Practicing a kind of holy ambivalence

Seen in the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus during a late August trip.

Seen in the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus during a late August trip.

In the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about this picture of the dove with an olive branch in its beak. In late August when I was in Israel, I  saw this dove in Bethlehem painted on the dividing wall between Israel and the West Bank.  What makes the painting so stark is that the dove of peace is wearing a bullet-proof vest. It was pretty sobering to me as I thought about the price of peace that so often is extracted in the loss of human lives.

I was in Jerusalem for a week-long school on reconciliation sponsored by The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.  My 10 days in Jerusalem — attending the school & traveling around Israel — were fun and interesting and yet quite sobering. My mind was stretched — way stretched.  Many times during the 10 days in Israel I asked myself, “What if there isn’t a best option?”

I listened to orthodox rabbis, Israeli government officials, Christian and Muslim Palestinians living on the West Bank, to name just a few. They all spoke and engaged the 60 students from around the world. Most addressed some aspect of this centuries-old question: “Whose land is this anyway?”  As I thought about that question, other questions kept coming to mind.  “Is there any real hope for this region of the world?”  “And if there is, how will we ever decide who is right and who is wrong?”

Sound like a complicated place?  Yes, I think so.

Now back in the U.S., I am seeing so much emotion expressed about the U.S. presidential race. And I’ve been asking myself, “What if there isn’t a best option?”

I have been reminding myself that while the words of the Apostle Paul to “pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” are right and important, it was the Apostle Paul who also said that our true citizenship is in heaven. Translation: Embrace the tension.

No human government can save people. Thus, Christians who pledge their allegiance to a risen Lord, should probably be characterized by a sort of holy ambivalence when it comes to politics.Imagine being a kind of person who doesn’t think a presidential election means either the salvation of the universe or the end of the world.

Down through the centuries there have been followers of Jesus who have managed to live peaceful and quiet lives, whether in kingdoms or democracies, under persecuting tyrants or benevolent queens. When you look at the long arc of history, the presidential election this fall is almost a blip in time for the people of God who are looking for and praying for the kingdom to yet come. “Your Kingdom Come … .”

We need to embrace a “holy ambivalence” that doesn’t allow this present election cycle to steal all our joy. Indeed, how you vote with your life everyday — counting people better than yourself, treating people the way you want to be treated, standing up for justice — is in many ways even more important than the vote you will cast for the next president.

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