I have trouble separating religion and politics.  And I observe this to be true of my right wing brethren, especially the fundamentalists, Protestant and Catholic, in my midst, even in my extended family, with their certainty and absolutism and righteousness, a quality I have noticed in my brethren on the left, too, lo these past forty years, even in my extended family, even in myself. I don’t like that quality, and I work against it, and pray for the requisite humility necessary to undo its crippling grip.

But what I really have trouble separating, and actually don’t try to, is my spirituality from the work of justice.  That’s what it is yoked for me, with all of my limitations and blindness, as I go about my part of this work of creating a just and loving world.  And it’s our work, every one of us, we each have a part.  The Jews have the august tradition  of The 40 Just Men, always to be renewed when one of the forty dies, whose committed fidelity to the work keeps our world alive.  What a compelling story.  Updated to women and men, I want to be among them.  I suspect you do, too.  All we are required to do is to do our part.

I know this from Isaiah, from Jesus, from the Buddha, from the heart of the Koran, right down through the bloodied twentieth century’s great teachers: Buber, Merton, King, the Dalai Lama, Mandela, Weil, Teresa, Bonhoeffer, Delp, Romero.  The list, thank God, is endless, and it may well include you: so many luminous sources for discerning how to be here on this warming, beyond resplendent planet.  Martin King used to say what for me has become the consoling truth of the past forty years of my life: the arc of justice bends slowly, but it surely bends.

And it bends because of those, like King, who have devoted their lives, yea, given their lives for the surely part.  This work goes on month in and month out, every month of the year, every year.  Maybe particularly in an election year.

I have been a citizen, and a political partisan since the morning of my twenty-first birthday when I got up early to be at the door of the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha to register as a voter when it opened at 8:00 a.m.  I registered as a Democrat.  Proudly, though both my parents were Republicans, and our neighborhood and social milieu and the city and state in which I was raised were deeply Republican. I registered otherwise.  And I have never looked back.

I have changed many affiliations over the course of my life.  But this one remains a bedrock for me.  I am not naïve to the multiple complex faults and fault lines within this party, its many hypocrisies, its obtuseness.  But I am aware, and have never been dissuaded, of its absolute commitment to justice, to restoring dignity to all human beings, if sometimes slowly, to the implementation of the heart of the Beatitudes into the life of the culture, to a profound respect for individuals and to our responsibility to each other to ensure that all human beings have the ability to realize their deepest selves.

These are, too, my spiritual values, and sometimes my religious affiliation also embraces them.  But they have been distilled in me since I was young, principally in the person of my mother, with her uncanny awareness of injustice, uncanny, I say, because she was a child of privilege in a socially-segregated world.

One of my first memories of her, and a scalding one, was a startling severe reprimand she gave me.  I could not have been more than seven.  I came home from school, perhaps kindergarten, with the nursery rhyme which included the line: catch a monkey by the tail.  But I had heard on the playground at school a different version, with a derogatory and racist word instead of monkey.  When I repeated the line, my mother grew furious.  She said: We do not use that word, and we don’t treat other human beings that way.  Not in this house we don’t!

I don’t know I ever saw my mother so angry.

For that anger and all that was in it, I am yet grateful.  I learned the sharpest lesson possible in an instant. It has lasted with me a lifetime, and shaped my politics.  And it came out of her deepest religiosity.

I am not sure we can ever really say anything about God, and I am thinking we can never say for sure what God’s will is, but we can say what we have come to know from a lifetime of listening, and paying attention, and working for justice.  And, if I were to presume to speak about God, which apparently I am, I would have to say everything I sense about the Divine suggests that God is absolutely on the side of the poor, the left- behind, those imprisoned, those scorned, those humiliated, those locked out, those uninvited, those humbled by flaws and derelictions of every sort, those despised, those with neither advocates nor power, those tortured and abused, those consigned to trash-heaps of schools or trash-heaps for food, or trash-heaps for the corrugations that become shelter, those without the physical resources that dull us into our antipathies, those whose open sores ooze physically and emotionally and spiritually.

Of course, I could as easily say these are the lessons I learned from my mother, who as a representative of the Divine is not too shabby.

That is the side I want to be, not withstanding my bourgeoisie tastes and access to every kind of power imaginable.  All that qualifies me for is to do my part, my work, to bend that arc, if slowly, surely.

My partisan way is not the only way, and it is not divinely ordained. No partisan way is.  But the work of justice is, if anything ever could be.  We are required to work out in the thicket of this complicated culture our politics by the best lights we are given, and we are required to be fierce and true. And generous to a fault.  And we are required, if you will, to measure ourselves by some standard that posits a good greater than the narrow interests of our selves and our families.  One might use those humble Beatitudes, or the eloquent Sutras, or the compelling Book of Isaiah, or Rumi on any day or any night,  something outside of ourselves which invites us, as my Jesuit teachers taught, to be women and men for others.

What a gift this is to us, how blessing, how transformative.

I am not there yet, most likely will never be.  And I am likely to remain a partisan, though I hope not grippingly so!  But I yet recall the sting of my mother’s words this very morning as I write:  Not in this house we don’t!

I never want to live in any other kind of house.