Lenten Politics

Clinton Alms Bush

Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. The three buzzwords of Lent. Each year, I start off strong, but often my zeal tapers as the 40 days progress – usually somewhere around day three. Then, all of a sudden, Easter is here, and I’ve forgotten about them because I’ve moved on to whatever Martha Stewart suggests for Easter brunch. I promise myself I’ll do better next year, only for this Lenten cycle to repeat. Year after year.

I told myself that almsgiving would be part of my Lenten journey this year. As I heard the invitation to download the Catholic Relief Services App for Operation Rice Bowl, I thought I should give alms, except there was one catch: the first organization that came to mind was not CRS but…

My favorite presidential candidate’s campaign!

I’ll admit it, I’ve been kind of obsessed. Since last May. And, with the recent Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, the presidential campaign is on my mind. I’ve had multiple dreams about meeting my candidate and asking people to donate money or vote on their behalf. Now, it’s Lent and I’ve reached that point where giving to a campaign seemed like a better idea than giving to displaced refugees. What? How did I get to this point?

For those of us interested in politics, what role should the 2016 Presidential Election play in our experience of Lent?

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The race for the White House is extremely complicated and expensive. $837 million dollars were raised to fund the various Republican and Democratic candidates in 2015 alone. $167 million of that is among candidates who have already dropped out of the election. Among those still in the race, Jeb Bush’s campaign has raised $150 million as of February 1st, and he’s running an arguably losing campaign. I don’t say this to throw a stone at Bush in particular. Together, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have raised almost $240 million dollars.

Perhaps giving to those in need (e.g. those in poverty, those fleeing war torn countries, etc.) this Lent doesn’t include Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. That being said, I can’t fast from it entirely. The election is still important, and being an informed voter means understanding where the candidates stand.

What ought we to do? It seems I must start by asking honest questions about how the election is affecting each of these Lenten practices:

Prayer: How much do I pray for the well-being of our political system? Is my candidate at the center of my prayer this Lent, or is Jesus? Do I pray that my candidate dominate or humiliate their opponents? Or, instead, do I pray that all candidates work to promote the common good – ideas and solutions that benefit all people in our country?

Almsgiving: How might I give to those truly in need? Who is in need in my community and around the world? How does giving connect with my prayer about the good of all?

Fasting: How much time do I spend thinking about the election? How does this compare to my thinking about others? While not ignoring the importance of politics for the good of our society, might I need to fast in some way from the crazy campaign season?

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I have no easy answers. I’m not giving up following the election season for Lent, but I know that the temptation to become obsessed with it will grow as it gets even more dramatic – for both the Republicans and the Democrats. In fact, we’re set up for a presidential race that might rival the twists and turns of General Hospital or Days of Our Lives. I’d even predict that someone might be raised from the dead within the next six weeks.

The cover photos come from (in order) Flickr users brown_yd_grl, Lawrence OP, and Gage Skidmore

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