Oh, but we do live in Rome.
I spent today reading Advent texts in community with a few area pastors: refinement and restoration, fire and mercy, mountains made low and valleys exalted, hope tinged with an edge of frank-faced fear. If all those lectionary texts are right, if this new thing that God keeps promising really is about what Jeremiah and Isaiah and Zechariah and Paul and Luke and Malachi (and Baruch!) say it is, if things are, as we profess, just at the cusp of being upended, upset, renewed, restored, refined, toppled and re-built to suit justice's standards...if all that is true, then y'all, we are about to get walloped.
I spent last night eating homemade soup and buttermilk pie with a bunch of Brethren young adults in the Trinidad neighborhood of DC. Shouts of profanity drifted in the open windows as we played the Brethren name game and called out connections - our dads went to college together! I lived with your brother once! - and talked about being young and anabaptist and committed to Church but maybe not so much to church. The room was filled with people who work on Capitol Hill, people who I know, respect, and love, people from whom I need to learn lessons.
I need to learn because I am finding it very, very hard to live here in this modern-day Rome during this particular election cycle. Washington, DC is situated in the middle of the richest metropolitan area in the country. Northern Virginia isn't exactly flashy, but it is flush. Because of the saturation of government jobs and government contractors, the recent recession didn't affect this area in anywhere near the same ways it pummeled the rest of the country. On top of all that cash flow, DC also has the highest concentration of post-graduate degrees per capita. Throw in the rather obvious mass of national and global power brokers who reside and work here, and you might as well call us Panem (Hunger Games. Read them.).
I am complicit in all of that. I have plenty of education. I happily receive a salary that makes my self of three years ago cringe. I don't hold any state secrets, but my vote is being courted vigorously. Mine is a swing county (Prince William) in a swing state (Virginia), an identity that offers us extra helpings of both Republican and Democratic attention. I've received at least two full-color, poster sized political campaign fliers in the mail every day for the last few weeks, equally divided by party. Every day, two of these things that barely fit in a standard size mailbox! The printing costs alone must be enough to fund some small government program the likes of PBS.
Here's the thing: if it is true that we Northern Virginians (oh, I shudder at the thought of assigning that yankee identity to myself, but alas, it is true) are the rich, the powerful, the educated, the haughty, then a couple of things must be true.
First, if we really do hold all that money and all that power and all that knowledge, then voting ought to be the LEAST of our civic duties. If we are the ones with the know-how, the money, the expertise and the leisure time to spend on making this particular part of the world a better place, then we should be out there, DOING IT, every day. I ought to be putting my master's degree to WORK, son, changing the system and calling out its failures and offering creative and sustainable alternatives. All this emphasis on voting for one or another political, mealy-mouthed dude is silly. Yes, vote, go ahead. Or don't, given your own particular, considered persuasion. But at least for those of us living here, in the modern-day Rome of privilege, well-fed and well-housed and overly-educated and abundantly-paid, it seems to me that voting is the absolute, very barrel-bottom least we could be doing to contribute to society. We ought to be leveraging all this privilege and power, working it to its bone, spending all the capital and energy we can find in order to fix things, re-balance things, upturn all this injustice.
And second, if we're citizens of Panem who happen to pay attention to the prophecies that surround the Church during this particular season of Advent, we had surely best be watching our backs, expecting some shit to go down, waiting for all hell to break loose. Because, y'all, we are riding high. This is the top of the precarious pile. Our success, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we believe it or not, is balanced on the backs of sisters and brothers further down the food chain, and the gospel promise is that THEY are the ones who get exalted, lifted up, filled. Us, up here? We get scattered, knocked down, crushed, made low, sent empty away.
There is refinement in the works, restoration on the wind. Things are about to get upended, friends, and we have been sitting pretty for far too long in the upper reaches for that to break a happy way for us.
We are about to get walloped.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord...