Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lessons for the Modern Church in the Polling Place

Yesterday I took part in early voting.  I prefer to vote on election day; I like the idea of participating in a national activity.  I like casting my vote and then staying up as late as I can to see how my candidates did--while I still remember how I voted.

But this year, I didn't want to take any chances.  I'll be in my second week at a new job, and while employers are required to give me time off to vote, I know it might take some time on election day, and I know I'd be fretting about that.

So yesterday, my spouse and I went to one of the regional libraries to vote.  I was prepared to stand in line as long as it took--and I expected that it might take hours.

But it was much easier than I expected.  As I was surrounded by my fellow voters, and almost as many staffers who tried to keep the process running smoothly, my thoughts turned to the modern church.

I thought about how many churches I've been to when I wasn't sure of the process.  Because I've spent a lifetime in church, I could make informed guesses.  But someone who had never been to church would be lost.  We could learn lessons from the polling place--at every step, I had a guide saying, "Wait here, move here, participate this way."

I was also struck by the wide variety of people who showed up to vote.  I go to a church that is probably one of the more diverse Lutheran churches in the U.S., but I know that most churches are not.  I could make arguments on both sides over whether or not it's important.

Voting gives me hope for the future.  Here we are, a nation of people so often disgusted with the way that politics works--but still we vote.  I voted with a wide variety of folks:  all ages and races, all patiently waiting for a chance to have our say.

We hear a lot about how people don't vote, but I saw plenty of people making the effort.  Would we make that effort if we needed to do it one morning every week?  Likely not.  Would we have a stronger society if we did?  Probably.

We see many activities that could be worthy sliding away--people have less and less time to call their own.

During an election year, it's all too easy to tumble into despair.  But our religious institutions, when they're at their best, remind us to dream of a world that's better than the one we inhabit now.  The best of our religious institutions encourage us to transform our corner of the world, not just to wait for Heaven.  Politics, too, reminds us that the world could be better--and gives us a way to participate.  The best churches not only remind us that the world can be better but gives its members ways to work in that transforming effort.

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