Suddenly it seems my phone is ringing twice as often these early-summer days, while my mailbox is jammed, and the roadsides have sprouted more red-white-and-blue signs than yellow dandelions. Guess what: Another political season has burst open. Here we go again.
Urgent callers from vaguely named polling organizations want to know (usually at dinnertime) how I’m planning to vote in the upcoming primary. The oversized postcards tout Joe or Jane Candidate’s credentials and give bullet points in bold type on how they’ll fix the ills of my county or state. Crumbling bridges and roads? Getting our fair share of state aid to education? Restoring efficiency in government? They’ve got all the answers. (This being Colorado, there’s lots of additional talk about protecting our national parks and, of course, “standing up for our Second Amendment rights.”)
The lurking question for voters is whether the impassionate rhetoric will be remembered past Election Day. Will the winner, whether Democrat or Republican, stay in touch with their stump speeches once they start to govern?
Words, words, words. I’m not being cynical; as a wordsmith myself, I’m rather intrigued with the communication process in play here. I can imagine how many staff meetings went into shaping those postcards, how much field-testing, how many internal debates over framing the message this way versus that way. The strategists and consultants know they’ve got only milliseconds to make their impression on us busy citizens, and so they work hard to get the verbiage just right. I’d do the same if I were in their shoes.
In fact, I have. I’ve pored over many a page of draft copy for magazine covers, book-jacket copy, fund-raising letters, seeking to pack the biggest bang into the fewest lines. In my career in Christian publishing, I’ve sat through hours of committee discussion on the text of everything from doctrinal statements to annual ministry reports. When the wording is finally polished until it’s just right, I get an adrenaline rush.
But well-crafted prose is not really the goal, is it? Seems to me there are three levels worth studying.
Level One is what we post (or print), the finished statements that we publish to the reading public, electronically or on paper. Our policy, our theology, our values are now “on the record,” we tell ourselves. Our definition of truth has been formalized.
We may even move ahead of Level Two, which is what we proclaim verbally. We hold a seminar, teach a class, preach a sermon, engage in a dialogue with friends or even adversaries. We put into soundwaves what we have written, often expanding and illustrating as we go along.
But still waiting is Level Three, which is what we practice in actuality. Does our theory become reality in our day-to-day, week-to-week living? Does our premise about growing in spiritual maturity show up in how we handle irritations or how we choose our media, for example? Does our belief in the authority of Scripture impact how often we read it, and then obey it? Does our stand for the work of the Holy Spirit in today’s church affect how we actually do church?
Orthodoxy doesn’t mean much with orthopraxy—the carrying out of our principles in ways someone could actually notice. Integrity requires us to be doers of what we so elegantly articulate. This is true for the politicians … and you and me as well. Otherwise, we are (to borrow a catchphrase from a few years back) doing a lot of “just sayin’.”