“Politics makes a lousy religion,” Nathan warned me amid a casual conversation.
He should know. Nathan has spent a great swath of his life and energy yearning for political change that would create a world which, for him and for many of us, is more just and peaceful. He has rallied and contributed. He has marched and knocked. He has read and reflected. He has polled and prodded.
Eventually a realization sat waiting patiently outside Nathan’s activities. Nathan came to recognize that he was trusting too much in politics and its possibilities. A veteran of many 12-step battles, Nathan saw within himself the signs of obsession and fixation that never play out well for someone inclined toward addiction.
In a sense, the recent mood shift of our nation was a wake-up call for Nathan. It nudged him to critique his foundation, to seek again that which is not shifting sand.
If “politics makes a lousy religion,” what makes a lovely religion? The psalmist instructs,
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help…
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Nathan knows the need for politics, as did the psalmist. We can’t sit around, strum our harps and sigh. But what a gift to reorient one’s longings toward something less fickle, less dependent on majority vote, more inclined to operate from love and longevity rather than power and polls.
It occurs to me that Nathan, and I, might not have come to these realizations if the mood of the nation were different. We might have been content to trust in our political princes and their short-term proposals. We might have even gotten comfortable with being in the majority, with winning, with even knowing people in high places. Victory is seductive.
It’s also fickle.
Just ask my daughter, who attends the University of Texas, home of the Longhorns. She’s had a pretty sweet time, as have all Longhorn fans, of tasting football victory year after year. Pretty soon you just expect to win, for the opposing team to simply roll over and play dead when your bus rolls into town.
This year has been different. After the team’s third loss, she admitted that football is not nearly as much fun when you lose.
“We’ve had to make going to games about something other than winning,” she said.
Welcome to life, honey.
Joe Phelps is pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.