A Prayer for Election Day

a-prayer-for-election-day

We were apprehensive about that election in 1994: the first democratic vote in South Africa’s history. There had been so much bloodshed leading up to that point, and I was just one of a throng of believers who prayed fervently as people cast their ballots. More often than not, I found myself praying 1 Timothy 2:1-6: for a government that would allow us to lead peaceful and quiet lives, so that the gentle work of God drawing people to know him could continue.

Today is election day in the USA, and again I am one of a throng of believers praying. This time, these are the words I keep finding myself praying:

Our Father, who is in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

Your Kingdom Come,

Your Will be Done –

– on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins. Even as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

Deliver us from Evil.

For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are Yours.

Now, and Forevermore.

Amen.

Voting for Nero

Emperor Nero

I don’t envy American voters right now. As much as I covet the perks of citizenship, the responsibilities of having to choose a President in this years’ election feel a bit like a bad meal on the show Survivor: a choice between roasted scorpion and BBQ’d slug for dinner… awful, but a girl’s gotta eat.

That the presidency has been so closely tied to identifying as Christian in the past makes things that much more complex. Certainly, at this stage I’m not persuaded that any of the leading candidates for either party have anything close to an authentic faith (not that I think being a Christian is necessary for public office. Character and competence? Yes. Christ-follower? Not necessary. Church and state are separate, after all.)

My heart goes out to Christian voters who are grieving their choices. These are less-than-ideal options, and as someone who will live under the reign of one of these officials, I know that I will also experience the effects of their policies in a tangible way. I’m more than a little concerned about what the future may hold for me as an immigrant, and a tax payer, and as a parent of American citizens.

But I can’t help feeling, too, that while this election spells trouble for the America, maybe it will also be really good for American believers. This election no longer allows us to draw a line in the sand and say “my faith says I should vote this way”, because the issues are so complex. Our faith says we should vote (be an engaged citizen, do our civic duty), but exactly HOW to vote is far more nuanced.

I think (I hope! I pray!) that this political climate could have some really healthy spiritual consequences. I just finished reading Mark Labberton’s short-but-powerful book Called, in which he explores the crisis and calling of Christians in our world today. What does God want from us? Why is our faith often so ineffective? How do we figure out what our priorities are, or should be?

Labberton argues that part of the reason the church is in crisis is that, in America, we have positioned ourselves in the wrong place theologically: we live and teach and pray as if we are living in the Promised Land (A place of blessing! We’ve arrived! We have been faithful and rewarded, and if “my people would just humble themselves and pray” He will pour out His blessing!) Consequently, we expect this country to be one with Christian institutions, Christian laws, and Christian leaders: a whole gamut of Promised Land blessings. I’ve seen more than one article comparing Trump to King Saul, and while the similarities are fascinating, it is also fascinating that the position of President of the USA is being compared to the role of King of God’s Kingdom.

Labberton says (and I agree) that we’re not in the Promised Land. Not yet, anyway. A better way for us to situate ourselves theologically is to see ourselves as believers in exile: we are Daniel in Babylon – honoring God, and serving within a system that is not our own, and seeking to exert godly influence there. We are the exiles, seeking the peace of the city we are in – for we will be here a while yet before we finally make it home to the place He has prepared for us. So settle down: plant a vegetable garden, figure out how to be faithful to God in a land-not-yet-your-own, seek your neighbors’ welfare and trust that here and now is not the end of God’s story.

I found reading Called to be surprisingly comforting. The absence of a godly leader does not mean that God’s plan is thwarted: we are not Israel living under a King. We are Kingdom exiles living under a foreign ruler, and while believers may occupy positions of influence and power in that realm– the fate of God’s promises doesn’t depend on these institutions.

The words of the New Testament are all the more salient to believers in these days when it feels like governments are populated by people like the Emperor Nero was: self-serving politicians with significant mean streaks. Nero famously “fiddled while Rome fell”: his cruelty and indifference to people’s suffering so pointedly demonstrating the moral decrepitude which characterized his reign.

This years’ election lineup looks like a bunch of Nero’s (or Nera’s?) to me. The South African government looks much the same, and it is disheartening sometimes to think that behind them are a long, long line of Nero-wannabes waiting to take their place should the head honcho tumble.

But we know that God’s purposes never depended on godly leaders being at the helm. It was to people under a hostile and indifferent government that the apostles wrote their letters about citizenship: honor the leader. Obey the laws. Pay your taxes. Show love to your neighbor. Pray for peace that you may live a quiet life and get on with what God has called you to do.

For it’s not as if we need a new Messiah to come and fix the mess of a system we’re in. We have a perfect King, already installed on the throne, and one day His Kingdom will be revealed. But for now? We live in exile, and no matter who is in power – NO ONE is stopping us from doing the work we were called to do right now: loving God, loving our neighbor. This post is not saying “our hope is not in politics, so withdraw withdraw withdraw!” This post is saying “our hope is not in politics, so engage engage engage… in the Kingdom work right in front of you.” 

This is what I’m trying to remember as I read all the heartbroken and angry reactions on my social media feed. We are in exile, living in the times of Nero. But Jesus is still on his throne, and he says that Greatness is about service and love to the least of these:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your servant— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)

If nothing else, maybe this year’s elections will remind the church which leader we’re ultimately putting our confidence in. Come what may, my vote’s on Him.

What being a Special Needs Parent teaches me about #BlackLivesMatter

all lives matter. and all kids are special.  and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

all lives matter. and all kids are special.
and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

I have three children. They are all special. They each have needs. But I have one child who, according to Official Assessments, classifies as being a kid with “Special Needs”. I am amazed and so very grateful for the slew of resources and assistance that we receive for this kiddo. Both at home and in school, we have helpers and people-with-masters-degrees-and-clipboards, paying special attention to give extra support where it might be needed.

The goal of this all is not to give this child special treatment for the sake of special treatment. The goal of the special treatment is, actually, to smooth the way for all the kids in our family, and all the kids in our class, to be able to relate as healthily and equally as possible. There is an inequality of input (one kid gets extra support) to try and move our little home-and-school community towards equality of output: extra support for one so that the parents and teachers can try to give equal attention and time to all.

I mention this because I sometimes struggle with the label “special needs”, since it seems that by implication it might be suggesting that children without this label are neither special nor have needs. This is obviously not the case. To say I have a child with special needs doesn’t mean my other children—or any other children, for that matter—are any less special or have less important needs. To say I have a child with special needs is merely to identify that we need to pay attention differently to that kid because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they would flounder in the system, and both they and their classmates would suffer as a result.

I’ve been wondering whether the same should not be said about the #BlackLivesMatter conversation. To say that black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not. All lives matter, a truth deeply vested in our being made in the image of God and each person being uniquely imbued with dignity and strength. To say that black lives matter is to identify that we need to pay attention differently because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they flounder in a system which privileges whites, and both people of color and the world at large suffer as a result. 

Of course, there will be an angry reader who will write and accuse me of equating blackness with disability…. so before you send me that hate mail, let me say this clearly: that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is this: those of us privileged enough to not have to think about privilege (be it because of our whiteness, or being physically or mentally “typical” in the school system), may not appreciate how the system might work against you if you weren’t white, or weren’t able-bodied or neutrotypical.

And so to go the extra mile for “Special needs” kids doesn’t mean other kids aren’t special – it means they need special support so they can flourish alongside other kids, because all kids are special. And to say “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, or that black lives matter more – it means we need to affirm something that has been lacking in people’s awareness and actions, to be active listeners and responders where we hear others’ stories – so that we all can flourish alongside one another, because all people matter.