A lesson in spiritual civics

Living and growing

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2004

A recent U.S. News magazine article titled "Angry In America" pretty well sums up how personal our political partisanship has become. The article reported on the rift between family, friends and neighbors who hold differing political views. In one instance a passenger on an airline asked to be moved to another seat after he noticed his seatmate reading a book by a controversial political attack writer.

Programs like "Stolen Honor" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" have become a kind of alter call for a divided electorate. People parrot the rhetoric of fear and character assassination and are quick to condemn and ridicule not just the candidates themselves but their supports as well. The animosities and resentments of our time run deep, and there is a pervasive concern that regardless of how things turn out on Election Day the gulf between factions will continue to grow.

In light of all this political frenzy it is easy to understand why some of us feel frustrated and challenged as we cultivate spiritual contentment, ease and joy. After all, to be in the world but not of the world is no small task.

It seems a lot of us struggled more this election than in past elections to find the ways and means to stay true to our own spiritual values while meeting the responsibilities of our citizenship. As I've wrestled with this issue I had to ask myself what was behind my own anger and frustration during this election season. What I found was a misplaced use of judgment.

My faith teaches me not to judge, yet to borrow a phrase from Rev. Jesse Jennings of Houston, I am ardently and relentlessly taught to choose. I have to be clear on the difference between choice and judgment if I am to maintain a sense of spiritual contentment while engaging in the comings and goings of my worldly adventure.

When I am advised not to judge another I am being counseled not to condemn them. If I am to truly believe we are all children of God, innately deserving of the highest regard, honor, respect and love, then I need to understand that to condemn, ridicule, criticize or judge another is to ultimately challenge the very wholeness, the holiness if you will, of both creation and my Creator. Condemnation serves to separate and divide one from the other. It attacks, tears and breaks the bonds that are essential for the normal and healthy functioning of family, friends, neighborhoods, communities, our nation and the world. To put it very simply: Judge ideas, not people. The angst we experience when our partisanship becomes personal is the result of our judgment against another.

Clearly, common sense holds there has to be some level of judgment to make it in the world. As we decide to get out of bed in the morning, or select blue instead of red, or in any other way exercise a preference for this or that, we are "choosing." Choice is practical and necessary and the admonition not to judge does not mean we should stop making choices in our daily affairs. But when I judge another person I create the conditions for animosity and condemn myself to an experience of diminished light, life and love.

Choosing without judgment is less likely to interfere with my endeavors to maintain fit spiritual conditioning. I can hold fast to the choices I make, all the while knowing most of them might differ from the choices other people make. American democracy makes reasonable allowances for diverse opinions and choices. As we exercise one of our most basic rights of citizenship on Election Day, remembering to use judgment rightly is an essential element of finding our way to be in the world but not of it.

• Rev. Robert Buttcane is an interfaith minister and is the spiritual director of Unity of Juneau.

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