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Fresh Waters and Stale Politics

By Ray Waddle

Maybe someday the fever will break – the national fever of political ill-will, division and distrust. But I’ve got to break mine too.

In this election season, I suppose it’s consoling to note that American politics has always been fierce. But in the past other things counter-balanced the ideological intensity and kept it from going crazy – churchgoing, civic clubs, bowling leagues, organizations that gathered all sorts of people to do things in common. Politics wasn’t so bitterly all-consuming.

Now we can’t even talk about the weather without politicizing it. “Hot enough for ya?” becomes a prickly invitation to debate global warming.

Polarization lays its grip on me every day. I get exasperated at the misinformation promoted by the opposition, the demonizing of my team. By now, though, I’m weary of feeling manipulated by the daily stage-managed controversies of both sides. I get tired of the energy it takes to keep hating the other guy’s ideology. I long to be airlifted from this dead-end street.

Every day presents a choice to slow down and be receptive to other news. Phrases from Scripture have that rescuing effect – abundant life, fear not, feed my lambs, living water.

The latter phrase comes from Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John. He could have debated her on the old disputes between Jews and Samaritans, stirring tribal loyalties and hatreds. Instead, he did the unpredictable thing and talked of living water, the spiritual truth and power he offered.

The idea intrigued her, refreshed her, opened new options for her life, which up to that moment was full of fatigue and complication.

The decision to reach out for living water – drinking from it, sharing some with others – can result in unpredictable transformation. Who knows where such a thing will lead one’s life or one’s politics. The winds of the spirit blow where they will, and the waters of the spirit will flow where they will. But it beats the dead water of partisanship, which is replenished only by resentment, fear and refusal.

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

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