1429012887-monalisaducklipsMy seventh grade school picture was horrifying. My hair was a wavy rat’s nest, my braces cast a blinding glare, and my face was oily and reflective.

The photo was so terrible, in fact, that I insisted on a retake. I told the photographer, “I want a new picture.” He looked at the original picture, then he looked at me, and then back at the photo. “What’s wrong with the first one? That’s what you look like,” he replied, in a stunning display of poor diplomacy. “It doesn’t look like me at all,” I said.

At that point, the photographer winked at his assistant and replied, “Sure, son. We’ll take a new picture.” So he did.

Guess what? The new picture looked exactly like the first one. It turns out that I really looked like that. The problem wasn’t the camera, and it wasn’t the incompetent photographer. The problem was that I looked like a seventh-grader. There was no magical camera angle or lighting combination that could fix my problem.

That photo was an accurate, although unpleasant, reflection of reality. It was simply what I looked like.

Many of us find this year’s presidential race to be as horrifying as that photo. “How are these our choices?” we lament. “Where did these candidates come from? Can we ask for a redo?” We watch in dismay as the political rhetoric of our nation degenerates into name-calling, threats of violence, overt racism, greed, and fear-mongering. Candidates who once seemed extreme now seem downright statesmanlike. How did this happen?

Here’s the bad news: Election season is a giant national selfie. It is an aggregate picture of our nation’s values. This year’s election season has been a particularly ugly selfie. It’s the sort of selfie you never wanted to post on Instagram, but you accidentally shared it anyway. And now it’s everywhere, and all your friends know about it, and you cannot escape it. “Do I really look like that!?” you ask. Yes. You really look like that.

Before we rail against “those people” who support whichever candidate most horrifies us, we should take a long look in the mirror.

Whenever I find myself lamenting that the debates this year are more like a terrible reality television show, I have to remember that I used to watch Celebrity Apprentice, and I found it pretty entertaining. In small measure, I created the values that created this election cycle. I actually helped arrange our national hairdo for this terrible selfie.

Whenever I’m dismayed by this year’s politics of greed and covetousness, I have to remind myself how often I’ve coveted my neighbor’s house or car or vacation destination.

Whenever I start to despise the xenophobia that has become a defining factor in this year’s election cycle, I need to remember the times I’ve turned away from people who aren’t like me, people in need, simply because they made me nervous.

Whenever it bothers me that Christian voters support a wide variety of non-Christian policies – on both sides of the aisle – I have to ask how faithfully I’ve been involved in the task of discipleship. Am I teaching and modeling the values of God’s Word for the next generation? If not, is it any surprise that most evangelicals hold heretical theological beliefs and support unbiblical political positions?

The values of our candidates reflect the values of the nation’s electorate, and that includes Christian voters as well. We know Jesus, but we aren’t immune from cultural assimilation.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this ugly election selfie is that it highlights how poorly we love our own neighbors. The most common remark I’ve seen on social media during this election cycle goes something like this: “Who are these people who support X candidate? I don’t know anybody who supports that guy, yet millions of people are voting for him!”

That statement is a testimony to our failure to know and love those around us.

How have we so efficiently isolated ourselves from anybody who disagrees with us that we can’t even fathom that such people exist? In our minds, people who hold opposing political views are barely rational. They exist on the level of animals who cannot possibly be reasonable human beings. In a supreme act of dehumanization, we literally question their existence. After all, nobody could be so subhuman as to support that person. They must not be real.

And we wonder why this election is so divisive. We wonder why we can no longer have reasonable discussions about politics. Why do political rallies turn into fistfights? Why are people incapable of listening to opposing viewpoints without throwing punches or disengaging altogether?

It’s because we have failed at the most basic of Christian responsibilities. We have failed to love God, and we have failed to love our neighbors. As a result, we find ourselves with leaders who reflect those same failings. 

What’s worse, we don’t even recognize ourselves when we look at the picture. “That doesn’t look like me,” we protest. “Take a different photo.” Ah, but it does look like us. We just don’t like the way we look.

Election season this year is a living embodiment of the worst impulses and sins of our nation. We see the values of our country displayed in bright and living color, and we cringe. On some level we know that’s our own image staring back at us, and we really hate seeing it.

So what can we do?

I suppose we can slowly work on the problems that made this selfie so ugly in the first place. We can pray. We can try to learn and model the values of God’s Word. We can listen to people. We can love our neighbors and try to understand them. We can get out of our homes and off of our phones and actually talk to people about why they disagree with us. We can share the good news of the gospel with a desperate and lost world. We can invest in the next generation, teaching them how to know and reflect Jesus Christ.

And, of course, we can pray. We can pray for wisdom and we can pray for spiritual transformation. We can pray for leaders who reflect the best aspects of our cultural values, rather than the worst.

Who knows? Maybe the next national selfie will look at least marginally better.

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