Election day is looming which means that about half the ads on TV are about what how horrible political opponents are and what each candidate will do to change what the "other side" has messed up so badly. Usually, these come in pairs that oppose each other. While I wouldn't trade our system of government for anywhere in the world, it sure makes me want to keep my finger on the mute button for the next few days. Of course, the follow up will start next Wednesday or the day after inauguration, at the latest: the near-constant game of pointing out what (insert elected official here) is doing to mess up the country/state/city and what they should do differently.
Before, I devolve into complete cynicism or completely contradict the point of this post, I should point out that most groups are pretty good at this game regardless of political involvement. We are all adept at figuring out what "they" need to change to make things better. Poor people need to get a job, rich people need to share their blessings, young people need to be more responsible and respectful, old people need to get a clue, black people need to get over the old days of oppression, white people need to fix the systems of oppression still in existence. The church is no exception as we find it easy to point out what the world (code for those outside the church) is doing wrong and how "they" need to straighten up and stop messing things up.
Here's the problem. This never works. The simplest reason is that I don't have control over anybody but me. Trust me, I'd like to have. I have all sorts of better choices for the people around me (that's a joke, sort of). An extension of that is that I don't have much influence over anybody but those I can honestly call "us." My family, my friends, and those who share my interests or background mostly listen to what I have to say. People who are outside of those circles have virtually no reason to listen to what I have to say, much less heed any advice I might give. If your fix for your family, church, community, state, country, etc starts with, "If only they would," you are doomed to overwhelming frustration.
"Us" is the only group I have any hope of changing and these are the only folks I know well enough to offer anything helpful. This, by the way, is among the most fundamental differences between "us" and "them." While I'd love to offer this advice to the whole world, heeding my own advice dictates that I speak to my own tribe, the church.
Happily, the church was created for this very purpose. Jesus made clear that His followers were to be expanders of "us." Sometimes we have taken this in a military or political conquest sense but that's a perversion of what Jesus said. "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." There it is. Loving God means loving my neighbor and not just a little bit. Love him or her so much that "they" become "us." His need becomes my concern. Her joy becomes my celebration.
As we do that, not only to we have the chance to tell the greatest news ever, we also get smarter. We find out why people are the way the are. We learn more about what it's like to be from a different setting. We even find out where we have been part of the problem. If done correctly, we find a growing circle of "us." This we can change.
It's a sucker bet, of course. The change will always be in us.