A Third Way: Creating A Political Rule of Life

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The 2020 political season is already upon us and most of us are already over it. But unless we want to move out into the desert like the Essenes and pray for God to rain down fire to destroy us all, we have to stay engaged. We have to learn how to pledge allegiance to the Lamb while participating in the politics of this world.

In fact, I propose that during this 2020 election, we as Christians don't just learn how to "survive" or "make it through." I propose that we use this season as a God-given opportunity to become more like Jesus.

Last month, after the double-whammy of the impeachment trial and the State of the Union address, I realized that I needed to take a long, hard look at the ways that I was permitting my political climate to shape me. I spent the week checking my NPR app over and over, griping about the political developments with my co-workers, and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through social media. It was life-draining. I felt irritable all the time. And the worst part was that I was mentally making those who disagreed with me my enemies.

I realized it was time to call it quits and find a different way forward. Not a left or a right way, but a completely different way. A third way.

Every fall, I create a rule of life to help guide my spiritual formation throughout the rest of the school year. But when I reviewed it, I realized that there was nothing in it that addressed politics. This inspired me to create a political rule of life.

If we want to retain our Christian witness this political season, we must re-arrange our lives for spiritual transformation. 

What is a "rule of life"?
A rule of life is an ancient Christian practice that examines and the arranges our patterns and habits so that we can become more like Christ. A "rule" sounds legalistic or stifling, but your rule of life should be anything but these things -- it should draw you into a lifestyle of God's freedom and abundance. A rule of life is the identification of specific practices that will draw you further into God's presence. Because each person is unique, each rule of life is tailored specifically to a disciple's personality and season of life. The sins that I am working on conquering may not have any bearing in your life. Conversely, the things that will develop your love for God and for his people may not affect me in the same way. For a more detailed explanation on how to craft a rule of life, check out this post.

Why should I create a rule of life?
Spiritual formation doesn't happen by accident. We are being formed every single day, both by our conscious decisions and by our unconscious decisions. If we aren't intentionally choosing to be formed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we will unintentionally be formed into the image and likeness of Fox News or CNN. It's not a matter of whether we are being formed, but how we are being formed.

Why a political rule of life?
Every moment of every day is an opportunity for spiritual growth. St. Igantius said that these opportunities can guide us toward two possible outcomes: either we move toward "desolation" or we move toward "consolation." Sometimes our decisions steer us away from the life-giving presence of God, and we move toward desolation. When this occurs, we become more inward-focused, cut ourselves off from community, and forfeit the things of Christ for the things of this world. On the other hand, when we have practices in place that move us toward consolation, we become more aware of God's presence in our lives, generously give of ourselves and our resources in community, and prioritize God's kingdom over our own desires.
Participating (or choosing not to participate!) in politics is an opportunity for us to move toward consolation or desolation. Politics affect how we view people as God's image-bearers or even where we choose to place our trust. If we can be formed by our relationships, the media we consume, and the way we spend our time and money, then we can most definitely be formed by our volatile political climate.

What practices should I include?
Every person's rule of life will be different. I can only speak from my own experiences and the ways that the Spirit has convicted me. Here are a few practices I have committed to this season (once again, these are only examples):
  • Limit checking NPR to only once/day.
    I chose NPR because it tends to report facts from a neutral perspective (but, as is the case with all news sources, not always). Here is a helpful chart that maps out how news sources tend to be biased.
  • Partner with someone who votes differently than me in prayer, deep listening, and discernment.
    When I first mentioned this practice to those who vote the same way I do, they dismissed it as being too idealistic. "There's no way that someone on the opposite side will be willing to actually listen," they said. Maybe I am too idealistic, but I have to believe that there are people on the "other side" who are seeking God, too. And in my pursuit of this truth, I found a lovely woman who votes differently than me, and we had a wonderful conversation about why our consciences allow us to vote in different ways. We prayed for each other afterward. It was awesome. There must be a third way.
  • Incorporate political thoughts and reactions into weekly examen to see whether they are consistent with the mind of Christ.
    Every Thursday I pray through the "prayer of examen" to assess how I've been adhering (or not adhering) to my rule of life. I also use it to identify sin in my life.
  • Monitor my comments.
    Are they truthful? Unifying? Helpful? Gracious? Prophetic? Easier said than done! How hard it is to be truthful and gracious at the same time!
  • Sabbath.
    On Fridays, my day off, I do not check the news, listen to the radio, or get on Facebook.
This year, may we be the kind of people who choose the third way. May we be the people who maintain our loyalty to God's kingdom while we participate, critique, and disengage from the kingdom of this world.

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