Elections are about winning.
That’s an obvious thing to say. Of course they are. Candidates, for the most part, are running to win. And while they may see the writing on the wall, or they may know they are a long shot, or even they may understand that in the end they won’t, in fact, win, they are all out there every day trying to convince their fellow citizens that they need to win, for very real reasons.
This Election season, in particular, we have heard a lot about winning. One of our major party presidential candidates has made the idea of winning – at all costs, no matter who or what gets left behind, destroyed or dehumanized in the process – the center of his campaign. We have heard that the only real Americans are the winners; that those who are different, who are having a hard time, who speak a different religion or encounter God in a different way or hold different ideas about how to make America great, are the losers.
And you don’t want to be a loser, do you?
Losers aren’t what make America great again. Losers are worthy of our scorn, our hate. They are the scapegoats. They only want to take, not make. Losers deserve nothing, not a vote or a voice, or the means to live a minimally-comfortable life, or even a place in OUR country. Losers should self-deport, should be cordoned off behind a wall. Losers aren’t real Americans.
This how the world works, right? Winners win. Losers lose. Be a winner. Give a little to Salvation Army bell ringers for the losers, but don’t worry too much about it. They probably got just desserts anyways.
This is not the message of God.
God is the God of the losers. The God we see experienced in the man Jesus was not a God that came to reward to winners and punish the losers.
Instead, in Jesus, we see God experienced again and again the losers of society. We see God found in lepers, in immigrants and foreigners, in unclean women, in enemies, in those society forgot and left behind.
God was experienced not in a victorious army riding into Jerusalem, destroying the Romans and the corrupt Temple priests, and establishing a conquering kingdom that never fell.
God was experienced in death and defeat. Jesus lived the Way of the Divine by failing, by being captured, tortured, humiliated, and executed.
Rob Bell writes of this in What We Talk About When We Talk About God:
…there’s a moment when Jesus first tells his followers that he’s going to be killed. They don’t get it: they push back, they resist his prediction, because they assume that he’s come to win, not lose. To prevail, not surrender. To conquer, not hang on a cross.
They say no because they’ve come to believe that he is in some way God-among-them, and what kind of God fails?
It’s all upside down,
and not how it was supposed to be.
And that, we learn, is the point.
God wins not by conquering, by getting the most votes. God wins by showing us the futility of our earthly conceptions of victory. Victory is not found in honor and glory that builds us up individually. Victory is found in self-sacrifice. Victory is found in concern for others before self, even unto death. Victory- real, God victory – is found in understanding that we win by loving others- loving radically and irrationally and against our own interests, even when that means getting poorer or ridiculed or killed.
It was, basically, just like Jesus said: “The first will be last.”
Like Rob says, that’s point. We go to the polls every two or four years with the intention of making our country, and by extension, the world a better place. And sometimes we do, in small ways. But there is only one way to make the world a truly better place, a way modeled by Jesus two thousand years ago. That way is the way of putting others first, of doing everything we can to spread unconditional love and pulling up the least and the lost so that there is no first or last, but just US.
No matter what happens tonight- no matter who “wins” and who “loses,” we will still have a lot of work to do. America won’t become a “Christian nation” by voting someone to victory. America won’t win because of strength or our military or the perfect public policy initiatives, no matter how important all that is.
America, and the whole world, will “win” when we realize that winning means looking out for one another, making the world better for all people, and especially those who are oppressed and in need of liberation. We win when we feed the hungry and quench the thirsty, when we invite in the immigrant, when we clothe the naked, heal the sick, and free the oppressed.
Go vote. Vote for the person who you think will improve people’s lives the most. Vote not just for president, but for Senate and House and state office and local officials and ballot initiatives.
And then, remember: there is much much more work to be done, work that can’t be done in the ballot box or by elected officials.
And then, go do that work. The self-sacrificial work of love.
Be a loser.