our attitude as to the political should never be one of zero engagement or reflection, which is often an attitude only available to the privileged.
  5. Our attitude as to the political should never be as if the political alone can solve every problem—even if it can solve many.
  6. We should view all political parties and even nations as Groucho Marx did social clubs (If you are too young and don’t get the reference, look it up).

One other thought, and this is just personal opinion: I don’t think Christians should belong to any political party. I think they should be registered Independents. I also think they should prioritize a political candidate’s character, decency, honesty and actions over their stated policy views, ideological views, or political party to which they belong.

To sum up, we should take the long view. We should recognize that every modern state/nation/civilization, especially as empire, in their political arrangements are transitory and invariably fall short of the Gospel, while at the same time, doing all we can to benefit and love our neighbor and community in the time and place given to each of us.

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Image by Terje Ansgar Eriksen

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