By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Elections always seem to be about the narrowest here and now -- fluctuating polls, personalities, and policies. And indeed they are. But some elections are about something bigger, weirder, wilder. Like this one. Suppose we try looking at this election from the perspective of God and Empire -- the great rhythms of religion and power in millennia of history.
Let us begin with just a century ago. How come the real energy-centers on our present national tickets are two passionate Christians –-- one oriented to renewal and one to restoration? Not since William Jennings Bryan ("You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!") and William McKinley ("I knelt to pray for guidance on what to do about the Philippines, and heard a voice: Annex them, educate them, Christianize them!") have we had such a choice.
Then, as now, Americans were facing a stark uncertainty. More than an election was at stake: Was the whole future of America to be dominated by corporations and a race into empire, or to be shaped by strengthening new populist organizations of farmers and workers? The choices were so deep that they were not only political and economic, but spiritual -- and it was to the Spirit, in quite different guises, that the leaders turned.
And now, again.
What do I mean by "Christian renewal" and "Christian restoration"?
We are living in God's earthquake. "Modern" civilization is devouring itself, turning its towering control of the world, of the earth itself, into self-destruction. The certainties of Modern life are quaking, and our country as a whole does not know what to do.
Some of us seek to hang on to certainties from the past: Women in their place, happily birthing, no choice about it, even if it takes a woman in power to enforce it. The earth in its place, subject to corporate subjugation, drilled by Towers of Babel that go underground to rape and gush for oil. Other countries in their place, doing God's bidding – the bidding, that is, of a new American empire.
To restore the old verities takes even more coercion, more violence, than enforcing them did in the first place. For once a genie is out of the bottle, it takes far more coercion to stuff it back in than it took to keep in the bottle in the first place. Women, out of the bottle. Vietnam, Iraq, Iran – out of the bottle. The earth and its allies, these "wimpy" environmentalists – out of the bottle. Only force of arms can stuff them back. Maybe only the Lord of Hosts can do it.
To renew the ancient bubblings of Truth and Transformation takes even more courage than in the past. For it means jumping off into a world we cannot remember. It means shaping new communities we have to imagine, not repeat. Women have moral agency of their own, must be free to decide even the harsh ethical questions of sharing one body with two beings. The earth is part of us and we of it, and even entities like the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere become life-forms, part of our new community. Other nations, other peoples, must be heard, must be listened to, must be negotiated with. They too are bearers of truth, justice, and God's way, even when their path is different from our own. They are not always right, their needs are not always God's will – but nor are ours.
To shape these new communities, broader and deeper than we have known, will take not force of arms but hearing of the heart. Maybe only "YHWH," the Interbreathing of all life that appears in every human language and in the lives of every life-form, can do it.
God's Great Dance is between Control and Community, A great leap forward in Control must be followed by a great deep warming of Community. That is what happened when the West-Semitic tribes faced the power of Imperial Egypt and Imperial Sumeria: They went deep into the Spirit, and arose with Torah, a new form of community. That is what happened when the conquered Jews faced Imperial Rome: they went deep into the Spirit, and arose with Talmud and New Testament, two new forms of community.
And that is where we are: caught in God's great dance, which in our lives is embodied in an earthquake; the Breath of Life become the winds of change, a hurricane of change.
One way "out" is to take a death-grip (and I do mean death-grip) on the old certainties. The other way is to learn to dance in God's earthquake. Dance our way into new forms of community.
That is what this election is about, and the choices will not end when the election does.
More to come, more about what we can do to join the dance, to shape the choices.
Shalom, salaam, peace – Arthur