Thursday, February 2, 2012

The End of the American Empire and the Political Season

Welcome to Political season. I love and hate Political seasons. I love the debating, and discussion, as we are forced to stop and think about what we hope for our nation. I love the fact that we are presented with ideas, and differing visions of the nation, and then prompted to thoughtfully cast our votes (while remembering that in the end, God appoints kings and leaders). What I hate, is the way that politicians present themselves as saviors. And here in primary season, I think it’s appropriate to beat a drum that I will beat often. In all of this, remember, our politicians are not our saviors. I watch the politicians talk, and elevate themselves, and almost proclaimed themselves to be little messiah’s that have the plan that will right the world, and I can’t help but think, ‘These guys think they can save the world, or make America able to do what no nation can do; but no politician can do that’.

Furthermore, I am firmly convinced that short of an act of God, we are very likely living through the end of the American empire. At times I can’t believe I even think this, never mind dare write. But the more that I watch the convulsions that the world is going through, and the more I watch the trends, and the politicians, I can’t help but think, we are living through a seismic shift that will leave the world radically different, and it will probably mean that America will no longer be the end of America being the lone world empire, with whatever that means for us. There are plenty of signs that point to this reality. From the general fact sense that other nations are seeking to claim their place on the worlds stage, to the fact that like it or not, we are a clash of worldviews with Islam (and the reality is that Europe may well be over 50 percent Moslem by 2050) while pluralism is reshaping the way we think and interact in the public square, to the fact that as a nation we have over-leveraged ourselves and cannot sustain the spending levels of the past (individually and nationally). 

These are just the tip of the iceberg; we can go on and on. The reality is the world is changing fast, and the landscape of 20 years from now will probably look very little like it does today. And for all, myself included, it’s a somewhat scary thing, because it means our lives will change in ways we don’t even have the ability to plan for, and it reminds us that, while we are comfortable, and safe, and secure, and we find our hope and assurance in the narrative of America’s greatness, we are always in danger of placing our faith in a functional savior, rather than the true savior.

However, as disturbing as that may sound, it is not the end of the world. It’s not. Empires rise and fall. The world is dotted with the litter of past empires, and cataclysmic cultural upheavals. From Babylon to Rome, from the Holy Roman Empire to Great Britain to the Ottoman Empire, the world is dotted with the relics of things past empires and cultures that have risen and fallen.

In the midst of this, the question that comes to mind is, how do we move forward without being paralyzed with fear, and looking to false saviors? We find ourselves asking, what now? How should we approach the future? This is a scary question. It’s basically the same question that the church asked in 410 A.D. Recently, I was talking about culture and politics with Robin (the director of the day school), and one of the things that I remarked was that we are living through a period much like that of the fall of the Roman empire.

For 1000 years there had been what was known as the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. Rome hadn’t had anyone come near it in centuries. Furthermore, by the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, the church no longer a persecuted bunch; when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian, it paved the way for Christianity to become not only accepted, but eventually, to become the official state religion. And many people looked to Rome as their functional savior, the place that saw their peace and prosperity coming from. And then Rome was sacked, and it shook them. It shook them on a magnitude that makes the fall of the twin towers seem like no big deal. And the church despaired. Hearing the news, the great Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, collapsed in despair, saying “What is to become of the church now that Rome has fallen?”

Into this moment, the great church father Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his famous City of God. He looked at a situation in which Christianity and civil religion had become fused. He looked at a situation that was scary, and probably heartbreaking to him as a Roman citizen, and he saw a providential opportunity to remind believers that the kingdoms of this world, and the kingdom of God, are never one and the same, and he wrote to remind believers that in the world there are always two ‘cities,’ two alternate ‘kingdoms.’ One is grounded in the love of self, and one is grounded in the love of God. One is a human society based on selfishness and gaining power, and leads to strife, war, and the desire to exercise domination over others. One is based on giving up power in order to serve and leads to genuine fellowship and a communion of mutual giving and receiving. Christians live in both kingdoms, and while this is the reason for much conflict and tension, it also is the source of our hope, our assurance, and our confidence. It is the source of energy that allows us to serve the world with joy, and live in genuine fellowship, because we know that while we live here, we are ultimately citizens of a heavenly city, a heavenly kingdom; the kingdom of God, which is a permanent reality that will not fade, even as empires and kingdoms come and go, and “the kingdom of this world” eventually fades away.

We stand on the same precipice that the Roman Christians stood on. So how should we move forward, especially during political season and Grand National debate? First, remember that you are a citizen of both kingdoms, and use your vote wisely, thoughtfully deciding for whom to vote, as your conscience leads you. Second, seek to live for the good of the community. Seek to bring Gods glory and to impact lives, and do good to all men, as you “seek the peace of the city, because as it prospers, you will prosper(Jeremiah 29:7). Third, remember your first allegiance and live for the glory of the kingdom that your citizenship is truly found in. Finally, remember that as politicians promise the impossible, and as the world goes through the seismic shift that is playing out across the globe, our hope is found in Christ. It’s not found in the kingdoms of this world. Don’t look to politicians and the United States of America to be the ones that provide what only God can provide. Don’t look to the United States to be your functional savior, your protector, your redeemer, your ever present help in times of trouble. That job is reserved for the Lord of all creation. Don’t expect from a politician or a nation what only God can give.

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