Is it possible we might have a year without obsessive attention to politics? Is it possible that we might pause for a year and engage in things more consequential? Is it possible that we might push down into the roots of our troubles instead of assuming always that our political leaders have the answers, or that passing one more measure of legislation will bring an end to our malaise?
Ross Douthat (one of the few bright spots these days in The New York Times) began his Sunday column with this thought: “Come what may in the next 12 months, 2013 has this much going for it: It’s a year without a midterm election, and a year that’s as far removed as possible from the next presidential race.” (December 30, 2012)
To which I found myself rising from my chair in applause. Really? This is cool. Maybe this will give us the break we need to think more deeply as a society.
Douthat goes on to recommend that we use this pause to read widely, and mostly that we read things that don’t nourish our own biases. If we read National Review or The Weekly Standard, he suggests, try The Nation or The New Yorker. Let’s broaden ourselves.
Well, maybe, but that’s not my suggestion. That’s still too much politics ruling our attention. What I suggest is to read more deeply, to explore meaningfully our cultural identity, for example, to tap into some of the great minds of the past who cast a vision for a better society. There is enormous wisdom out there that can be profoundly relevant to our day.
Maybe that means back to some of the classics of our identity, perhaps Homer or Virgil, maybe it’s Augustine or Aquinas, maybe even Milton or Shakespeare, maybe Lincoln, de Tocqueville, Martin Luther King. Maybe it is some of the great commentators on these grand voices out of our ancient past. I am currently reading Peter Brown’s magisterial Through The Eye Of A Needle about the fall of Rome and the emergence of Christian civilization in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. The focus is on wealth, and the insights are simply brilliant, relevant as we watch in dismay our own culture unraveling.
To be sure, for me, it is digging more deeply into the scriptures of my Christian faith, deeper into understanding the course of Christian thought throughout the ages. And again, it is turning to the biblical and theological scholars who help guide us through these anchoring texts. There are so many to suggest, but I am thinking of people like N. T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, Lesslie Newbigin, Rob Wall, Rick Steele, and so many others.
I just finished Brueggemann’s Out Of Babylon, a stunningly insightful book about how God’s people kept intact their identity, even as the dark forces of Babylonian exile sought to squeeze them into accommodation. In our own time, Christians often feel forced into exile in our own land. How great to be able to turn to this powerful biblical literature of exile as a resource for our own faithfulness.
As I try to pursue my own understanding of the troubles we face, I pledge to turn off cable news a bit, to read a little less of the predictable newspapers and magazines and blogs, to stretch myself further to understand the way culture unravels, the way in fact Christians have might offer wisdom for such a time as this.
There is without question some great reading out there. I promise to share some of what I find along the way. Let’s take this moment of pause from elections and politics to dig more deeply. What a refreshing and meaningful pause this might be.