My father had a lot of humorous signs that decorated the prescription room and office of the drug store he owned. The signs changed from time to time. One has recently come back to mind. As best I recall it read:
“The objective of all dedicated employees is to thoroughly analyze all situations,
anticipate all problems prior to their occurrence,
have answers for these problems, and move swiftly
to solve these problems when called upon.
However, when you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult
to remember that your primary objective was to drain the swamp.”
What has brought this back to the forefront of memory is the current political situation in Washington and elsewhere. We see highly partisan rhetoric preventing serious negotiation that would prevent this constant wallowing form crisis to crisis – and putting off decisions months at a time. And blaming everyone else for doing nothing.
This process only makes sense if you take off the “expectation of governing for the common good” lenses and put on the lenses of constant “election campaign”. The last several decades have seen an extreme shift from governance to election and re-election. Election Day 2012 was hardly past when they were talking about and tooling up for 2014 campaign and beyond.
What has happened is that we have lost sight of the primary civic objective. We have totally lost sight of the fact that elected officials are elected to govern on behalf of ALL the people. Our political morass has been stocked with highly partisan alligators who want pure ideology or else will feast on the carcasses of those willing to compromise across ideologies in order to find a way to govern.
In the church we too have seen some of the same divisions since the 1970’s when question of ordination, civil rights, and matters of human sexuality took center stage in our discussions. I am not so naive to think these discussions have ended or have been settled. But we have in recent years managed to realize that our primary objective in the church is not internal matters of order and ordination, or agreement on theological positions. Peter and Paul in the first century often had opposite views and antagonisms but managed to see that witness to the risen Christ was the primary objective. And if the tradition is true ended their lives in the same arena witnessing for the same Lord and Master.
In both our political world and church world we need to make sure we are wearing the right lenses s that we can truly see what our primary objective really is. Being RIGHT about our partisan ideology or about our interpretation of theology is not the primary objective for either task or arena. It is about community, cooperation and attaining that which is best for the common good of ALL people.
It is time that we in the trenches started to communicate to our political leaders and the religious leaders that it is past time to get off the steeds of ideology and get to work doing the sometimes difficult and necessary work of compromise – even if it costs us the next election – because we are pursuing accomplishment of the primary objective. Public service whether in the church or in the political world is not about the success of the individual but about accomplishing the primary task we have been given. We forget the primary objective to everyone’s disadvantage.