I ended a ministry position at the start of the new year. I began a ministry position at the start of a new year. I haven’t posted since the start of the new year.
I finished my tenure at First Baptist Church of Pittsfield. I began serving as a part-time chaplain at Soldier On, a program for homeless veterans. I also spent a lot of time revamping a life skills class I’m teaching to people who are long term unemployed and underemployed and are seeking to become certified nursing assistants.
This is not to say that I haven’t been reflecting on the news. It’s just that I’m reflecting a little slower, which is why I’m just now addressing Governor Christie’s travails over the George Washington Bridge traffic mess.
I’m not going to add my voice to say that the governor was behind the bridge fiasco nor am I going to say that the “liberal” media has been piling it on. Nor am I going to lambast his aides and political friends.
I read a lot of commentary about the incident. There were some comments on the inconvenience it caused the general public. There were a lot of comments on his aides and friends, basically biographical profiles. Of course, there was commentary on the governor’s epic performance of contrition before the press. But I didn’t see a lot of commentary on how this incident points out how truly warped our politics have become.
Politics have always had an underside. We know that often times legislation comes at a price. Sometimes it’s a compromise. Other times it’s returning a favor for a vote. Sometimes it’s really strong arm tactics; Lyndon Johnson was famous for that. Political observers call the process of politics sausage making.
But since when has it become OK to indiscriminately put ordinary people into playing politics? Most of us basically vote, maybe write a letter to the editor, and sit around talk about politics. We may not like a political leader or a public policy. We’ll gripe to each other, but we also slog through it to the next opportunity to vote. We’re not supposed to be put through the sausage grinder.
Yet, that’s what’s happening. Governments aren’t supposed to threaten to default on a nation’s credit rating. Governments aren’t supposed to shutdown because one party wants to rescind what already was passed as law, especially when getting it rescinded has no chance of happening. But we’ve seen this happen. We saw it happen in the 90s when Newt Gingrich had a hissie fit for getting a seat on Air Force One in a rear cabin (he probably forgot that most people fly coach and have to pay for their trips). Standard and Poor’s downgraded our credit rating in August 2011 when Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling. Our government shutdown last October.
When politicians try to make a point through actions that jeopardize the public, they are subjecting the people who put them in office to the sausage grinder. And it affects everyone without regard to party or to voting history. When politicians do that they’ve lost sight of the people they serve. It means we don’t matter. What Christie’s aides and friends did was just another example of a callous disregard for the people they serve. They turned politics from governance to blood sport. They forgot they were public servants and saw their positions as personal entitlement.
When James and John asked Jesus if they could have positions of honor next to him, Jesus rebuked them. Jesus said, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed this in his 1968 sermon The Drum Major Instinct in which he acknowledged that we have a desire to be recognized. “We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.” He also warned that this desire to be the drum major can become destructive and can distort our personalities. He said, “And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends by trying to push others down in order to push himself up. And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up.”
He went on to say that this distortion led to our racial struggle and the struggle between nations as well. And today, it is the struggle between our political parties and perhaps even between ourselves as we experience a fraying and coarsening of relationships between people of different political perspectives.
Have our politics descended to such a level that commentators don’t even see what happened in New Jersey as symptomatic of our collective sickness?