Whose are you?
When my daughter, Lucy, was in 8th grade, she overheard a news report about undecided voters. The very notion shocked her. She was a being raised by a Democrat, who was raised by a Democrat, and so on back down the generations. (Like the Weasleys, forever in Gryffindor, aren’t all members of the Spong family Democrats?) She knew there were other parties, and in Maine, where we then lived, there were always Independent candidates in the mix, too. But how, she wondered, could people be undecided?
In school that fall, her class was studying how to make good choices. Th e teacher explained that when faced with a decision, they could employ their “tools” to determine their actions. Lucy applied the same rubric to voters. If presented with a candidate or an issue, why don’t you just use your tools—your thinking, your feelings, your intuition—to help you reach a determination?
Lucy had been in the voting booth with me, as I had with my father. What do they do if they get there and still don’t know, she wondered? Flip a coin?
Those conversations feel so innocent to me now. Over the weekend, Lindsey Graham said, “If you’re a young, African American or an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative, not liberal.” He said it as if the identity of “conservative” would outweigh any other more visible identities and convey a cloak of invulnerability. He said it in the midst of a campaign season so charged that we can hardly talk to each other about it unless we feel sure we will agree.
The people of the church in Thessalonika were learning to embody a new identity, having “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,” setting themselves apart as followers of one God, while still living in a society in which the worship of idols representing many gods set the rhythm of life.
Whose are you?
When we read the questions addressed to Jesus in Matthew 22, we would do well to remember how we feel standing in the voting booth reading about Question Z or Bond Issue 732. Some propositions are worded to confuse us, to turn our brains around and make us question what we know to be true. Jesus, of course, understood, but let’s place ourselves in the position of the disciples, listening to this question from disciples of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus as a matter of faith; he called their practices into question and threatened the religious status quo. The party of King Herod, that monarch propped up by the invading Romans, had another set of interests. They had power because they supported Rome. If they heard Jesus speak against paying taxes to the emperor, they would have to prosecute him. The disciples of the Pharisees brought them along, certain that one way or the other they could discredit Jesus. If he supported taxes, he would let down his followers, who hailed from an area known for revolutionary feelings toward Rome. If he didn’t support taxes, he might wind up in jail.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.”
Whose are you?
In the public arena, our faith is low stakes, despite the claims of persecution made by some American Christians. But it was high stakes for the Pharisees under occupation, and it would be high stakes for the early generations of Christians, as faith in Jesus Christ spread beyond Galilee and Jerusalem and into the Roman world. The Thessalonians risked themselves to worship one God instead of the “appropriate” gods, the gods for particular purposes, the gods special to your family, the gods favored by your benefactors or bosses or the Emperor.
Whose is the church? Have we turned to God from idols, to serve a true and living God? We so often rest in the comfort of being undecided, inoffensive, appropriate. In a time when a political party claims identity with one faith and rejects the faith of anyone who doesn’t fit their definitions, we may wonder.
I use my tools – my thinking, my feelings, my intuition, and my faith – to inform my values. I am led not just by who I am but by whose I have decided to be.