Obama first won the presidency at a critical moment in my political development. I didn’t consider myself a Christian anarchist yet, but I was worried all the hope and attention pinned on voting for this one secular leader was bound to disappoint. There was so much optimism then and I just didn’t feel it. I knew folks would vote for him and then sit back on their hands waiting for him to make miracles. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mom talking about what it meant to have a black president and her telling me how it was incredibly meaningful, wrapped up in history, political movements, and where we were as a country. “Besides,” she said “you simply cannot argue that McCain would have made life easier for poor people in the way Obama simply cannot ignore doing.” I was not so sure.
Here we are 8 years later in the midst of an even crazier, longer and strangely familiar election cycle. Where will this one end? Are you hopeful?
I’ve been watching the US election for the last 9 months from abroad, and it’s sobering to see how important such a complete farce is to the whole rest of the world. The impact of who we elect as President of the United States has unquestionably far reaching impact globally, and from this far away I’m just reminded of how petty and superficial the whole process really is for many Americans. It frequently feels like we’re trying to pacify our guilty consciences by throwing change into a panhandler’s hat. I’m not saying it doesn’t make any different to the panhandler, but frequently we’re motivated by fleeting fears that never materialize into tangible actions to actually end poverty. We’re not voting with our feet.
At the same time I am really missing my religious community back in the states. As a Quaker, my faith community is the equivalent of the “United States Pirate Party” in the sense we’d never get elected running on our own platform (anymore). Many of us are pretty involved in the current political system though by voting, advocating and even serving in office. I would say on average we’re more politically involved than the majority of the US electorate. As a faith tradition we emphasize living your faith every day, and for some people this means advocating for political leadership that supports values we discern to be important (even if they’re endorsed by Henry Kissinger )
Now that I’m living in Italy I’ve been attending Mass more regularly because that’s the most available spiritual community here. I really do enjoy it in many ways, though I will never feel completely at home there. The local priest has roped us into helping out with several projects around the parish, and in some ways helping our community outside of “church time” actually feels like a closer expression of my faith than sitting in Mass.
All this has me thinking about how much we think about voting or “going to Church”, sometimes even lying about it, when really what’s most important is how we actually live our lives. Do you really feel satisfied once you’ve filled in your ballot or got up from your pew that you’ve really accomplished something? I don’t. At best, I frequently feel like I’ve thrown some change in a hat. In some ways, voting or even spiritual services feel so “imperfect” in their expressions of conviction that I feel that much more obligated to go out and actually do something.
I really appreciated this episode of “On the Media” (one of my new favorite podcasts) that explored third party candidates and the idea of “spoilers” in the general election recently. One of the main takeaways for me among the differing opinions is that voting is really one thing that we do, among many, as an expression of our civic and moral belief. I still plan to vote and keep attending Catholic Church for the time being, but I’m really not pinning any hope there. On the one hand I know if I don’t vote (if my overseas ballot is counted anyway) or go to Church I could still feel like I was involved and living my faith, but I’d also just miss out on a collect experience that is important far beyond me and my life. Doesn’t that sound like practicing a living faith or being an involved community member?