Throughout this mini blog series from Kaitlyn Schiess, we’ve reshaped how we think about spiritual disciplines and rhythms, why they matter, and how they help us to better love our neighbors.
We get to finish up this series by talking about what it looks like to engage faithfully in politics when engagement is so dangerous, and how we combat the false stories surrounding our communities with the one true story.
You can find Kaitlyn’s Easy Yoke Bonus Content on the Pulpit Rock Mobile Teaching Channel!
Part 3: The Stories that We Tell
“Political” is practically a dirty word. When Christians talk about current events, you will often hear someone say: “I don’t mean to get political, but…” or “This isn’t a political statement, it’s just truth…” or “Please no talk about politics!”
It is an understandable reaction. The political realm is messy, divisive, and even dangerous.
But God’s people have been called since the beginning of creation to seek the flourishing of their communities. Those communities have always required laws, norms, and animating stories to sustain them.
Think of the people of Israel: they had laws about how to treat individual people as well as laws about how the larger community should function, they had expectations about how to interact with each other, they had stories (the first few books of the Bible) that told them who they were and why they were supposed to follow those laws.
God has always had a concern not merely for individual hearts but for the way communities are structured.
“Political” does not need to mean “partisan.” It does not need to mean divisive or messy or dangerous either. It is a word large enough to include the leaders we elect, the legislation that governs our communities, the norms and expectations we have for each other, the negotiating of even the smallest conflicts in a community, and the stories we tell about who we are, what we love, and what kind of life we want to build.
And yet politics does end up being messy, divisive and dangerous. In the pursuit of even worthwhile goals, we can find ourselves justifying evil or injustice. When we don’t agree about a policy or a leader, we can foster hate in our hearts towards our neighbor. The problems in our world can overwhelm us. The political realm is a dangerous place to be.
And yet, as the people of God always oriented to the flourishing of our communities, we have an obligation to engage.
How can we engage faithfully when engagement is so dangerous? One answer is habits and practices (like the ones we mentioned in Part 2) that form us into the kind of people more able to faithfully engage in politics for the sake of our neighbor without losing our souls.
Another important answer is this: we need to learn how to read the stories shaping us.
When we engage in the political realm, we are not acting as disinterested outsiders, poking and prodding this external thing we call “politics” from the safety of our church bubble. No, we inevitably get all mixed up in the mess. We can engage in politics with all the right intentions, armed with Bible verses and good theology, and still end up affected by false political stories.
No politician is ever only telling you to vote for them. No pundit is ever objectively telling you the facts. No form of political participation—whether it be watching the news or listening to a podcast, voting, attending a rally, going to a city council meeting, catching up on political drama on social media, or even having a conversation with a friend or coworker—is only about politics.
The stories we are being sold are always bigger and more captivating than “vote for X candidate” or “support X policy.” Instead, they tell us what is ultimately good in the world, what the “sin problem” is, and what will bring us redemption. They describe a vision of the “good life” in community, a threat to that good life, and a solution. This is true of politics, but it’s also true of so many other competing stories in the world.
An advertisement on TV does this as well. Whether it’s for a sports drink, a restaurant, or a children’s toy: your life is sad and difficult now, because of boredom or low energy or hunger, but that can all be fixed by this product.
Political ads work in a similar way: here is a scary picture of what’s wrong with the world, here’s a bright and sunny picture of what it could be, here is the valiant hero who will bring that future of prosperity and goodness.
Advertisements are somewhat simplistic and extreme examples, but the world is full of these stories. We pick them up slowly, even without knowing, and they powerfully shape not merely the things we buy or the way we vote, but our theology, our relationships, and our work in the world.
How can we identify and combat these stories?
Here are a few questions to get us started. When consuming media (news, TV shows, movies, podcasts), when listening to a politician or pundit, and after having conversations with important people in our lives, we can ask:
- What did that make me want to love? (What things did it present in a beautiful and positive light? What vision of the “good life” did it present? Who played the part of the “good guy” in this story?)
- What did that make me want to hate? (Who or what was presented in a dark or evil way? What was presented as the source of evil in the world? Who played the part of the “bad guy” in this story?)
- What desires or fears did this give me? (What was presented as a valuable goal to work for? What was presented as a threat to me or my way of life?)
- And finally: are any of those answers counter to the ethic of the Kingdom of God? (Did this make me fear or hate other image bearers? Did it elevate something like wealth or safety to an ultimate good? Did it make me more concerned about myself than the most vulnerable people in my community?)
As we watch movies or listen to the news, shop at our local grocery store or drive our kids to school, read books or talk with our neighbors, we have the opportunity to be more conscious of the stories that are forming us and our communities.
Then we have the opportunity to combat false stories with the one true story: that Jesus Christ came to earth, ministered to people, died on the cross and was resurrected for the sake of the redemption of His whole creation.
That story will change what we love and hate, our fears and desires, and the way we act in the world.