The day after the US elections I want to make a promise – to always seek to know “the rest of the story” (to quote Paul Harvey) when making a decision and taking a stance.
The “My Turn” column in a recent Newsweek brought me up short. In it, the mayor of Ketchikan, Alaska, writes about the “Bridge to Nowhere” that has been the poster child against budget “earmarks” during the campaign. It seems that the rest of the story, which was not heard in all the political rhetoric, is that the Ketchikan airport was built 30 years ago by the government on a nearby island over the objections of the local people. A bridge was promised at that time to link the city (population 14,000) to their airport, but was never built. Hemmed in by mountains, Ketchikan, the fourth largest community in Alaska, is also looking to that nearby, flat island for expansion and growth, something a bridge would facilitate.
How often I make up my mind about something without a full understanding of the issues, the details, the complexities. My experience in the criminal justice system in Maine made it clear over ten years ago that I couldn’t go with my gut reaction but needed to talk with people on all sides of the issue to grasp the full impact of a proposed change to the system. Still I needed Ketchikan’s major to remind me of this once again.
As I make this promise I am aware that I will need assistance in keeping it. What sources can I trust? How can I be certain that my commitment to be a follower of Jesus, a peacemaker, is front and center in my decisions? Because I am a part of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, I have a ready answer. The network of people that is the BPFNA offers me access to the assistance I will need. The expertise within our network is astounding, and the BPFNA will be facilitating the sharing of that knowledge.
One of our new thrusts for 2009 is to invite people to pledge to remain involved in the political process by writing letters to our elected officials throughout the year. We will assist the letter writers by inviting those experts among us to post information to our website with background info on the issues and even sample letters. As President-elect Obama said last night, “For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century…This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”
Therefore, I promise to seek the rest of the story, making use of the BPFNA network to fill in my missing knowledge so that the letters I write, seeking the best for the least among us, will be ones based firmly on my promise to follow Jesus, even into the halls of Empire, wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
Walter Brueggermann writes in The Prophetic Imagination that the prophetic tradition calls for both criticizing and energizing.
“Criticism is not carping and denouncing…[R]eal criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right…[I]f the task of prophecy is to empower people to engage in history, then it means evoking the cries that expect answers, learning to address them where they will be taken seriously, and ceasing to look to the numbed and dull empire that never intended to answer in the first place.”
“It is the task of the prophet to bring to expression the new realities against the more visible ones of the old order. Energizing is closely linked to hope…Energy comes from the embrace of the inscrutable darkness…There is new energy in finding One who can be trusted with the darkness and who can be trusted to be more powerful than the one who ostensibly rules the light…[T] here is a wondrous statement of a new reality that surely must energize…The last energizing reality is a doxology in which the singers focus on this free One and in the act of the song appropriate the freedom of God as their own freedom…Only where there is doxology is there any emergence of compassion, for doxology cuts through the ideology that pretends to be a given. Only where there is doxology can there be justice, for such songs transfigure fear into energy.”
So I promise to remain engaged in the political process, to critique and to energize, calling upon the BPFNA network to fill in my missing knowledge so that I know the rest of the story before I write my letters to encourage a movement to peace rooted in justice for all.