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Soul of the Citizen: The Inspiration

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Why I wrote This Book

As I note in the introduction to the book, Soul of the Citizen constitutes a type of spiritual diary. It started out as a daily exercise of praying through the news of the day, and in the digital age, there are no slow news days. Our political, cultural, ethical, and moral crises emerge daily, because our political, cultural, ethical, and moral conflicts lie at the core of our national identity. We are United States, but divided people. We are vessels of hope in oceans of despair. We are wonderful but wounded. And we tend to allow our wounds to spill onto everyone around us. If we are praying people, we always have reason to pray.

For me prayer has always been a way of processing life; joys and concerns, hopes and fears, visions and dreams. This book was my way of grieving through the tumultuous politics of the past seven years. The more compromised digital communication has become, the more time I spend in prayer. One dubious honor I probably share with most people who communicate publicly is that I have been excoriated by critics from both sides of any given spectrum, sometimes for coherent reasons, and sometimes before they even understand what I am saying.

Jesus challenged his followers to love their enemies, to bless those who cursed them, and pray for those who despitefully used them. I’m interested in just what that looks like in a twenty-first century context. Love desires to benefit others at the expense of self. Love sacrifices, gives, hopes, and perseveres. When we think about loving people, especially people we don’t know or don’t like, what does it inspire us to do? Sometimes love looks like public service. Sometimes it looks like accountability or an apology. Sometimes it looks like boundaries, a refusal to participate in someone else’s pathology. If we recognize that we are dealing with a nation of wounded souls, and are wounded ourselves, then we can have better conversations, and take more productive action in attempting to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

In Matthew 19, Jesus told critics trying to stump him with a question about divorce that the only reason for divorce was hardness of heart. Reconciliation, endurance, and growth are all possible. In our hard-heartedness, however, we often choose to end things.

This nation marries diverse groups of people in a grand civic experiment. One trend we see in this moment is a clamor for civic divorce. Red states want to divorce blue states. Urban areas want to divorce rural ones. Young people want their elders to get out of the way. And people who have long held disproportionate power respond to the call to share with terrified outrage. Across every division, we see people daydreaming of a country in which their neighbors don’t exist instead of answering God’s call to love them. This, I would argue, is a jaded retreat. It is a dereliction of duty. And nothing good comes of it.

I believe we can do better. That is the heart of this book.

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