I have become, in the course of this election campaign, a person who shouts at the radio. I might have done so a little bit before now, but in recent months, it’s become quite regular: “oh, shut UP!” – and then switching off.
So I can’t quite agree with Mario Cuomo, the New York mayoral candidate from the eighties, who declared “you campaign in poetry. you govern in prose”.
But I must admit, I do vote in poetry.
Voting day is fantastic, isn’t it? Campaigning over, we all head to the primary schools and church halls, and it’s our turn. We give thanks for the Pankhursts, holding hands across the generations with those who’ve made this pencil mark possible. We make eye contact in the streets with others and we are in solidarity – however we’ve voted, we are voters, voicing, in all our different accents and tones, our choice. Images of lines of voters across the world, the inked fingers of the voters in Iraq in 2005, the day-long queues in 1994 South Africa. This privilege, this participation.
Results day – I will make no effort to hide my political leanings – threw me back into the prosiest of prose. The greyness of the weathermatched my gloom and I grumped around, spending far too much time online searching for scraps of comfort.
A while back on this blog, I said that I was reading through thebooks of Kings. I’m ashamed to say that, a few months on, this is still true. I’m bogged down in a series of ‘King XXX, son of YYY, reigned for ZZ years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord’, followed by ‘King AAA who did some good, but also quite a lot of evil’. It’s hard work, to be honest.
So, I’ve been meandering. Taking a bit of a Kings break to focus on the resurrection for a while – yes please. Leaping forward a little bit for the life and imagination of a New Testament letter or two – go on then. Turning to the Psalms – the poetry! – I’m in.
Thebooks of Kings, emphatically, are prose.
I’ve been reading them – which has been helping – in the company of Walter Brueggemann who writes theology so beautifully it feels like poetry. I can’t reduce all he says here to one point, but he’s been showing me that this text which describes political machinations, assassinations, battles, and this formal and ordered sequence of kings, refuses any suggestion that this is all there is. The manipulation of power, wisely or unwisely, with integrity or iniquity, by a series of kings, is only part of history. It is a part, and it is an important part. People live or die, are enslaved or freed, fed or starved because of these processes of power. So they matter. They need to be described.
This is true of how we arrange power today too. It matters. “The text”, Brueggemann says “invites us to a realism about ourselves”, a prose-y, unvarnished, uncomfortable look at the ways we organise ourselves, as a society.
But this sequence of events, this historical prose-y order, is described within and entwined with – Brueggemann shows – two other elements. First, the Torah. Which is to say, the way of God – his statement about how humans should relate to one another. And secondly, the Prophets. Who, through unsettling action, awkward non-compliance, direct statement, and allusive description, offer stark commentary on the history as it works out. “The prophetic narratives are not so stereotyped or predicatable, but announce surprise, intrusion and disruption.”
So I am reminded that, in the prose after voting day, God is inviting me to see him still at work. The new government has prose-y work to do, working out ways of organising society which will, still, impact on people’s lives and deaths, enslavement or freedom, satisfaction or hunger. And God is inviting me not just to look for him, but to be involved, not absenting myself because the sequence of historical events hasn’t gone quite the way I would have chosen, not absenting myself because I prefer the poetry of voting day to the prose of the day after.
His ways – revealed now supremely through his Torah-fulfilling Son, Jesus – continue to intrude into and entwine with our history, and our choice is to be involved with them, or not. His prophets are still invited to bring those ways to bear on every day, prose-y reality.