CultureNovember 05 2012
Tomorrow is Election Day in the US, and I for one can’t wait for it to be over. We live in the hotly-contended state of Ohio, where our phones have been ringing with recorded political messages since the summer and the primaries.
After fielding 8-10 calls per day, none of which had a real live person on the other end, I gave up. I turned the ringers off all our phones, set the machine to answer early, and left the following message as our greeting:
You’ve reached the Bennett residence where we’ve turned our ringer off and stopped answering our phone because the only people who call this number are people who are selling something or asking us to vote for them. We don’t make any of those decisions over the phone. If you’re calling for any other reason, leave a message and we’ll get back with you eventually.
Fifteen years ago, I was a student at a conservative Christian college, where people took great pride in finding new and creative ways to put down President Bill Clinton. His bid for re-election was my first presidential election, and I had proudly voted straight-line Republican on my absentee ballot. A year later after his re-election, I was spending long nights in the student newspaper office on the third floor of the arts building. The other editors on staff and I labored over headlines and layouts for that week’s paper and discussed politics of the national and the collegiate. The news was awash with scandals and calls for impeachment, and we joked, as only celibate college students could, about oral sex and interns. Yet, even as I laughed at the idea of an intern hiding under the POTUS’s desk in the Oval Office, I couldn’t help but think about all the doomsday predictions made by Christians during Clinton’s first and second campaigns and how none of those predictions had come true. Sure, he had lived up to his womanizing reputation. But aside from our self-righteous hypocritical conversations about what constituted sexual intercourse (who better than Christian college students to know where the lines are and how to get right up to them without actually crossing?), my life and the nation’s circumstances hadn’t changed.
It was the first time I saw for myself how overwrought and exaggerated political promises, both the golden rainbows promises and the end-of-the-world promises, really were. We were not in a Democratic utopia, but neither were we in a death spiral towards a rock cliff as the Republicans would have us believe.
I think of those days whenever I summon the courage to listen in on today’s political dialogue. I can only manage small doses, but I can’t help but wonder if the people talking really believe what they are saying. It would be laughable if it weren’t so destructive. Do they really demonize the other side? Do they know people who hold opposing views, and if so, how is that relationship? I have dear friends who affiliate with both major parties and plenty of the minor ones. My friends are more important to me than political candidates and who wins and who loses elections.
My husband and I had dinner with my parents the other night, and we got to talking about how God enters our messy stories and does big things with small people. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 is quite the cast of characters, full of scandal and rebellion and deception and intrigue as bad or worse than any we’ve seen in modern day America. Then my dad pointed out something about the story of Ruth.
Have you ever noticed where in Israel’s history the story of Ruth and Boaz takes place? It’s in the middle of the book of Judges, when Israel is making a bloody mess and clamoring for a king to fix it all. (Sound familiar? It does to me!) The big picture is dismal, tragic, and chaotic. But in a tiny town named Bethlehem, one righteous man and one foreigner who chooses to follow Jehovah come together, and they are the great great grandparents of King David, who is in Jesus’ lineage. I love this story. This is what God specializes in – working big things out of small people doing the right thing in a small place, out of the limelight and ignored by everyone of consequence. Stories like this give me hope in the face of the ugliness, the increasing bitterness, and the chaos in our country.
I am under no illusions about the results of the election tomorrow. If my candidate wins, I know we won’t all ride off into happily-ever-after. And if the other candidate wins, I know our country won’t break off the face the earth and plunge into Hades. I will keep trying to make things just a little bit better in my home and in my community, the same way I do now. My everyday life won’t change. Except for my phone, which will finally stop ringing.