The Sacred Work of Politics


When I was a college student, I wanted to be a lawyer—a crusading poverty lawyer who would help the oppressed find justice. Back then, pre-law students majored in political science, so I dutifully signed up for classes in that major. At that time—the years following the Watergate scandal—I had a pretty low opinion of politicians and politics in the sense of elections, campaigns, empty promises and corruption, so I was interested to learn that the word politics comes from the Greek word polis, or city. A citizen of a city in ancient Greece was responsible for contributing to the common good of the city.

I ended up not becoming a poverty lawyer, which is probably a good thing. I honestly don’t love conflict enough to relish the role of a crusader. But I am still convinced that the good of the city, or the state, or the nation, is the common responsibility of all good citizens.

Right now, our polis is in a terrible mess, and a lot of people think it has to do with politics in the sense of election results. We have all picked sides and point our fingers at the other side, sure it is all their fault. Many of the people who run for public office seem primarily interested in getting elected, and re-elected, and they spend a lot of time raising money, schmoozing with lobbyists, or refining their media presence, and precious little time actually doing anything useful.

I know some people who just try to avoid the whole sideshow most of the time and then at election time, try to read up and figure out who to vote for. That might make for more personal peace, but it seems to me a shirking of the responsibility for the common work for the common good.

Ironically, the word the Greeks used to talk about that common work is the word we made into the English word liturgy, the work I now do as a pastor to make worship services a work the people all share together. Wouldn’t it be great if more of our political responsibilities felt like sacred work? I am convinced there is a way, and it has to do with people just talking to each other about what matters most. If you would like to talk more about that, drop me a line, or come join us in some liturgy. Our liturgy in July is going to be a series on Faces of Faith, men and women whose faith mattered in the big issues of their time. Some will be biblical characters, some contemporary persons. July 1 is Immigration Sunday, a subject ripe for sacred conversation. Please join us.