[The City; November 2008]
All the articles surrounding this one are hot off the keyboard, written in the days since the election. This one goes back a ways. When editor Ben Domenech asked me to contribute to this forum, I told him that I was utterly unqualified. I try not to follow politics.
That probably sounds unpatriotic, as well as irresponsible, for someone who is grateful to have been born an American citizen. But I find that the verbal sparring in print and on line, the “yelling shows” on TV, aren’t healthy for me. Tiny news, transitory news, captures too much of my attention. I get restless, looking for the next “fix” of urgency to come along. I get to identifying with one camp or another, and feel stung by the attacks they sustain, and feel smug when our side gets off a good one. It’s just not good.
I can avoid politics this way because I have astute friends who follow it, and by listening to them I can develop an opinion of my own. But I’ve also found that it is OK not to have an opinion on everything. Very little in world affairs depends on my opinion. In a crisis, the new president is not going to phone me to find out what to do. We live in such a culture of argument that we get the impression we need a fully-referenced position on every single thing that glides along the TV news ticker. But for the vast majority of items in today’s news, it’s all right to say, “Thanks, that’s all I needed to know.” You won’t be called on to give a speech about it tomorrow.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about St. Paul’s word to the Thessalonians that they should “pray constantly” (I Thess. 5:17). I noticed that he makes a similar point to the Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians (Rom. 12:12, Eph. 6:18, Col. 4:2). He wanted to communicate this to four different communities, so he must have thought it was important. He also must have thought it was possible. And if you’re going to try to keep your mind in constant prayer, the first step must be to sit your attention squarely down in front of the Lord Jesus Christ and train it to stay there. Something that agitates the mind, especially something that stimulates the desire to do verbal battle, is going to be like tinfoil to a magpie.
I appreciate that there are those who work diligently and creatively in the political fields. Their hard work gives me the freedom to put my attention elsewhere. I hope that, as I learn to keep a simple prayer going, like background music, all the time, I’ll develop a better sense of what to pray for—prayers that are less selfish, I hope, and more in line with God’s will. It surely can’t do any harm for there to be one more person praying about all these things.