TO ME, the greatest spiritual concept is that of peace. The Hebrew word shalom, which is most often translated as peace, finds its ultimate meaning in the idea of completeness. Shalom, as related in the Hebrew creation story, existed as the first man, Adam, found complete fulfillment in his relationships with God, himself, others (Eve), and creation. All was peaceful. All was right.
It is in contrast to this ultimate spiritual ideal of peace that I view the current political climate in our country: extreme partisan politics, neo-nationalism, ever-increasing spending on wars, ever-decreasing spending on education, and hijacking moral issues as springboards to political office. You can add to this list the environmental problems we continue to create through exploitation of third world resources and the decreased protection to our native natural resources. Where is there completeness in all of this? How many of us feel at peace about what’s going on? Why does it seem that bad decisions are constantly being made?
If you consider these questions, it seems likely that you are left with no good answers. So, in this moment of post-election hangover, let me take a minute to present why I consciously choose to refrain from voting in pursuit of this life of peace.
Peace with self
As long as I care about myself, I will seek to avoid the anger, pessimism and meanness that corrupt the divine image that dwells within me. And if you are anything like me, you struggle enough with pessimism in ordinary situations to get bogged down in the mire of political turmoil. Growing up a Bible-belt believing Christian, I was taught there was only one political party that represented the ideals of Jesus (I’ll let you guess which one). Many times I have felt guilt at believing something counter to that political party’s agenda. But when I went along and voted their candidate into office, I felt guilt once his decisions appeared to be as poor as those of the “other guy.” To me this was a clear indication that 1) Jesus was not owned by any political party, and 2) politics did not lead to inner peace. And so, after spending a brief time on that bandwagon, I hopped off. Not even for a moment have I regretted that decision.
Peace with others
As long as I care about my fellow person, I will seek to participate in constructive conversations that unite us instead of divide us. Take a second and think back to the conversations you had this past election season, especially those with people who were for that “other guy.” Did those discussions draw you closer, into a more complete relationship, or did they drive you further apart? In choosing neither side, I figured I had set myself up to be fired on by all sides. Yet, because I chose to refrain from political conversations, relationships that might have been damaged were maintained or even strengthened. In the past, politics divided me from others when I should have been considering them brothers and sisters. I have learned that you cannot form a peaceful relationship with someone with whom you are constantly arguing. This is why I now seek conversations that will bless others.
Peace with creation
As long as I care about all creation, I will seek out tangible ways to conserve and protect my natural inheritance. Nature constantly speaks to me about God and draws me back to that spiritual connection, even in my weakest moments of faith. A walk in the woods on a fall day relieves the greatest stress and clears up the deepest gloom. It seems that politicians do not seek this kind of peace with the environment. And how did the environment become a political issue anyway? We all need clean water, sufficient food, wood for construction, air to breathe. It would seem obvious that we should protect those things, and yet we continue to see the exploitation of third world resources, compromises on pollution controls, and a decrease of the kind of regulations that would preserve our natural resources. Because of my deep spiritual need to take care of our earth, I choose to be a vegetarian, shop free-trade, use natural cleaning products, recycle, avoid plastics, raise backyard chickens, grow a garden, and seek out other tangible ways to reconnect and protect our creation heritage.
Peace with God
When I pursue peace with myself, others, and creation, the realization hits me that what I am ultimately cultivating is a deep spiritual connection with God. But there is also the sense in which God is seeking completeness with me. In life, when things are right with yourself, others, and the world around you, don’t you get that overwhelming sense of peace? Is that not Spirit communing with us? As I seek peace with all that is near, I find myself being drawn closer and closer to the ultimate spiritual completeness that is God: the One who made peace, gives peace, and is peace. That makes me want to rejoice, and I have chosen not to allow politics to take that rejoicing away from me.
I have often been told that because I choose not to vote, then I must not care. In fact, the opposite is true. My faith takes precedence over everything in my life. When I run into something that seeks to corrupt my faith, I try to leave it alone. I guess, in a way, I choose to give up my civic duty to maintain my faith. Our ancestors came here for religious freedom, but I believe that when they formed a government that guaranteed religious expression, they also formed a government partnered with religion in very unhealthy ways. People are either left to allow a political party to define religious principles (consider how much of the Religious Right is controlled by one party) or to exclude faith from political decisions. Neither is the answer. We can’t approach completeness in our society by voting for a person we believe has the right answers. Voting should not be the penultimate symbol of political participation or a way to pursue peace in this world. There is a different way, a more spiritual way. Therefore, I have learned to avoid the unhealthy marriage of my faith to politics.
When complete peace is my main care, I cannot with good conscience choose to cast a vote for someone who is not also primarily concerned with this spiritual reality. If that candidate were to ever come along, I’d gladly throw all my support behind him or her. But for now and until that day comes, I simply care too much to vote.