Running from Politics
I follow politics, I can discuss politics, but I try to avoid taking a position – especially publicly – on politics. As a child of the evangelical right – including the fundamentalist response to sixties counterculture – I have seen first-hand the diminishing of the gospel, of love, of faith when politics is mixed with faith.1Perhaps another time I will discuss this topic more extensively. I recently delivered a series of messages on this topic at Calvary Community Church in Penndel. To briefly sum, I do not necessarily believe Scripture indicates that either political involvement or political absence are wrong but rather that we must begin at a much more basic point (no matter our position) of humility, love, and consideration for those we disagree with.
Taking a Stand (on a Political(?) Issue)
In spite of this experience, I feel obliged to take a controversial position in at least one area – the question of foreign intervention, or isolationism. It is not uncommon in the circles I frequent to hear comments such as, “America needs to stop being the world’s policeman.” Now, I certainly am not advocating that America needs to be the puritanical big-brother for the rest of the world nor that America should be involved in policing every conflict. Further, I would suggest that while I am an American and this statement applies to an American context I see no reason for it not to apply to any other context: “Germany needs to stop being the world’s policeman.” “Nigeria needs to stop being the world’s policeman.” “China needs to stop being the world’s policeman.” The point is not that a nation or a people group, defined by geography or ethnicity, should oppose a strict policy of isolation and non-intervention – but rather that those who are able should reject apathy.
I remember a comic strip I once saw (and that is frequently mentioned, usually tracking back to Shane Claiborne) in which two individuals are talking. One says to the other, “I wish I knew why God allowed all this evil and violence in the world.” The other replies, “Why don’t you ask him?” To which the first replies, “Because I am afraid He would ask me the same question.”2This is my rough, from memory paraphrase. If anyone knows the original source of this illustration and perhaps a digital image of the comic – I’d love to know! Point being, so much of the evil we see in the world on a day-by-day basis is something we could choose to stop.3Perhaps another time I’ll share my thoughts on chaos theory and how I think it may answer the traditional further challenge of natural disasters…
Tonight I finished watching Uwe Boll‘s4Better known for creating horror movies. 2009 film Attack on Darfur (R).5If you have Netflix, it is currently available to watch instantly. It is also available from Amazon Unbox for $2.99. The film is slow. It spends a lot of time in a village in Darfur building empathy for the inhabitants. This sort of drags on and on as one watches scene after scene of conversations and interactions that might appear on National Geographic. Then the movie picks up pace as the village comes under attack, but unlike movies where the combat is an adrenaline rush this is simply a massacre – and Boll is in no hurry to bring it to a speedy conclusion.
In horror films the length of the gore is played for gross-out effect – in this film it is played for moral power. Yes, yes, we all know what happens over there (wherever that may be, somewhere else, not here) – so why do we need to see it? But there is another baby being smashed or impaled. Another woman raped.6No depiction of rape can be done in an inoffensive way, but Boll shows great restraint in his rape portrayals. There is no hint of sexual excitement, no innuendo – just the harsh and brutal reality. There are no exposure of the private parts – male or female – in the entire film. And another. There are old men being plastered with bullets, children lying in bloody heaps, and don’t forget the agonized screams of those who are forced inside of huts and then burned alive.
The film concludes with a less lengthy, but (still) drawn-out visiting of the aftermath by American survivors…haunting us with our inaction and impotency. While the film makes us feel helpless in the onslaught, it also offers up “hope” in the form of intervention by a few brave souls7Interestingly enough, some of these brave souls are the souls who ran as cowards earlier in the film, but now those who spoke tough are running and the cowards are the ones left fighting for justice.. Yes, its a Hollywood-esque hope in which The Magnificent Seven hold off armed hordes with a slightly better tinge of realism – but the point is apt. It would not require that much to intervene.
The film is spattered with profanities – including religious profanities – but I think God is probably more ticked off at our apathy than the fact that we’ve heard a few more bad words. It reminds me of another well-known anecdote in which Tony Campolo said to a large audience, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a —-. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said —- than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”8I’m not advocating the use of profanity, I am concerned that we (evangelicals) sometimes get more upset about the presence of profanity or any of a number of hobby-horse issues than the massive suffering which we have a (great amount of) ability to stop or relieve.
Call to Action
As I write this I am reminded of a song from John Reuben‘s album The Boy and The Cynic entitled Cooperate. The song tells the story of a dude:
“This dude took pride in his cause everyday / Put on his costume which defined who he was / He said he didn’t care he liked being unique / Accused the rest of the world of being a bunch of sheep / Lived his life going against the grain / Spent all of his time with those who felt the same / Hit his mid-twenties and still nothing’s changed / Except his boys who chose to grow with age / Now he’s looking for friends with the same behavior”
Reuben replies to the dude:
“Ignore the truth and neglect your responsibility / Because you can’t decipher the real world from your hobbies / This whole starving artist shtick you’ve been running with is wearing thin / … / Time for you to start cooperating cuz rent ain’t free / … / What you want and should expect are two different things / You think the rest of the world likes their suits and ties working nine to five just to get by? / … / But that don’t sit well with you’re anti-authority / Me against the world sub-genre category that you’ve placed yourself in / Do you honestly think the average man celebrates the system / But they cooperate”
I can empathize with Reuben’s frustrations in this song. Too often some of the loudest screechers for reform are those who couldn’t make a living any other way.9Frankie Schaeffer in Crazy for God reflects great disillusionment with the evangelical movement in part b/c of its doom-and-gloom salesmanship by folks he feels couldn’t do anything but sell angst. I don’t want to be a screecher.
I also know there is plenty of angst in this world – and most of the time I don’t need any more guilt thrown on my shoulders – so I don’t want to be someone who throws that on others either. I also know that shouting loudest doesn’t (always) make you the winner.10Unfortunately, too often it does, as those with the loudest voices overcome those with reasoned voices. This is certainly a weakness on the part of the loud, but the reasoned must also accept culpability for the failure to stand up and speak truth even when others are being loud, annoying, and forceful. Getting everyone in a panic doesn’t help much – we temporarily mobilize and then the next big thing occurs and we lose our focus. I find it much more useful to look for small, real, practical ways in which we can make a difference rather than screaming a lot and getting frustrated over our inability to change everything.
So what can we do? The situation in the Sudan has alleviated to a great extent, not that there isn’t need for ongoing vigilance…but now and in the future there will be many other crises which will present themselves to us…how do we respond?
During the peak of the Darfur crisis I bought the t-shirts, wore the t-shirts, talked to people about the crisis, and did some minor advocacy in other manners. Did I do enough? Nope. How will I change that? I’m not sure. I suppose admitting that I failed, that we failed, and evaluating the current crises might be a good first step. Where are the current humanitarian crises in the world? What is being done about them? How can we find a balance between intervention and isolation?
My current endeavor to respond to my own “call to action” – which is ongoing – is the slow and painful process of bringing life into order…in ways that can be and may seem entirely unrelated to acting on behalf of others. By this I mean things like: (a) wisely managing my expenditures11So that I can free up disposable income for use with a purpose., (b) managing my health12My struggles with depression and ocd oftentimes paralyze me. I know my ability to persevere in pursuing a call to action over time is correlated with my health., (c) creating community13Especially within the church, which can be activated for mission. Going alone our ability is limited, together we are greatly strengthened., and (d) reducing expenditures.14Finding areas in which I really don’t need this or that., and (e) developing my relationship with God15So that I have His heart and do things in His strength. When my ego and selfishness get in the way my good deeds are as dust, evaporating into the air in spite of their momentary appearance of solidity.