Election seasons in the twenty-first century have become increasingly fraught times for Americans who profess to be disciples of Jesus. American partisan politics has gotten more and more polarizing and it’s difficult for Christians to find where they belong. It’s very tempting for Christians to become members of partisan political groups and adopt unswerving loyalty to their platform and ideas. The more “us” against “them” the rhetoric ratchets up, the more pressure is felt to choose sides and to grow bitter and resentful of the other. To know where we belong, we must look to the One we profess to follow: Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus called to himself a group of disciples who had different approaches to the occupying Roman empire. Some, like Simon, called “the Zealot,” were part of the Revolutionary ideology. Others, like Matthew, who was a former tax collector, had chosen to side with the Romans in order to benefit financially at the expense of his fellow Judean people. These two disciples represented polar opposite political responses. However, to be Jesus’s disciples they had to walk away from both of those approaches and adopt Jesus’s Way.
The Way of Jesus is a “third way.” It is neither Revolution nor Compromise. Jesus’s Way is a Way of radical loyalty and allegiance to the One True God revealed supremely and finally in Jesus himself. To be Jesus’s disciple, one cannot compromise with the ways of Babylonian empires that rival God’s Kingdom for authority and sovereignty over human history. But to be Jesus’s disciple, one must also abandon the hope that liberation can come from revolutionary violence. Instead, the revolution is one of nonviolent, direct action, rooted in an alternative, diverse community centered around the love of Jesus.
During this election season, it’s important for American Jesus-disciples to tend to the care of our souls. We must be attentive to our own temptation to become part of either compromise or revolution. We must also be intentional about how we are pressing into allegiance to Jesus and alternative, diverse Jesus-community. To that end, I have some suggestions for Election Season Soul Care.
1. Tend to Your Physical Needs
“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” — III John 1.2
We aren’t disembodied spirits; we are whole persons. Soul care necessarily entails care for our physical needs. When we are hungry, tired, sick, or in pain, we may be weakened in our resolve to resist temptation, and therefore more susceptible to the insidious seductions of partisan polarization, bitterness, and even hatred. To resist the contamination of our souls, we must attend to the care of our physical selves so that our temples are proper dwelling places for God’s Holy Spirit. This means we may need to spend some time exercising, cut back on junk foods, and get enough sleep.
2. Locate Your Treasure
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Matthew 6.21
It’s important for Jesus-disciples to keep tabs on our treasure. Where are you spending your energy? Where are you investing your time and money? From where are you deriving self-worth? What do you find yourself thinking about more than usual?
For the Jesus-disciples, our hearts belong to Jesus. He is our Master and Lord. He is the only one worthy of our praise, our hope, our heart’s delight. He’s the solid Rock; all other ground is sinking sand.
A simple exercise you can do to locate your treasure is to do an inventory. List the top five to ten things you’ve spent time thinking about lately, spent money on lately, and spent your energy supporting.
3. Recalibrate Your Heart in Worship
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” — Romans 12.1-2
If we recognize that your treasure is drifting from Jesus, his Kingdom, and his people, then our hearts need to be recalibrated. This requires embodied practices, since our what we do with our bodies shapes our deepest motivations. Simply acknowledging truths intellectually may not lead to holistic transformation.
Christian worship is designed to be an embodied practice. In Christian worship, we arrange our bodies in postures and move our bodies in ways that connect our hearts and minds. Christian worship often entails postures like kneeling, for example. Kneeling is an embodied way of demonstrating our vulnerability and submission. When we assume this physical posture in response to God’s Word, our hearts and minds are formed at a deep level. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…” (Eph. 3.14 NIV)
Christian worship also often involves singing. Singing is a way for people with diverse voices to be joined together to make a harmony. It is a physical and metaphorical example of unity with diversity. This practice teaches us that there are different parts of the body, there is one body, one faith, one baptism, one Lord.
Christian worship centers around the celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is where we all locate ourselves at the foot of Jesus’s Cross, in need of God’s mercy, and willing to lay down our lives with Christ in surrender to God’s love. The Lord’s Supper is also where we “lay down our swords and soundbites,” recognizing that when we all eat from the same loaf, we are one body. This act of worship unites us not only to God in Christ, but to one another in the body of Christ, across all political divisions.
In this especially contentious political season, may we return to the message of the Gospel: That in and through Jesus and the Spirit, God has inaugurated his Kingdom, begun the restoration of all things, and will soon fully establish his promised shalom. Into this vision, we are called. This is the announcement of the good news, not good advice. This has happened, and is happening. Our call is merely to join in the life of God by giving ourselves over to Jesus’s Way of love. Faithfulness, not effectiveness is our calling.
Yes, we are called to “seek the shalom of the city,” to partner with others of good will toward the flourishing of all persons in society. To this end, we participate in the democratic process. Above all, we are called to maintain our allegiance to Jesus, never allowing ourselves to be co-opted by other gods and lords. May we tend to our soul’s care as we live as strangers and exiles in this world.