We were just finishing lunch. I picked up my copy of Bloomberg Businessweek from my seat. My friend said, “Is that yours?” I nodded. She said, “I knew it! Who else would be reading a magazine like that but a political junkie but you.'” I thought about that comment again when I realized that my first thought as I opened my eyes on May 6 was to find out the election results from the day before. How, I wondered, did I become this political junkie? As I reflected on my life for the next few days, it became plain: becoming a political junkie began early and was inevitable!
For the first time, I realized that my entry into the world of politics began because my father’s involvement in and death by friendly fire in World War II – a month before the war ended. I was steeped in the news and emotions of war-time America from the time I was a toddler.
My grandfather was elected as a Republican state senator when I was two; he served for six years. During that time I spent a lot of time in Lansing (the state capitol) living with my grandparents. My grandpa often brought me to work with him; I rode around the capitol building rotunda on my tricycle – an unusual sight that brought the cameras out. In 1950 my grandfather ran for and was elected lieutenant governor, serving with Soapy Williams.
1952 was the year of my political awakening. My grandfather ran for Governor of Michigan. I was only ten, but I remember posters and mailings on my grandparents’ dining room table and radio broadcasts about this race. When Grandpa lost in the Republican primary, we turned our attention to the race for president. Dwight Eisenhower (war hero) had defeated Bob Taft to become the Republican nominee for president, facing Adlai Stephenson.
I remember waiting in line with my parents as they voted in that election (and others before and after). I recall sitting in front of the radio (no TV set for years!) with my parents waiting for election results. I was thoroughly convinced that a Stephenson victory would be a great tragedy for America. We were jubilant when we heard that Eisenhower had won.
I also learned to be interested in local politics because my father was on our local school board for twenty or more years. He would come home and describe the machinations and inner-workings of that group; I was on the sidelines listening. School board elections and bond issues and tax increases were part of the voting ritual. The results were as eagerly awaited as were national elections. I have always voted for school millages. It was as expected in my family as much as going to the dentist And I am still astonished that not many people care about, let alone vote, on these issues.
Finding my Own Voice
During my teen-age and college years, my interest in politics never wavered, but I changed sides early on. My mother was horrified; until my grandfather died she tried to protect him from the fact that I was a rebel. Eventually when we were between houses, my first husband and I lived in my grandparents’ home. I proudly put a McGovern bumper sticker on my car and waited. My mother responded with, “How dare you show your support for a democrat while you are living in grandpa’s home!”
I was swept up in politics of the 60’s. I am one who remembers exactly where I was when JFK was shot. I was walking out of the Hope College library when I met a very good friend who sobbed as she gave me the news. We headed toward the Chapel because we didn’t know what else to do. So did everyone else. We sat for hours in the crowded Chapel praying. When Bobby Kennedy was shot, I was even more devastated. I thought we finally had someone who could make a difference in the Civil Rights fight. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, I cheered.
After I married and began to raise my family I didn’t follow politics as much until Watergate. I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a Bethel Bible training when we were all called into a large conference room. On a very large screen (for the time) I watched in disbelief and then joy as Richard Nixon announced his resignation. Watergate and the impeachment proceedings of Bill Clinton informed my view of how politics actually works, but I have worked hard to not be so cynical as to throw politics out with the junk.
When Barack Obama first ran for president, I got into campaign mode. I read his books and got the audio books for my husband. I followed the campaign on-line. We watched all the coverage, all the speeches, and sat in fury when the rumors and lies began. We cried during his acceptance speech.
So yes, I am a political junkie. I continue to read Time and Bloomberg Business Week religiously (in the best sense of that word) cover to cover. I read my local newspaper daily. I listen to National Public Radio nearly all day everyday. I watch documentaries on PBS. My favorite TV shows are West Wing and now House of Cards. I vote in every election – absentee ballots make that easy. I watch election coverage with as much enthusiasm as I did when I was ten. I follow political figures and events all over the world. All of these activities contribute to the care and feeding of this septuagenarian political junkie.
I do this because I believe that a Christian’s job description includes being knowledgeable of the systems and structures in the world around us. Jesus was vitally interested in and fully informed on the politics of his day. We may not all become political junkies, but we all need to be aware. I need to be educated on issues in Burkina Faso, Greece, Liberia, Yemen, Iran, and Brazil etc. as well as in Washington D.C.
The spiritual tradition I follow taught me that Christians belong in the mix of the world. C.S. Lewis taught me that I live in “enemy-occupied territory” and that it is up to Christians like me to battle the enemy’s influence. Chuck Colson taught me that fame (even gotten illegally) can be turned to glorious work for the kingdom and that cynicism can be transformed to authentic spirituality – even in politics. Dallas Willard taught me that we live in an available and coming kingdom. You and I are to follow our Master into every arena available in the kingdom on earth – even to realm of dirty politics.
voting image by newtonsnews.net