We’re Better Than This (and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves)

Grateful for this reflection by Connor Gwin. In high school, I wanted to be the […]

Grateful for this reflection by Connor Gwin.

In high school, I wanted to be the President of the United States.

It was a humble goal. I was involved in politics on a local level in my small town in Alabama. I kept up-to-date on all the top political news. I was a top debater for both the Model U.N. and the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Club.

When I got to college I immediately double-majored in International Affairs and Political Science and began mapping out my career. You know, work a few years in the foreign service through the State Department then transition to local elected office and climb the ladder to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

As you can guess, that plan did not work out. After my own “Damascus Road” incident involving Sudden Cardiac Arrest at the University gym, I began to take stock of my life plan.

At that point I was heavily involved in a political party’s on-campus organization and I was the regional director for a campaign for Lieutenant Governor. I was making waves as the new, young gun on the political scene on campus. I was knocking on doors in rural parts of the state, reveling in the chance to talk to a voter one-on-one about my candidate or issue.

And I was exhausted.

I have felt this exhaustion again in the year since Election Day 2016. It seems that everyday there is another list of elected officials to call, another controversy from one side or the other, and another collection of issues about which one must be ‘woke’.

Please hear what I am about to say: political involvement is a good and necessary thing, but political involvement will not save us.

There is no salvation in the Republican or Democratic parties. There is no savior on any ballot. Political power is as fleeting and corrosive as it as always been. We see, over and over again, what happens when politics becomes the means and the ends.

When I was a young politico walking the halls of my Alabama high school, I thought that my knowledge and engagement made me better than the other students. I thought that my ability to debate issues and weigh the merits of legislation made me a more complete person.

We are learning, over and over again, that politicians are fallen people just like me and you. They are not superheroes; they are people seeking power for their own reasons, which are legion. Despite what the cover of Time Magazine says, no politician is a Savior.

Again I will say, just to be absolutely clear, political involvement can be good and necessary. We need to make sure that our various levels of government are run well for the betterment of all people, but I do not imagine that on my death bed my political life will occur to me.

There is a lot of focus on political engagement in the Church these days. Each week there is a new statement from a Bishop or list of numbers to call. Each day brings another opportunity for me to practice some good old fashioned virtue signaling.

Nothing has really changed since I was walking the halls of my high school with political buttons fastened to my shirt. My Facebook posts and Tweets convey my virtue and, therefore, my righteousness. If enough people see how tuned in I am to the political machinations of the moment, perhaps I will be saved. If I can get a picture of me in my collar in front of a political rally, then I will be home-free; then I can rest.

Of course we know this isn’t true. We know that salvation does not come through my knowledge of issues or my calendar filled with phone-banking appointments. We also know, deep inside, that politicians are just like us – flawed and fallen people doing their best (usually). Though just like every other form of works righteousness, there is still the glimmer of hope that I can earn my keep in the Kingdom.

We are fallen creatures, continually looking for ways to hold our noses slightly above the mass and mess of humanity that surrounds us. Politics is an easy way to do this. It presents ample opportunities to devote yourself to a cause or candidate which, by the very nature of the situation, you believe to be better than the other. And make no mistake, their policies may indeed be better or less touched by avarice, but it takes very little time for political discussion to become another avenue for my ego to triumph over another and prove my worth.

This whole issue came to a head this past week when we had ourselves a little election down in Alabama. In the days and weeks leading up to the election, I witnessed a tidal wave of clearly very virtuous people say things like, “We are better than this.” On the morning after the election, there was talk of “redemption.”

Today, as the dust settles, I feel that same exhaustion I felt as a college student and the same exhaustion I felt last November. When my salvation is bound to the will and whimsy of humans and the political process, this becomes my default state. When I look for hope or a salve for my soul in the power play of politicians, I will always be disappointed. When I place myself in the driver’s seat for the in-breaking Kingdom of God, I will always find myself in a ditch.

Derek Webb sings in “Savior on Capitol Hill,” “You can always trust the devil or a politician/To be the devil or a politician.”

We cannot save ourselves from the mess we’re in, but we can trust Jesus to give us rest from the exhaustion of trying.

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2 responses to “We’re Better Than This (and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves)”

  1. Jim Moore says:

    Conner Gwin, you are telling my story! Except I didn’t get another easy option like full-time ministry. 😉

    But God uses those us in this insane system even if, sometimes, to just point out that our mutual failure suggests there is a place where good government rests. To wit on the shoulders of a Wonderful Counselor. And we needn’t fear as we tend to the bureaucratic necessities of governing since Christ’s success is complete and being completed in our time.

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