(Disclaimer: I don't really think I'm better than you. The title is intended to be a reflection of how we as Americans feel as a result of the way certain things in our country are done. Here, let me explain: )
Well, it's an election year, which means that it is officially time for one of my least favorite American traditions: presidential campaigning. Now, before you write me off as some anti-American yuppie, hear me out. I understand the importance of the presidential election, and of the governmental system in place in our country. I am not "anti-politics", I have in fact worked extensively on two political campaigns in the past year. This post is not an attempt to bash politicians, or either candidate, or America at all for that matter, but instead, a look at the "why" behind certain aspects of the campaigning process, and the messages that they send to our culture. Also, it should be known that I borrow some of the ideas towards the end of this post from Donald Millers "Lifeboat Theory", which is in his book Searching for God Knows What.
I was watching CSPAN the other day because I had lost my remote (I mean seriously..why else do people watch CSPAN?) and they were re-showing Romney's campaign event in Virginia, the one that was held to announce that his running mate would be Paul Ryan. It was exciting-it reminded me somewhat of a high school pep-rally, in the way that the event was bursting with energy, and how everyone was wearing red white and blue and cheering and clapping at all the right times. But after about 5 minutes of watching and listening to what the speakers were saying, I couldn't help but think to myself, "I wonder what this looks like to God". The reason I asked this question is because one of the republican senators who was speaking at the event spent every third sentence or so bashing the current legislation for one thing or another, and then praising Romney for having the solutions to the problems Obama has caused. And it just struck me as odd, this idea that it is completely acceptable in this country for grown men, with jobs and families, to stand on a stage in front of thousands of people, millions if you count those watching on TV at home, and openly criticize and humiliate another person. And not only is this acceptable, but if you happen to like the person that is speaking, you cheer for them and buy t-shirts and bumper stickers, and you argue with other people who don't like the person you like.
Think back with me for a moment now to the days of elementary school. Surely we all remember the days of grade school recess, when we got an hour every day to run around and swing and play kick ball and tag, and the teachers got to sit on benches and talk about their husbands and kids or soap operas or whatever it was they talked about. And if you're anything like me, you probably also remember another part of recess: the fights. If you didn't witness this personally in school, you've probably seen it in a movie: the class bully would single out that quiet awkward kid, you know, the one with the butt-cut and the horrible teeth who wore weird shirts with pictures of wolves and dragons on them, and make him give up his lunch money, or call him ugly, or even worse: call him a loser (que dramatic music now). And before long, there's a circle around the two kids, and all the other kids take a side as the two in the middle start to fight, and they all start yelling and arguing about why the kid they like is better than the other kid. And it goes on this way until the teachers hear the yelling over their juicy conversation about Days of Our Lives and rush over to break up the fight and take the kids to the principals office where they will no doubt get detention. But everybody else still outside talks about the fight for the rest of the day, about how their friend was totally about to take the other kid if the teacher hadn't broken it up, you know, that kind of thing.
When I was watching the Romney event on CSPAN, I couldn't help but wonder if these kinds of political campaigning events don't look something like a play ground fight to God. I wonder if from all the way up in heaven, the microphones that are used at these events to magnify the insults and put downs directed towards the other candidates don't sound to God as small and high-pitched as the kids voices on a play-ground, shouting about why they are better, or stronger, or cooler than the other kids. I can't help but wonder, from way up there looking down, how silly it must all seem to God that we as grown adults are still picking sides and throwing insults towards each other like we did when we were eight, about how we are on the "winning" team, and how the other guy is a loser, and sucks at his job, or doesn't pay his taxes.
I understand that it is important for the presidential candidates to travel around the country and speak about their stances on certain issues. And I think that we as a country deserve the right to get to know these men who want to lead our country, and that we should listen to what they believe. I don't think that campaigning, in and of itself, is a bad thing. What I don't understand is why so much time and energy and money is spent on making the other candidate look bad. I mean, would it really be so awful if each candidate simply spoke about what they believe and want to see in the country, and how they plan to accomplish that, without bringing in how horrible the other one's ideas are or how awful it would be if they were put in charge? Something inside of me just can't believe that this is what God intended for us- to pick sides, and to hate the other side, and as a result to spend our time and money going to great lengths to make sure our side wins.
And I guess that's my problem with all of this-it's not only about what the candidates say and do, but how it effects our culture on a larger level. In America, we want to win. We're kind of competitive here, if you really think about it. We wanted to win the olympics, and we did. We love competitions and sports in this country because we love to pick teams and cheer them on, and when they win it makes us really happy and gives us the rights (so we think) to be total jerks to everyone else who goes for other teams. And when our teams lose, we make excuses for our team or get in fights about why they should have won or could have won if only so-and-so wasn't hurt or the refs weren't so terrible. We will do anything to feel like we are better than everyone else.
And unfortunately, presidential or large political races and campaigning, as they are being done now, does nothing to stop this behavior, but instead encourages it. As if sports weren't enough, we now get to pick sides in politics, and we will argue and fight and put signs in our yards and stickers on our cars and attend rallies and post rude and hateful statuses on Facebook and twitter so that everyone will know...
What is it that we really want everyone to know?
Or is it even about what other people know?
Could this all really be about how we feel inside?
I'll put it this way..it's not about who we are going to vote for. If it were, we could easily communicate that without all of the other crap. Yes, believe it or not, we could actually support candidates without hating the others and criticizing them at every given opportunity. And there are people who do a great job of that, I'm not saying that there aren't. But most of the time, I think that we don't care really about whether or not people know who we are supporting, what we care about is that people know that our guy is better than theirs, thus meaning that we in supporting him, are also better. It's the same thing with sports. We want so desperately to be associated with the winning team, so that people will think we're important, so that they'll like us, and so that we will feel valuable and important at night when we lay in bed. We like it when our guy or our team or our country wins, because of how it makes us feel inside.
It makes sense if you think about it, all of our ridiculous obsessions with our team winning, when you start to realize that there is a lot more at stake than just bragging rights, that it is our very identity and self-worth that are on the line. You see, the problem here is that we are supposed to be receiving our identity and value and worth from God, because that was how we were made. We were wired as humans to get our self-esteem from our creator, not from anything else. But because that relationship is broken for so many of us, we go looking for our worth and our identity in all of these other things or people. This is why it's so important for us to associate with the winning team and candidate so that we'll feel valuable and so that people will like us, and because if they don't, we feel like we're less important and valuable as people.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that everyone is involved in politics for these reasons. Or sports for that matter. I know that some people truly believe in the candidate they support, and are supporting them because they believe that they'll take our country in the right direction. And I have no problem with that. My problem is with the hurt that we can cause when we put down and criticize others in an attempt to support our guy or our team. I know that that's not always our intent, but the truth is, it's unnecessary.
Think with me for a moment about the way our country would look, if everyone truly believed that they were loved and valuable to God...if everyone really got their identity from the fact that the creator of the universe loves them and thinks they're beautiful and important. If we lived this way, we wouldn't need all of these other things to fill that void. We could support teams and politicians just because we liked them, not because we cared so much about people liking us and thinking were smart or cool or whatever. And it wouldn't matter if our guy or our team lost, because it wouldn't affect our worth as a person. We would be secure in who we are because we would know that God loves us, that God thinks we're valuable, and that we are important to Him. I can't think of anything more beautiful than this, if you want to know the truth.
And so my prayer is that we as followers of Jesus can live our lives trusting that our identity and worth come from our Creator, and in so doing start a movement of people who are able to show our support for the political candidate that we believe will take our country in the right direction, without ever expressing hatred or criticism towards anyone else. If we know and love Jesus, our identity is secure, and our focus should be on introducing others to that freedom that is found in Him, not on trying to redeem ourselves by associating with the winning candidate or sports team.
"Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." -2 Corinthians 3:17
May we all find freedom in the fact that God made us, and loves us- so much that He thinks we are worthy of the sacrifice of His only Son. I mean think about it..without Him, none of this matters anyway..