How to Follow Jesus and Love Our Neighbors Without Voting (Guest Post by Samantha E. Lioi)

(I am thankful to have a guest post by a new friend, Samantha Lioi. Things like Justice, Peace, and Community, are not just ideals to hold for her, but are integral parts of her life. I thought it would be helpful to have a countering perspective to the model I presented earlier, for which I have not completely sold myself on nonetheless. I’m thankful for my sister’s radical and anti-imperial witness in the midst of complacent and comfortable approach to politics. Enjoy! – Drew)

“Love does not enter into competition, and therefore it cannot be defeated.” Karl Barth[1]

 

The acts of love we must undertake as disciples of Jesus, the risen Christ, are much riskier than voting.  Using our voices—our real-time, audible voices—and standing with our bodies in the way of injustice (for ex., standing with someone at an immigration hearing, sitting with a family whose son was arrested on false charges, walking with a community whose right to exist is threatened by neighbors or armed corporations) is much different from thinking of voting as voice.  If we consider our vote to carry our voice, we must consider whether voting functions this way for members of society whose voices are routinely set aside or completely unheard.

 

I’m grateful for the written voice of my friend Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, whose family immigrated to New York City when she was in grade school and who is a naturalized citizen of the United States.  In explaining her choice as a black woman not to vote, she questions this idea of voting-as-voice, and points to what I find to be a compelling trend from the Civil Rights era.  “Between 1955 an 1977, acts of civil disobedience decreased, and the number of black registered voters and elected officials increased. In this period, legislation favorable to blacks also decreased, and economic positions of black people deteriorated.”[2]  It may be that direct action involving physical risk is much more effective in moving lawmakers toward justice than electing a representative we believe will enact justice or attempting to direct current lawmakers through our votes.

 

It is important for Christians to ask the practical question, “What actions and collaborations with God and others will contribute to increased well-being for the weakest, most at-risk members of our society?”  It is equally important for us to realize this is a question about how we use our power, and when Christians think of power, we should think of the upside-down, unreasonable power of the cross and resurrection.  We are easily seduced by our belief in our ability to make things happen.  I do not want to dismiss effectiveness; however, I do want to remind us that the cross did not appear anything close to effective as a way of bringing deliverance to the Jewish people.  It was, quite obviously to all onlookers at the time, a defeat—a shameful, final defeat, the kind from which people turn away their faces.  I know you know this.  But we are human and we forget.  This is the Gospel we proclaim; this shameful, strange, violent death and the equally shocking rising of Jesus is, for his followers, the undeniable picture of our God, the God who dies in human flesh and the God who breathes life in places of death.  And voting for President of the United States of America, a participation in choosing who will have the highest seat of power in our government, does not immediately appear relevant to the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  It is often a way of claiming power over those with whom we are at odds (including other Christians), and it is a turning over of our power to someone more influential, to someone higher up.  Jesus surrendered his power only to the One who sent him, and drew his healing power from this One, and we are to imitate this way of living.

 

I have heard some say they fear that if we don’t vote, we who are most privileged (and I include myself in that category—in terms of racialized identity, education and access to financial resources) will disengage, because more often than not, our lives are not significantly affected by changes in the Oval Office.  But apathy and complacency among those most comfortable is a constant problem in every society, and as I observe our behaviors, voting does not address this problem.  We privileged one’s vote and feel we have done our duty.  Having voted for a man we believe will best support the nation’s common good, we can then disengage from the day-to-day struggles and lives of people who lack the social, financial, and cultural padding we enjoy.  If we take time at all to struggle with the questions around voting, perhaps we will choose to act, showing up in the flesh to work for widespread well-being.

 

Still, I admit it is sometimes true that getting certain people into office helps the immediate cause of vulnerable people.  And I have deep respect for those who choose to vote because their daily, direct work with vulnerable people makes it impossible for them to imagine not voting—especially when those vulnerable people—because of legal status or other barriers—have no possibility of voting themselves.  In cases like this, I understand that voting feels like the action with the most integrity, and there is a sense of acting on behalf of specific people, friends, with faces and stories one knows like one’s own.  At the same time, let us also admit that this situation and this amount of thoughtful deliberation is not descriptive of most U.S. Christians or their reasons for voting.

 

Whether we choose to vote or not, as the people of God we do not arrange our lives around the timetables of elections but around God’s year-round actions of reconciling love, remembered in the story of the Divine taking on flesh, growing up as an ordinary child, teaching, healing, dying, rising, and sending the Holy Spirit.  Nor do the decisions of elected officials limit the boundless plenty of the Creator, from whose open hand the desires of every living thing are satisfied.  Whenever and wherever the needs of God’s creatures are not filled, it is ours to partner with this ever-creating God to see that the plenty is justly shared.  This partnership is not dependent on voting or upon any other human institution, including church institutions.

 

The acts of love we must undertake are much more costly than voting.  Let us encourage one another in the risky, full-bodied love of the Risen One.


[1]              Quoted as an epigram in Lewis, Ted. Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting (Eugene, Ore: Cascade Books, 2008).

[2]              Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, “Freedom of Voice: Non-Voting and the Political Imagination,” in Lewis, Electing Not to Vote, 36, emphasis mine.

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Prophetic Priorities for the Poor and Democratic Duty Dichotomies: A Spin Off

One area for me that makes the discussion concerning Christian responsibility for the poor more of a complex one, is the reality that we do not live under Caesar and the Roman Empire, but rather in imperial America we have a democracy, which means we (everyone not just politicians) in some form take the place of Caesar (as the government). This means that we are accountable for the policies and laws of the land as individuals, in as much as our small voice, vote, and communal activity has influence. And it is clear that laws and policies can systemically have favorable or adverse consequences on the lives of poor people (and everyone else).  How does this play into the discussion of Christian responsibility for the poor? As Christians, as has already been stated, we are responsible to sacrifice, serve, and find solidarity with the poor as a part of our faithful witness. This responsibility is not to be a dichotomy in our lives where aspects of us are concerned for the poor and other aspects are not, rather it is a holistic totality of our being. By this I mean that we must consider our spending habits, our social circles, our speech/deed enactments, our exposure, and the various means that we have accessible to us as Christians to impact the lives of those who are socio-economically disenfranchised. One of the means available to us, as I began to discuss, is that of democratic influence. Certainly none of us are Caesar, and therefore we cannot snap and get whatever we want to be manifested. However, that does not remove the responsibility for us to do what we can faithfully. That is where the prophetic tradition and the Anabaptist tradition have been extremely helpful for me, given the reality that most Christians traditions have not been holistic in their response to those most marginalized, and likewise most Christian individuals politically are puppets for our imperial political parties, having nothing else to add other than their particular political parties ideology (of course with their Christianity-ism slant).

The prophetic tradition, evident in the likes of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King understood (even without democratic opportunity) that as Christians they have a responsibility to impact the fallen broken social order that they are a part of through a violent clash of ethics, values, and theological vision. It was their faith that shaped and motivated them to seek political change inspired by God’s revolutionary Kingdom.

On the other hand, the Anabaptist community is one of the few Christian communities in America that have continually been holistic in its understanding of our responsibility to the poor. They give generously, serve continually, and they even teach to sacrifice luxuries and comforts so they are able to give as a basic tenet of Christian faith and identity. Sacrifice and service (for the poor rather than one’s own church’s institution) is rarely one of the ABC’s of most church’s teachings.

In America, the closest thing to modeling the life and teachings of Jesus, as it relates to ministry to, for, and with the poor is seen clearest in my opinion when we do not get excited about which tradition has the best doctrine and systemic theology, but rather when we are ecstatic about traditions that have faithful theological vision and are obedient in embodying this divine narrative concretely in their communities and contexts.

The thing that is great about the gospel is that it is comprehensive. It is about Newness; New life, New Humanity, New Jerusalem, and New Creation.   The gospel is that Jesus came and ushered in a new social order in the midst of our old, decaying, and fallen social order. And in Christ, we can be a part of and experience this divine renewal of all things right now. So yes, as the Church it is our responsibility to be salt and light and our responsibility to care for the poor, which means we must be faithfully bearing witness and making a difference in all spheres of our influence, including our democratic system through prophetic  stance.  So sacrifice, give, share, vote, speak out, and stand alongside the poor as the active implementation of God’s gospel is rehearsed in your lives.

Reality TV: Gotta love it!

I never fully understood the whole infatuation with reality tv until recently. However, since I have been watching many of these Republicans debates (missed last night, don’t spoil it for me) I have really enjoyed it. Seriously, between all the past and present characters and storylines, I have become addicted to following along. Some people are getting bent out of shape  over all the politics, but I just find it all entertaining.

Granted, if Trump, Cain, Bachmann, or Perry actually won the presidency I might actually consider moving to Africa, but barring that event, this has been a great year of entertainment so far. Unfortunately some of the most compelling characters are behind us, but we still have a few more fun folks on the metaphorical island, from whom we should expect hours of pleasure. Santorum needs to loosen up a bit, Romney is a bit robotic, and Gingrich seems like he just wants to eat me through the screen, but just watch and see, the season is going to end with a bang! Here’s to Reality TV, you can’t make this stuff up!!

Wright Around The Way!

Jeremiah Wright speaking at the church across the street.

Looking forward to Jeremiah Wright coming to my block next week, when he will be speaking at the Baptist church on my block on Monday and Tuesday. I have really appreciated his perspective. I honestly was not very familiar with him before President Obama and him split ways. From that point forward, specifically after hearing his response, I decisively was on #TeamWright. I am not an Obama hater, however, I did and continue to support the prophetic voice over and above a political positioning. President Obama at the end of the day is a politician, a politician for an empire. At the same point, Wright speaks out of conviction from subversive sub-dominant society, and more importantly on behalf of the Kingdom of God. We should never confuse politics from the center with prophetic subversion from the margins.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Likewise it gives me an excuse to hang out with my baptist brothers and sisters, it’s been so long 😉

Royal Weddings, Birth Certificates, and the Domer Conspiracy

Not much to say about the Royal Wedding… I actually don’t understand the infatuation Americans have with it all. In fact, if I were British I would be upset that my tax money was going towards this psuedo-monarchy celebration rather than to the people struggling economically during their recession. Our obsession with the Royal Wedding exploits some of our own value systems. The fact that we think it is cool rather than sickening shows that we have truly bought into the specious lies of our Empire, mostly commonly known as the American Dream. It is our greedy desire and hope in the possibility that we too could attain ridiculous wealth and luxury that keeps us believing in these falsehoods rather than finding solidarity with those at the bottom and insisting on the creation of a more equitable society.

Picture from indepthafrica.com

On another note, President Obama  released his birth certificate after Donald Trump revitalized an almost dead conspiracy theory that claims that our president isn’t qualified to be so because he was born in Kenya. Who knows if this absurd xenophobia, racism, and fear will be over or not. Probably not since Trump after gloating during his bombast  and news conference immediately started a new conspiracy about Obama’s entry into Harvard.

While questions are being asked, I have some of my own questions. If Donald Trump desires to run for president, I need to know what is going on, on the top of his dome. I think the people have the right to know what his domal situation actually is.  I know I haven’t seen what is being covered up, I bet you haven’t either… do the math! What does he have to hide? Is there a fungus growing under there? Is his headpiece alive? I just don’t understand why he won’t just release the piece and put an end to all this mystery. Please join me in igniting the Domer conspiracy. 75% of Americans want to know what precisely is happening with his hair.

Picture from ismellfeet.com

Why Centrism Is Off the Path!

Whether it’s politics, theology, or one’s official stance on Justin Bieber, it seems the growing sentiment is that being a centrist is always the right way to go. Given that option, or the other which is being labeled a radical or extremist, it seems like a pretty obvious answer, right?

Wrong!

Since when did being in the middle of the pack all of a sudden mean you were closest to being right.  A boring, vanilla, mainstream, dominant, popular, status quo perspective has never, and further more, will never mean you got it right on a particular subject. For example, when my ancestors were being brought from Africa as slaves, and the majority of Western Europe baptized it as morally fine, did that centrist view make it right?  In fact, it seems that during many of the most horrific events of history, the most centrist thing to do has been to apathetically turn a blind eye to the inhumane treatment and silently go about one’s personal business with minimal resistance against the wrongdoers.  No I am sorry, the centrist middle path hardly gets you anywhere.

You know what the Apostle Paul, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Deitrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and Cornel West have in common? None of them were centrists, in fact each one of them would be best understood as radicals or extremists for their times. I know what your thinking “now wait a minute, I wouldn’t use extremist or radical to describe them, I save that category for nutjubs, terrorists, and bigots”. Immoral and crazy people very well might be radicals or extremists, I am not arguing that. The question that matters is not if they are radical, but rather to what are they radical? Are you radical about love, justice, mercy, equality, and human dignity? Those things ought not have a limit which caps them by the norm expressions of the larger society. Radicalism and extremism are not only acceptable but are made perfect when they have found their appropriate home.

As a Christian I ultimately look to Jesus as the model for life.  He surely was no centrist. His way was so different from every contemporary tradition that existed (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes) that the only honest way to describe him would be as an extremist or radical. Calling others to laydown and sacrifice their life for others is radical. Telling people to take up their cross to die as they follow him is radical. Expecting people to be willing to leave home and family for his sake is radical.  Shoot, loving your neighbor as yourself and turning the other cheek when someone hits you just seems plain crazy because Jesus was a radical.

Being centrist, mainstream, and working out your morality by popular consensus will always take you down the wide path of comfort, if that is what you are looking for. But I reject centrism in search of that narrow, unbeaten path where great radicals are shaped and formed

Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

 

 

Does Simplistic Opposition Against “the Other” ever work?

Can we all just stop for a moment? Amidst all the yelling and arguing, finger pointing, partisan-political emails, TV News propaganda, YouTube video conspiracy theories, and anger, we must all ask ourselves one little question… has any of this helped in anyway other than to strengthen the resolve on both sides that the other is the enemy???

Can’t we see that when you aggressively oppose the agenda or act of “the other” we actually end up strengthening their cause. The end result is always the opposite of what one’s original motivations were.  This cycle of madness is done on both sides of the aisle, and we are all to blame.  In a desire to see one movement stop we simplistically oppose it and in return strengthen the resolve and tactics of the other side.  It’s time to step back from these simplistic oppositions and begin to engage in healthy dialogue as though we are all created in God’s Image.

People are complex, issues are complex, society is complex.  When you apply simple answers to a complex world, you do not always get the results that you originally intended. If you want someone to change their mind on an issue… probably yelling at them while holding mean signs is not going to get it done. If you somehow miraculously convince one out of a thousand people through those means, the other 999 will develop greater resolve and become more organized in responding to your tirade.

Here’s an idea… why don’t we try the slow yet proven method of REAL conversation. Sit down over a cup of coffee, a beer, or a sweet tea and share your stories, experiences, and how the issue that you are passionate about hits home for you. Uh but wait, remember that conversation takes two to work, so you need to allow the other person to share their own stories and experiences.

Now I know that crusading around opposing everything may feel more like the right thing to do, but in the end we look back and must ask ourselves what have we really accomplished. No, for those who actually want to see change come are going to have to do it the old fashioned way… by rolling up those sleeves and investing yourself and much time in people and communities as you begin building bridges of mutual trust, respect, and understanding.

If not we are destined to the continuing escalation of resistance, tension, and division that has defined us as a people in America.

I’m Just Sayin!

Waiting for Superman

I just saw a free screening of the documentary “Waiting for Superman”. It tackles the tough subject of Education in America.  The film succesfully points out that it is time to reform the broken educational system, and does it in a powerful and moving manner. It is without a doubt a “MUST SEE” film, which should be out in October, 2010.

Until then, enjoy the trailer

March 4th, 1968

image

Everytime I am in Memphis and go to the Lorraine Motel I get emotional. Standing there where King was shot always takes me into the moment. All I feel is loss… loss of this leader, OUR leader, who was taken from us. King died at the young age of 39 leaving us wondering what other great accomplishments he would achieved in his life. He would never get the chance to grow old, instead he was killed while fighting for the rights of garbage workers.