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Seeking To Walk Reconciliation Road

By Ray Waddle

It was one thing for Jesus to teach and pray and heal people in rural Galilee. When he turned toward Jerusalem, he took his message to a world stage, going face-to-face with the brutalities of political reality.

We’ve been trying to sort out his meaning ever since.

Confronted by mob rule and Roman cruelty, he did nothing according to sensible political standards.

He rejected violence.

He withdrew from power.

He refused rescue.

He made no use of debate points and issued no blueprint for economic recovery.

His kingdom, he told Pontius Pilate, is not of this world. And they killed him for it. Then his Resurrection stirred witnesses to a new truth, inviting us into a new vision of life on earth, including political life.

A new poll about American values says we are more divided along partisan lines than at any point in the last 25 years. Differences between Democrats and Republicans now create a bigger gap than gender, race, age or class, according to the Pew Research Forum.

More people today seem to take their cues for personal manners and community vision from political party rhetoric than from holy Scripture, where major themes include the golden rule, love thy neighbor and “go and be reconciled.”

These partisan divisions ought to be an embarrassment to American Christians.

Some say the body of Christ is strictly a spiritual idea, with no ramifications for political or economic behavior. Some wish for the good old days when churches “stayed out of politics.” I remember when churches stayed out of politics … and racial segregation and public prejudice flourished without fear of protest from religious institutions. The decision to stay out of politics was itself a political decision that left the status quo untouched.

The United States’ partisan differences, full of sound and fury and contradiction, offer the thrill of drama and confrontation and self-righteousness. They are also a pompous monument to the distortions of big money and media hysterics, a lack of Gospel imagination.

But we are not to despair. Jesus left no political owner’s manual, but he did promise, “I am with you always.” All I know to do is to encounter again and again what Jesus said and did, read the gospels, immerse in the Beatitudes, worship with others, take Communion and try to practice self-forgetfulness until these things settle into the soul second-naturedly and good-naturedly and a hybrid new life comes into being.

Then people won’t need primetime media beacons and bullies to tell us what to think or bait us into fury or despair once again.

We’ll have a different touchstone of confidence, a different GPS, and we’ll know what to do.

Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School.

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