Friday, February 22, 2008

Living A Caucus Life

My wife and I showed up excited to vote. It was presidential caucus day in Colorado, our first since moving to the state. We met after work and arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon. We were surprised to be greeted by signs: Caucus Tonight 7:00.

We were used to primaries. Stay with me on this. At primaries a person shows up at a convenient time during the day, steps into the privacy of a voting booth, casts their secret ballot and leaves having fulfilled their civic duty. It is an important, furtive, private affair.

Caucuses are different. Rather than individuals showing up at a convenient time in the day, they show up at the appointed time. Rather than slipping into the privacy of a booth, you step into a gathering of your immediate neighbors. Rather than a private secret ballot, each person literally takes a public stand for their candidate. Primaries are stealthy, caucuses are boldly public.

“So, how does this work?” I asked a man standing in front of me in line to check in. “This is my first caucus. We just moved here.”

“It’s my first caucus too,” he answered, “but I’ve lived here over 30 years.”

It was the first time he felt it was important enough to take a public stand. He explained there was more at stake now than any time he could remember.

Most States have moved to primaries. People prefer them. They are more convenient. They are private. There is no risk of your stand being exposed to public scrutiny. Primaries let us think what we want without having to say anything. We like it that way.

In some ways I believe we have lost something as a nation and as individuals by moving from caucuses to primaries. Taking a stand requires personal responsibility. It invites thoughtful reflection. It necessitates meaningful dialogue. It puts a higher value on the wellbeing of the whole community than a priority of personal camouflage.

The movement from caucus to primary politics in our culture is paralleled in faith. Many prefer being primary disciples rather than caucus disciples. We prefer to participate when it is convenient rather than showing up at the appointed time (I am not simply talking about church attendance here. Being an apprentice of Jesus is much deeper than that.) We prefer to follow Jesus in the isolation of a spiritual booth rather than engaging our neighbors in plain sight. We would rather cast a private ballot for Jesus than take a public stand.

Don’t get me wrong. People can be annoying as they stump for their candidate at a political caucus. The annoying ones do little to constructively represent their candidate or advance their cause. However, much is accomplished by those who boldly represent their candidate through articulate dialogue and meaningful engagement with others.

Similarly, people can be annoying as they stump for Jesus. They too do little to represent Him or advance His cause. However, on a much deeper level, a great deal is accomplished by those who boldly represent Him through articulate dialogue and meaningful engagement with others.

The world is in desperate need for caucus Christians who are articulate and represent the Kingdom of God through meaningful engagement. The call to follow Jesus is the call to step out of the fa├žade of a privatized booth of spirituality to take a meaningful public stand through the content of our lives.

Paul said people like that are beautiful. The idea wasn’t new. He quoted Isaiah who said:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7, cf. Romans 10:15)
Paul made it sound like this kind of beautiful life is also urgent. Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words that follow:
“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?” (Romans 10:14-15, The Message)

How can people hear the good news if votes are cast in silent isolation? How can they see if we live sequestered behind the curtain of privatized spirituality? Primary Christianity is preoccupied with anonymous self-preservation. Caucus Jesus followers passionately embody the good news out loud with grace and truth. There is much at stake for a watching world.

The man checking in before me at the caucus felt this year’s election was important enough to take a public stand. He was convinced there was more at stake now than any time he could remember. As true as that may be about American politics, there will be another caucus and election in four years with new candidates and rhetoric.

If his urgency around this year’s election is high enough to get him out to take a public stand for the first time in thirty years, how much more urgent is the need for grace and truth-filled public stands of the one Gospel that lasts? That may seem obvious, but our watching world wouldn’t necessarily know it by how they see us vote. Because it matters for a watching desperate world, it also matters to our watching Lord. Jesus said:
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." Luke 9:24-26

He later added:

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever publicly disowns me will be disowned before the angels of God.” Luke 12:8-9

I am not suggesting Jesus is a political candidate. He frustrated many and liberated others because he transcends nationalism and political correctness. He is not up for election. His reign is secure by Who He is and what He has done. At the end of the day, we don’t elect Him, He elects us to represent Him in the caucus of our contemporary world. This is your appointed time for His redemptive cause in our broken world. He has assigned us to the precinct of our neighborhoods. It’s time to show up, step up and take a stand.

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