This is actually a blog about being sick of hearing about the election…which puts one in the ironic position of having to write about the election.
Many writers far more informed than I have already traced the history of how the length of presidential campaigns swelled to today’s obscene levels, but the long and short is simple enough. In the early days, our government was much less democratic and much more of a good-ol’ boys club than most of us were taught in elementary school, with congress essentially handing the populace candidates from within their very aristocratic ranks a few weeks before the election. By the mid-19th century the process had become much more party driven but also more resource intensive. And, of course, a party's process can be even more closed-door than congress.
It wasn’t until after WWII that a six month to a year primary cycle became the norm. And over the last five or six election cycles, the average length of time between a candidate announcing and the November election has ballooned once again from around a year in Bill Clinton’s first run to the nearly two year marathon through which we’ve just slogged.
For a long time, as people began to notice this trend, an argument could be made that the pros of a long election cycle outweighed the cons, as the process had become more public than the backroom sidling and handshaking which used to spawn our candidates before. No intelligent person claimed that the system had become perfectly democratic, but at least a well liked (and well resourced) dark-horse could rise to plausibility in fairly short order. John F. Kennedy was a primary example. But what this argument could not possibly have anticipated was the social media, the sound bite press, and the reality tv culture that have developed in recent decades. That candidates would use a full two years to clearly layout calm detailed plans, which an intelligent voting population would take time to carefully digest, now seems like a naïve fever dream.
There are many articles on how this development is bad for politics. What I want to say, though, is how it is bad for the human soul (soul is translated from the word psyche in Greek). What happens to our souls when our ears are ceaselessly harangued for two full years by one-upsmanship, character assassination, fear-mongering, and hate speech? What happens to our communities?
If an election period only lasts for a few weeks, as they used to, I might believe that my neighbor is dangerously wrong about a certain belief, but it won’t matter soon enough. In a matter of weeks, he will have cast his vote, I will have cast mine, and we will both go back to seeing each other as more than our stances on whatever hot button topic. He might still be wrong. But it will quickly become clear that the world is bigger than this one issue, this person is more than this one belief, and we might even become friends, relating to each other over one of the millions of other things that there are to do or think about under the sun. We could go bowling, for instance.
But what happens when my neighbor is dangerously wrong for two full years? Two full years of him jeopardizing the future of mine and my kid’s society with his wrongness becomes awfully hard to laugh off. Gradually, any of my neighbor’s other redeeming qualities might start to merge and eventually become subsumed, in my mind’s eye, by this one egregious wrongness. Wrongness might start to take over his entire persona, becoming something of an identity. My neighbor might even begin to take on a sort of monstrous quality. How could he not when his sole purpose of existence on this earth is to torment me with his wrongness? I might start to wonder what upside down he is living in that could possibly support such idiocy.
And who will pull me off a ledge and give me some perspective when it is in the candidates’, the parties’, and the media’s best interest to convince me that this election and this laughably small handful of issues are the only things going on in the world?
Before we’re all too far gone, allow me to propose a biblical solution to this problem: an election Sabbath. Let’s say once a week, for an entire day, we turn our notifications off, close out of Twitter, and put nothing partisan on the TV unless the opposition party is the Lannisters.
If our bodies require rest every seventh day and our farmlands require rest and nutrient replenishment every seventh year, is it inferring too much to suppose that the furrows of our brains require Sabbath as well?
Paul told his church in Philippi the key to recognizing that “the God of peace” is with us is regularly focusing on and practicing that which is “true,” “honorable,” “just,” “pure,” “lovely,” “commendable,” and “worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8-9). If it seems like nothing in your world is lovely, nothing is just, nothing is worthy of praise, maybe it’s because you’ve had news pundits shouting in your ear for two years telling you it is so.
I don’t imply that we should just ignore it forever or become Pollyannas, and by all means, remember to vote. But for the love of Jesus, can we not just take a break once in a while? Is there not more to life than attack ads and town hall fiascos? Are not our neighbors more than their wrongness on a handful of issues?
This isn’t as much of a biblical stretch as it might seem. If the purpose of Sabbath is to celebrate that life is more than the stresses of the moment, that the world is bigger than our most immediate concern, that God sustained the Earth long before we were brought into it, and God will sustain it long after our all important beliefs and votes and actions have subsided, then few things need a rest so much as this election.
Peace and Cheers,
Jared Witt is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.