The political inventories I take online usually report something like this: "You'll be dissatisfied with any candidate on the ballot! Your views are most in line with those of Gandhi, King Arthur, or the Amish."
I don't consider myself a cynic, but these quizzes confirm the lack of civic enthusiasm I feel during election years. I am thankful for democratic processes, and I care deeply about the welfare of my nation, yet I often balk at the idea of participating in a system in which no candidate nor party expresses a vision that looks anything like the Kingdom of God. Even when I resolve to be practical and to vote anyway, I still have many fundamental questions about the proper functions of government. While I vote in each election, I have not yet claimed a political party, and partisan bickering does not endear me to either side.
Consequently, I have trouble answering people when they ask me if I am "liberal" or "conservative." As a citizen keenly sensitive to language, I mistrust people who use these words as though they are mutually exclusive. Both words point toward noble ideas--freedom and preservation--and I would be sorry to live in a nation that lacked either quality. As I listen to friends, mentors, and students discuss the current political situation in our country, I've tried to consider how my own life reflects these often-polarized terms.
I am conservative with my dress.
I am liberal with my laughter.
I am conservative in my methods of baking bread.
I am liberal with the food I set before my guests.
I am conservative regarding purchases for myself.
I am liberal when giving money to offering plates, panhandlers, and friends.
I am conservative with my admiration.
I am liberal with my affection.
I am conservative with my committments.
I am liberal in my hopes.
I am conservative in my love for spinning wheels and backyard gardens.
I am liberal in my dreams for the Kingdom of God.
These reflections probably won't help me decide how to vote this fall, but they do remind me that I don't need to let diseased public discourse determine the meanings of words I cherish.
Are you "conservative" or "liberal" in senses that do not fit into the conventional political uses of these terms?