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178. The Vicious Habit

Elections are drawing near and I’m feeling pretty bombarded by political ads. They barge into my driving time through radio spots, interrupt the few rare moments I enjoy watching the Tigers, Longhorns, or the Rangers on television, arrive unexpectedly from both parties at my email addresses, distract me through yard signs and billboards as I run, intrude into my home by phone, and fill my mailbox with cards, leaflets, and news sheets. While I’m pretty confident about my own political views, I have to confess that I’m disappointed and embarrassed by the viciousness and distortion by most the ads from both major parties. The tactics seem cheap, harmful, and empty of any attempt at honest, thorough and serious engagement with the pressing issues we face as a society.  Many ads feature grainy, black-and-white photos of the opponent taken from an unflattering angle or awkward moment to contrast with the polished, wholesome, brushed color pictures of the candidate being supported. Extreme and negative hyperbole distorts the motives of opponents while offering little information to substantiate the monstrous claims. It seems the default formula for successful political ads is the negative attack against the opponent rather than the recounting of positive intentions of the candidate paying for the commercial.

Most people reading the previous paragraph probably agree with most of what I’ve written. Criticizing political ads is easy, convenient, and popular. It’s not hard to blame the politicians, the strategists, and the media. And I do think they should own a fair amount of responsibility.

But why have the ads become so vicious, negative, and distorted? Because these kinds of ads evidently work. Those of us who receive these ads are willing to avoid the hard work of learning about the tough and complex issues of our time. We are happy to nod or shake our head based on a 30-second contrived presentation rather than delve deeper, to think beyond our own self-interest to the good of the nation and world. We’re willing to be seduced and deceived by oversimplification, to be animated and motivated by animosity and accusation.

Friends, we can do better.

Paul writes, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Philippians 4:8). He was not inviting us to ignore or deny hard realities; rather, he was asking us to deal with hard realities with integrity, faithfulness, and graciousness. There’s nothing distinctly Christian about being gracious; but if we are distinctly Christian, a focus on graciousness, truth, and fairness will characterize our interests, involvements, and behaviors.

In another place, Paul highlights those values, behaviors, and attitudes that keep us captive slaves to sin and death, and those that give us life.  In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, Paul writes:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

The phrase that jumps out of me is “the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival.” May we find the spiritual strength to avoid depersonalizing everyone into a rival when we disagree with them. May we hold each other accountable to this high standard of faithfulness in our following of Christ.

It’s election season.  Pray.  Read. Listen. Learn. Think. Vote.  Pray.

Yours in Christ,


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9 Responses to 178. The Vicious Habit

  1. Thank You,

    Thank you so much for a timely update this election season, I could not agree with you more. It is a sad story that people will not work to find the facts they really need to vote responsibly, but rely on junk political adds for their basic election forming information. It seems that voting fraud and election practices in America is going in reverse. Most politicians fail to show any form of integrity, and respect for the positions they hold only to confuse the voter who should care, and vote some of these people out.

    With that being said, we do know that God puts leaders in place and time as He sees fit. Is this the wake-up call? Pray. Seek. Seek. Pray.

    In His Service,
    Donald C. Cramer

  2. Kendall says:

    This year I committed to reading Philippians 4 every day and trying to live it. It has amazed me just how counter cultural this truly is. If you really want to stand out as a Christian try being a positive prophet of hope.

    • Julie Walker says:

      Amen! This deceptive negative talk is destructive, confusing and turns people away from the truth. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way “. If what we say isn’t instructive or constructive then can it be from God?

    • Michael Pope says:

      Prophets of hope is a nice phrase and thought. Many prophets wind up being stoned or otherwise killed. I think of the Old Testament prophets but also more recent models in history as well: Ghandi, John F Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. I guess that’s the price you pay for being a dreamer and one who shares hope in a world that promotes violence and death. However, what’s the price if we don’t?

  3. priscilla Schuchman says:

    thanks so much for this positive view. It is time we who call ourselves Christ`s followers start thinking for ourselves and seeking the truth that sets us free!

  4. Andy B. says:

    Nicely said. Thank you for posting this.

  5. Jim says:

    Isn’t the good bishop’s blog post a case of the pot calling the kettle black. For a long time, the UMC has mirrored the nation. Liberal positions in the UMC take conservative positions in the UMC–and vice versa–to task in very angry and hard ways. Rhetoric becomes harsh and all reason seems to be swept out the door–just like the negative ads we have all become accustomed to viewing/listening to. Sad commentary, don’t you think? Bishops (president/senators/representatives) many times choose not to listen to underlings and plow blindly ahead with new slogans/causes that puzzle the grassroots. Bishops (president/senators/representatives) don’t give a hoot. Perhaps the Council of Bishops–along with DS’s, etc. might choose to set up a meaningful dialogue–where all folks are on equal footing. Perhaps the president/senator/representative would do the same–and leave the angry rhetoric at the door. Me fears, however, that is a pipe-dream!!!!

  6. Kevin says:

    Where was this when the GBCS was accusing fellow Methodists of being less than faithful Christians when the Health Care Reform debate was going on? Or when Mr. Winkler used the term “teabaggers” in reference to his “opponents”. Maybe we need to take a hard look at UMC politics before we start criticizing our secular representatives.

  7. Len says:

    True, the UMC merely reflects the broader culture too often. How can we prophetically show “a better way” with clarity and conviction, when there is a logjam in our own eyes? On one hand, it’s just a matter of a simple gift. But if we measure effectiveness and efficiency only in linear fashion, we blindly rush the opposite direction in complex anxieties. How can we be converted daily (each minute!?) in this better way that is “rooted and grounded in love”? How can we be truly present to Christ’s Presence through the Holy Spirit if we never repent from the frantic rush? It seems with all the angry and fearful noise around and within, we need to be committed as never before to opening and immersing our Truer-selves in spiritual practices. Slowing down and opening creative space regularly in what Tilden Edwards calls “Sabbath Rhythms” seems central to Spiritual Revival and Prophetic Leadership in our time. Holy Listening, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer and other contemplative practices can open us to God’s Presence in deeply profound ways. I recently read this quote that I share in closing here:

    “Christian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather, they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.”
    – Craig Dykstra, “Practicing Our Faith”

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