Don’t escape to good books to avoid politics

There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed lately on Facebook. Friends are asking friends for book recommendations at a growing rate.

Maybe it’s the change in seasons. Although summer reading lists — “beach reading” — are a big deal, it’s my contention that autumn brings out the need for a good book on a cold night.

But I have another theory about this sudden burst of literary interest. People are desperate to escape from this election season. The good news: it’s over very soon. The bad news: Uncivil behavior may not go away.

I will freely confess that I’ve been a news junkie during this presidential race. Who turns away from a train wreck, really? I will also concede it has not always been healthy.

Like my fellow Americans, I was right there scarfing up the red meat, all the while protesting that I was really a vegetarian. I plead guilty to watching sensationalism, crude remarks and the coarsening of our public life.

Always a fan of National Public Radio, I appreciate their rational and intellectual approach. But the election? I’m so over it.

Greg Erlandson is the director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service. At a stewardship conference recently, I heard him talk about the incivility of our public discourse, and how it has even infiltrated the way we Catholics talk to and about each other.

Anyone who reads the comments section on any Catholic publication knows this is woefully true.

Erlandson began his reflections by quoting from our new saint, Teresa of Kolkata, who said that when she treated the dying, she would find “Jesus in one of his more distressing disguises.”

He suggested that is how we should view those with whom we disagree politically. Think about someone with whom you’ve been at odds this election season, and admit it: seeing that person as Jesus is a mighty tall order right now.

“Say a prayer for that person, and pray that you can approach that person with humility,” Erlandson said.

Erlandson reminded us that we Catholics believe that we have a God who created diversity and doesn’t expect us to march in lock step with each other. We need to discuss our differences, yet many of us resist engaging because we know how quickly things deteriorate to ad hominem attacks – attacks on the person rather than the issue.

Political categories from our contentious civil discourse are creeping into the church. What does it mean when eucharistic people brand each other as “liberal” or “conservative”? How do we divide the one Body of Christ into “pro-life” or “social justice” Catholics?

“In the church, we risk being a sign of contradiction to what we actually profess we believe,” Erlandson said.

Erlandson suggested our personal commitment to civility begin with the sacrament of reconciliation. Then, remember we’re all on the road to Emmaus, sometimes failing to recognize the Christ who walks beside us, perhaps in a distressing disguise.

Reaching for a great book is cathartic. But remember you have something good and positive to contribute to public discourse, and don’t give up.

The months ahead may be frightening. Men in Kansas, supposedly members of a larger militia, are arrested on the suspicion of wanting to blow up a Somali apartment complex. People talk at rallies of the need for revolution. People express distrust in the integrity of our election system.

This is no time to be disengaged. This is a time to emphasize the abundant goodness of our country, in those who share our faith, and in the American community. Stay positive. Keep the conversation going.

The writer is formerly from Anchorage. She now lives in Omaha, Neb.

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