A political season is upon us. I’m guessing that whatever your party affiliation or philosophical persuasion, right about now you are frustrated and anxious about the political process. Yes, democracy is messy, but the amount of anger, fear-mongering, and divisiveness out there is leading many to cynicism and despair.
Millions of votes have been cast, but have they moved us toward a better place?
Since I’m a writer, I got curious about the root of the word “vote” and was surprised by what I found. It comes from the Latin word meaning “to vow” or “to desire.” One of its earliest uses in the West was “to assign by a vow; to devote religiously.” Hence “devoted” and also “devout.” Maybe if we saw our votes as vows we’d cast them more wisely, not in anger or frustration. But now is the time to recall what some of us have been pointing out over the last thirty years:
Culture is upstream from politics.
Ultimately, the stories we tell and symbols we use to understand ourselves are what will shape the political debates.
Beauty, with its expression in art, is one of the most powerful shapers of culture. At last year’s MusicCares tribute to Bob Dylan, Jimmy Carter said, “There’s no doubt that his words of peace and human rights are much more incisive and much more powerful and much more permanent than the words of any president of the United States.”
Art teaches us to pay attention to the small quiet moments, the daily decisions, the seemingly insignificant gestures that make us human. Art is unafraid to look at the worst things about us—but it’s also able to show us the overlooked good in humanity. It gives us a language to speak and share these things.
And in an election year, this is refreshing news.
If you looked at the past few issues of Image for clues about our age, you’d come up with a pretty different picture than you’d get from this year’s election coverage:
• A young poet, who is also a pastor, reads the body language of his congregants and listens to the deeper desire for connection beneath every conversation.
• A six-year-old girl begins asking her father questions about the world that make him realize how much we can love a thing we don’t understand.
• A car crash victim, the daughter of immigrants, is mystically connected to the boy who receives her transplanted heart.
• An elderly Christian statesman visits a dying Jewish philosopher in Jerusalem.
The truth is that we are “voting” every day of our lives, by the way we live. At Image we believe that a life nourished by art, faith, and mystery does have an impact on our world.
Image’s approach to the world—ecumenical, interfaith, seeking out beauty, finding new ways to explore ancient faiths, inviting others to become attuned to the rhythms of slow culture, generating meaningful dialogue—stands in stark contrast to the current political climate, which is divisive, hyperbolic, and fearful, with an eye always on the next news cycle.
We are asking you to make that vow, show your devotion, and cast your vote with a financial contribution.
Image needs your financial support. The need is real! While our readers tell us that the quality of our magazine has never been better, our donations, which are used to fund operations beyond the subscription revenue, are not keeping up with our costs. This is especially true for the months of May through September.
I trust you know how hardworking the Image staff is, and how much programming we put out into the world: a world-class journal, a beloved summer workshop, a postgraduate fellowship and an undergraduate fellowship, an acclaimed blog, a gorgeous website, and an email newsletter that goes out to 8,000 subscribers.
We work our hearts out because we believe in Image, which you have voted for time and again. For that we are grateful beyond words.
Cast a vote today that you don’t have to feel ambivalent about.
Vote for art, faith, and mystery. Vote for slow culture and the space that imagination carves out where we can meet and come to a deeper understanding of our common humanity.
Thank you, now and always.
Image above by Aubrey Allison.