Gingrich is attacking Romney this week to try to get the upper hand in the South Carolina primary. He calls Romney the “King of Bain” who eliminated thousands of jobs as the leader of a management consulting firm. Gingrich has managed to make people feel sorry for Romney, which is not that easy. The front-runner’s new defenders say he was just a practitioner of “creative destruction” or in nicer terms “innovation,” which is the essence of capitalism.
Not interested? I’m not surprised. Although if you are reading blogs, you might be interested in things normal people turned off long ago. Today, I am thinking that people are getting less interested in the rantings of our politicians all the time because the thin veil of their manipulative mendacity is worn very thin. Even in Iowa, which, to hear the media tell it, has become a big tea party, the registered Republican turnout for the caucus declined from the 2008 number to 19.9%. This happened after the candidates spent over 51 million dollars campaigning, about $420 for each Republican who showed up.
The reality show Republican debates did not inspire you? The expensive ads by campaigns and superpacs did not move you? I am not surprised. It makes me wonder about whether anything can move us. In light of that wonder, I am again relying on incarnation.
What the politicians epitomize (apart from creative destruction, of course) is the same kind of speechifying that churches have practiced for generations. The politicians get up in a pulpit and relate ideas in hopes of convincing people to share their point of view and vote them into power. Their point of view does not necessarily need to have any relation to who they are or even what they actually do. Gingrich can talk about protecting marriage while being a serial adulterer. Obama can talk like a populist while being funded by the banks he bails out. Professional ministers are regularly exposed as not much different. They don’t win the right to be heard by actually relating as humans. They win the battle for power by appearing to be beyond normal discourse.
The phrase I am trying to get at is “winning the right to be heard.” All week we have been talking about “incarnational mission” around here. “Incarnational” is a buzz word among Christians these days, but incarnation has been God’s missional methodology from the moment Jesus was born of a woman. A purposeful life that is, by nature, incarnational is not difficult to imagine, if one is looking at what Jesus does and not just what he says. God got a hearing by becoming one of us, and continues to guide us as one who “comes alongside” in the Holy Spirit.
I learned about winning the right to be heard as a freshman in college. I kind of bumped in to God humbly working to be heard by me as I was unwittingly practicing winning the right to be heard by my new friends. I had basically deserted my pulpit-centered Baptist church as a senior in high school as I wandered around in the wilderness of depression and doubt. I came out on the other side having met God in significant ways. I was so motivated that I decided to introduce myself to my dorm hall as a Christian. I did this in ways that make me cringe a bit now, but they turned out to be strangely effective methods. People became Christians. I was not a good missionary, but the fact that I existed was weird enough to get some attention. I had no method but to be who I was; that was all I really knew how to do.
I had no pulpit, and what I did say was not particularly impressive. But I did exist. I did not hide who I was. I was an incarnation, which is the essence of evangelism. This experience at an impressionable age solidified a truth in me that has stuck with me my whole life: God can use anyone. It also helped me understand that being relatively normal is the best way to deliver the extraordinary. God became a regular human in Jesus, born of a wonderful, but relatively typical woman and the impact was extraordinary.
Unlike how the politicians and others vying for power work out their incessant warfare, demanding and buying the right to be heard, conquering us with old ideas masquerading as the latest thing, I think Christians should win the right to be heard by being regular people who come up alongside others and persistently exist. We enter the conversation as ourselves in Christ, not as a proponent of some ideology beyond us. We have the relationship with God we have as who we are and we reveal that just like we tell any other story that allows someone who cares to understand us. If we ever gain a sympathetic ear for who we are and Who we have come to know, it will probably be less about how powerfully we communicate or manipulate than it will be because we are real.
Our faith does not need $51 million dollars behind it to make it real. Jesus’ life, and Martin Luther King’s for that matter, were powerful because of who they were and what they did, not merely because of what they said. So I am convicted in 2012 to have a year of incarnational mission. It is a new era full of a new variation of people who seem to have turned off the powerful manipulators beaming down on them, for the most part. I think a lot of people think Jesus is beaming down on them in a similar coercive way. But he isn’t doing that. He’s still like the baby, now crucified and risen. Like Jesus, I want to win the right to be heard, so people can see that I am not some ideological parott and so they can better see Jesus. Whether I am effective at that mission or not is important to me. But I think Jesus will manage to be real, regardless of my ability, as I have always experienced him to be.