voting our imagination

My congregation has just begun a new Lenten book study, Jesus for President, which is not a bad theme to ponder in this maddening primary season. 

As I’ve been watching the primaries play out, with the endless spin and prognostication, one thing seems to be emerging: the competition between those who say they want only to beat Trump in one camp, and those who want a whole new way of doing business in the other camp. 

First, I’ll say I think this is a false choice; polls consistently show that either of the remaining candidates can beat the current president.

So here’s my take: the choice is actually between a) those who want to tend to the few who have too much to count or b) those who think we could do better for the very many who have too little to count on. Between those who demand a political system of ample palm-greasing and those who seem always to come away empty-handed. Between empire and anti-empire. 

And it has been discouragingly familiar to watch empire scramble to wrap around its Manchurian choice these last few days. Jesus isn’t running, but don’t be mistaken: the establishment wouldn’t choose him either. 

Convincing us that we are asking too much is the favorite pastime of those who hoard the good stuff. It is true in every generation. 

We are not asking too much. We are asking, in fact, just the right amount. 

Our defining sacred story begins not with Jesus (and not with Adam and Eve; that is a creation myth that came along later), but with the stories of Israel becoming slaves in Egypt, then escaping slavery and moving through an expansive wilderness to the land of abundant good things. In the wilderness, about 20 minutes after they got out from under the oppressive hand of the emperor, the Pharaoh, people began acting like pharaohs, trying to be in charge of all the good stuff. 

Case in point: they were hungry and God rained manna from heaven. Take what you need, said God, but don’t try to hoard it. Exodus says those who took too much had enough; though who took too little had enough. It was a pretty great system. But some folks tried to hoard, tried to corner the manna futures market. 

Hoarded manna rotted. It was terrible. 

But people don’t learn all that well. So the stories of hoarded and rotting manna still need to be heard. Again and again. 

So, Jesus for President. Right? I don’t know; we haven’t read the whole book yet. But one of my favorite lines so far is about this very thing. 

Referring to the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the parts of the scripture that many of us find the hardest to slog through, the writer notes that the laws were for the sake of creating a people, teaching them how to be neighbors and protect creation, including humanity. And this is where we get to my favorite line: the authors write that it wasn’t “about making …empire better at doing empire. Rather, God would save the world through fascination, by setting up a society on the margins of empire for the world to come and see what a society of love looks like.” 

I love the idea of a world that feeds our imagination, that fascinates us, that invites others to want to be just that way. It can happen. It can happen. 

It cannot if we let fear or greed or empire tell us what to do. 

It is Lent, and among the scriptures we read, there is the prophet Joel calling us to return. 

But return to what? Too many white churches dream of the glory days of the 1950s and 60s. Maybe here in Flint, we would return to anything pre-oil embargo, though some, no doubt would prefer pre-collective bargaining. Others may desire the trickle-down of Reagan, and still others FDR, LBJ, or even the Confederacy. Would we choose the “me” 1980s over the “me-too” 2020s? 

Returning is tricky, because there is a lot behind us, and most of it ranges from bad to worse. It’s been that way for most of human history. And certainly America has never been the beacon on the hill for all its people.

So Lent calls us to return to something we have never seen: the vision of God, the reign of God, the well-being of all beings. 

And when we cannot see, it is vital that we imagine. 

My hope is that in this election season each of us will vote for the candidate who taps our imagination and invites us into a vision of what is possible for all of us. 

If we do that, if we do it right, then maybe wealthy will be a little less wealthy, but everyone else will have food, dignity, well-being and a safe place to live. And won’t that be a good day.