They came out like boxers in the ring, like two dogs in a back alley street fight, ready with a snarl, lips curled at the slightest hint of aggression, straining at their leashes. There were rules, as there often are, but each was prepared to ignore the rules relying instead on instinct and the ability to get ahead with a well-aimed, well-timed punch below the belt. They out-numbered, out-weighed the referee and even the audience. They believed the fight was theirs to win or lose, to make up the rules as they went. Who could blame them, really? So much was at stake. They came out, their pockets filled with stones, each hoping to bury the other.
In the balance, America sat like a juicy bone tossed on the ground between two dogs. Still, it wasn’t the bone the fighters cared about, but what it stood for, what being top dog would mean, things more elusive than a bone, things like power and control and ideology. But power and control and ideology rarely fill the empty stomach, rarely warm the family huddled together under layers of shabby quilts for warmth, and more rarely yet provide adequate answers to the deepest hungers, the deepest needs of the human heart.
So, as the fight grew, as the two circled, bobbing, swaying and throwing their stones, America walked away. She turned off the screen and laid awake filled with the adrenaline that comes from watching a fight, almost wishing for a chance to throw a punch or two, to take a bite out of something, someone. November sixth still promised the opportunity to have her voice heard, but there in the darkness of night, with the chill of winter creeping in, a different kind of cold, that of disillusionment and fear found its way through the door cracks and moved in through windows covered-over with plastic sheeting. America shivered and turned out the light, not knowing what tomorrow would bring.
* * * * *
As a parent, a homeowner, a citizen, I understand more fully now than ever before the importance of voting. In college and even graduate school my attitude toward politics veered between cynicism and naïve optimism. I cast my first ballot for Bush during his first term and then later voted for Kerry when Bush ran for reelection. I voted on a whim, I voted as a right of passage, a way of becoming an adult and distinguishing myself from my parents. I voted despite the feeling of futility regarding the outcome, despite not fully understanding the issues.
My attitude toward voting has changed in the last two elections. I can see now more clearly the cumulative effect of the decisions we make regarding the economy and the environment and foreign policy. I can see how a deduction here, a tax incentive there can place a family ahead or behind by several thousand dollars which can really add up for people who spend their lives in tens and twenties rather than trillions. I look at my children and wonder if wars are in the making now that will steal away the brightest years of their lives, of our lives. I can appreciate more deeply that how I vote matters, not just for me and mine, but for millions of other Americans, millions around the world.
At the end of the day, though, one will win and one will loose and in the span of four years progress will be made in some areas and grave mistakes will be made in others. We’ll all be back at it again in four years, gathered around our viewing screen of choice, carrying the baggage of four more years of hopes and dreams, four more years of life and death and everything in-between. We’ll be watching the fight, putting our money on whoever the top dog appears to be, hoping that some small fraction of the prize will be ours if we manage to vote well.
* * * * *
I came across a quote the other day that, for me, sums up the calling of Christ in us and, conversely, the problem with so many facets of Christianity today.
“If am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier
reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in
my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside
will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are
still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these
stories will turn out, since at this point they involve more
blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems
to me, is to convince people to set the written word down
in order to become living words in the world for God’s
sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is
the full substance of faith.”
Barbara Brown Taylor in Leaving church: A Memoir of Faith
I love what Taylor’s saying here, “we are living words” and I wonder if I might stretch the idea a little further to say, “we are living votes.” Stay with me here for a minute. What I want to say is that we vote with our lives. It’s true that we come together every four years to vote and the decision we make is important, but we also vote every day with our lives – our time, our money, our words, our touch, and our deepening capacity to multiply love and joy and hope in the world or, conversely, our tendency to multiply fear.
So here it is, friends, I’m voting for YOU.
In truth, God votes for us; God voted for us in Christ and continues to vote for us still. Even as the disciples stood staring dumbfounded at the sky as Jesus ascended, the very words, “But, Lord . . .?” forming on their quaking, dry lips, even then I picture Jesus looking back at them filled with love, filled with hope saying in effect, “It’s OK, you got this, we’ve got this one.” God votes for humanity by instilling in Christ’s followers the very power of God that raised Christ. God votes for you every day, votes for the power of Christ in you.
Let me be clear here, lest this come across as some form of progressive optimism and faith in the ability of the human spirit to pull itself up by its boot straps. When I say I’m voting for you, what I mean to say is that I’m voting for Christ in you. Because, otherwise, let’s be honest, a vote for me or you would simply be another wasted vote. I know me and if you’re anything like me, we’re all still struggling to figure out what a boot strap is, never-mind pulling ourselves up by it.
I’m placing my vote for Christ in you, for that growing power of the resurrected Christ that now lives, breathes and moves in you. I’m voting for the power of Christ at work in the woman who just quit her job to help care for a sick family member. I’m voting for the man who’s working with the Mentoring Project to match positive male roll models with at-risk youth in our town. I’m voting for the power of Christ at work in a friend who faced down her fears of the unknown and traveled to Haiti and found a deeper calling to compassion and service through time spent cuddling a needy child. I’m voting for the many in my small church who’re slowly learning that where our potential ends, God’s begins and who are slowly taking leaps of faith in hundreds of big and little ways.
I’m voting for the power of Christ at work in a woman I baptized not long ago who’s trying to quit drinking and for single mothers I know and new moms who’re struggling to negotiate a balance between the desires of career and home. I’m voting for this silly sale of dresses to benefit displaced Syrians and for my kids who collected cardboard to feed hungry families and for Orange Korner Arts whose programs are bringing light and life and healing to inner-city Philadelphia. I’m voting for my neighborhood that, like so many others across America, is sitting on the edge in need of a healthy dose of light and life and hope.
I’m voting early – I’ll be there on November sixth, but I’ll be voting every day up until then and every day after too. I’m voting every day from here on out, voting with my life, my faith and trust. I’m voting for me and for you and for Christ in us all, because I understand now more deeply than ever that every vote matters.
Maybe if we all keep voting every day from now until the next election, we’ll find that it matters a little less which two dogs we have to bet on, matters a little less who the winners and losers are, because we will have voted, with our lives, for the power of Christ at work in the world, the only One who has the power to heal, restore and redeem us all.