One Christian’s Voting Guide

imagesChristian bloggers, clergy, and laypeople everywhere are blowing up social media with angst over which candidate to vote for in the upcoming general election.

But people make it more complicated than it needs to be. Part of the problem is many Christians limit their criteria to one or two wedge issues that are never even mentioned by Jesus.

Make is easy. Open up to Matthew 25 and get reacquainted with the works of mercy that, according to Matthew, Jesus uses as criteria for the Last Judgment:

  • Feed the hungry: Which political candidate is about food safety and security for all?
  • Give drink to the thirsty: What about the indefensible water crisis in Flint, Michigan?  How about the rest of the U.S. water supply?  Which candidates are fighting fracking and the pollution of ground water?   Which candidates are fighting to make safe this necessary compound for sustaining all of life?
  • Clothe the naked: How about a wage fair enough to buy some clothes? How about Oregon and that $14.75 minimum wage? That’s economic justice.
  • Shelter the homeless: Don’t complain about Section 8 housing if you’re going to call yourself a follower of Jesus.  Even the least of these deserve a roof over their heads. Which candidate supports such endeavors? For this issues one must turn to local leaders.  For example, look for local candidates advocating for the homeless.  There many creative initiatives seeking to alleviate this chronic issue, such as the tiny home village taking shape in Dallas, Texas.
  • Take care of the sick: Healthcare and all that that implies. For all.  That means everyone. This is a no brainer.
  • Welcome the stranger: For Jesus this included the foreigner and the “other.” Xenophobia has no place in the heart or actions of a Christian.  Study the candidates.  Which ones display xenophobia and bigotry, or worse, stirs the “shit pot of hate?” Don’t vote for that one. Period.
  • Visit the imprisoned: The U.S. has one of largest populations of incarcerated people worldwide. This is a human rights issue. Further, the high school to prison pipeline remains fully supplied by dropouts, fostered by a less than engaging education system.  Which candidates offer a plan to simultaneously fight poverty and improve education.

A lot of Christians like restrict these marks of faithfulness to the work of individual congregations, contending that the government should play no part in such matters.  I suspect that argument is popular for these Christians because Matthew 25 doesn’t play into their efforts to legislate an ideological, and unbiblical, morality, forcing it onto the wider population. But this has only created animosity toward Christianity.

The acts of mercy in Matthew 25 are inconvenient for sure, even for those who try to live them out faithfully. Individual congregations cannot afford, due to dwindling giving and church participation in the U.S., to realize these acts in a vacuum that transforms the wider culture. There has to be a partnership with other faiths, and even secular institutions.  That’s why it important for Christians to vote and keep in mind the matters that Jesus declare to be most crucial.

It’s fine if one disagrees that Matthew 25 should inform a Christian voter.  Just don’t claim to be casting a vote in the name of Jesus, otherwise.

The Mystery of Death: Lent 2016

We don’t like to ponder our own death. In fact, our culture makes every effort to defy that all of us will die. I believe this denial is toxic to our lives.

Several years ago I went on retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani Monastery, which rests in the bluegrass hills of Kentucky.  At the time I was struggling with my own faith, with my belief in the resurrection, and with my direction in life.  The community homilist at the time,  the late Fr. Matthew Kelty, took time to listen to my story. So, he invited me to the funeral mass of a fellow monk who died same week I was on retreat.  He said “it would do me some good.” 

That night I sat in the balcony of the sanctuary  into the early morning hours before the funeral mass.  I listened as the Brothers prayed the Psalms in tandem over the deceased, whose body lie resting in the center aisle of the nave.  I was moved to tears by the time the deceased was laid to rest.

Fr. Matthew was right.  I can’t really explain it, but one of my most profound encounters with God took place at the funeral of a Cistercian monk I never knew. 

Fr. Matthew said death is the ultimate mystery.  He writes about that mystery in this way:

“For birth and death are perhaps, indeed undoubtedly, the most profound of human experiences. And there is no getting used to them.  We come and we go. Where did we come from? Where are we going? The sort of questions children ask. And everyone with children knows that they can be profound, deep, upsetting.  Hence, being a Christian, being a person of faith, enables us to answer the child, to respond to a sudden encounter, or an anticipated joy, the ultimate.

We come from God and we go to God.

It’s as simple as that. And as beautiful. As profound. It is not only the usual answer.   It is the answer.”

Allow the ritual of Ash Wednesday to linger during Lent. It is a powerful reminder that we only have a limited time in which to experience the creation that surrounds and and the beautiful people that enrich our lives. Be humbled and give in to love. In the words of Ansarit of Herat:

Would you become a pilgrim
on the road to Love?
The first condition is that
you make yourself
humble as dust and ashes.

Mortal Flesh and Ash

dust-from-hand

Ash Wednesday. There is no other day like Ash Wednesday. The proud and the meek, the arrogant and the humble all made equal on Ash Wednesday. The healthy and the sick, the assured and the sick in spirit, all make their way to church in the gray morning or in the dusty afternoon. They line up silently, eyes downcast, bony fingers counting the beads of the rosary, lips mumbling prayers. All are repentant, all are preparing themselves for the shock of the laying of the ashes on the forehead and the priest’s agonizing words, “Thou dust, and to dust thou shalt return .”

Rudolfo A. Anaya