What's Your Beef? Affairs of the Citizens in Arranging Our Life Together

Politika is the Greek word for politics and means “affairs of the city,” or “affairs of the citizens in arranging our life together.” I imagine without a dozen daily mail flyers and hourly pollster calls, politics could be a great word. Politics is how we get water and have sewers and roads. Politics provides care for our seniors and hungry families. There is something sacred about arranging our lives together as a community, as people living on this one interconnected planet.

Unfortunately, we are having some real challenges in arranging life in the midst of political rhetoric that is, even though we thought it wasn’t possible, becoming more vitriolic and divisive. We are more committed to obstructing the process than working collectively. We are more committed to listening in order to change minds than listening to understand someone’s story and experience. The reason politics isn’t working for us is that we see our opponents as lesser humans than ourselves. We may have even gotten to the place where, in my faith language, we don’t see those we disagree with as beloved children of God.

Instead, we call for the annihilation of the opposing ideological party. We have failed to extend kindness and compassion amidst differences and diversity. We have failed to encourage robust debate about policies in exchange for cliche talking points from television.

So, what do we do? The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, wrote a letter to the church he helped found in Corinth. In it, we find a famous passage, most often read at weddings, about love. But, Paul didn’t write it for a wedding; it isn’t about two people who love one another. This passage is about a community in conflict, over politics. The community has divided themselves into rival groups that are fighting over who to follow. Paul invites them to let go of their rivalries and live another way.

4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end.

You don’t have to believe in my faith tradition to wonder if you can love those who voted differently than you. My faith teaches me I am called to love those who don’t share my views. I’m called to be in relationship with those who lost and those who won, no matter how hard that might be. Are we willing to arrange our lives in this way?

No matter your political ideology, I feel compelled to invite us to be a community that recognizes the fear that will be palpable on November the 4th. I’m worried our siblings who are marginalized will find themselves in fear for their lives. I’m worried for black and brown lives, LGBTQ lives, and vulnerable lives that feel they won’t be safe. I’m worried about those who feel they have to go live somewhere else. I worry for the collective mental health of our community.

So, if you find yourself struggling on November 4th or January 20th 2021, please remember it’s ok to hurt. A few practical things that may provide some solace:
1. To use a Jewish poet from the holocaust, “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.” We must, must, must have hope even when all seems hopeless.
2. Breath. Go for Walk. Laugh. Pray. Repeat.
3. Surround yourself with people who love you for you. Those who will love your politics and ideology. Love your unique and unrepeatable self.

Continue to fight to make this place we share a better place, for our arranged lives together, matter.

Rev. Eric Strader is one of the pastors at Bozeman United Methodist Church alongside spouse Rev. Amy Strader. They have two kids, two dogs, and a cat they don’t really like and bought a corona camper to enjoy the landscape of Montana.