Yesterday, in a chapel speech at Liberty University, the largest evangelical college in the world, Gov. Rick Perry talked openly about the nature of his faith in a speech and testimonial that rather notably lacked the fire and brimstone he's known for when he talks about politics. By all reports, he was reserved and very personal when he spoke of being someone who didn't so much turn to God as having been led to his throne:
My faith journey is not the story of someone who turned to God because I wanted to. It was because I had nowhere else to turn. I was 27. I'd been an officer in the United States Air Force commanding a fairly substantial piece of sophisticated equipment, telling men and women what to do. But I was lost spiritually and emotionally. And I didn't know how to fix it.
There's much to admire in the humility of that confession. I'll not likely vote for him--I don't share many of his political views--but it was, or so say a hundred reports, quite an impressive performance.
Sad, though, that anyone has to talk about it as a "performance." I pity political candidates because, these days, they're damned if they do and damned if they don't talk about faith. Not addressing your relationship to God means staying in the starting blocks forever.
But who can't see that it's ever so easy to listen to someone like Governor Perry--or Barack Obama for that matter--and distrust what you're hearing? They're politicians, for goodness sake--they'll all say what they need to. For Presidential candidates especially, being able to do a testimony is likely as important as being able to take on the economy. And you're judged. Is all that yapping just so much b.s.? That person's faith ain't nothin' more than politics. Listen.
Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, editor of Come Be My Light, says that in April of 1942, Mother Teresa made a significant vow before God. This is how she described it: "I made a vow unto God, binding under [pain of] mortal sin, to give God anything He may ask, 'Not to refuse him anything.'
That vow was, Kolodiejchuk says, one of her "greatest secrets." Only two people on the planet knew what she'd done--she and her confessor; and when, 17 years later, she finally went public with that vow, she admitted, "This is what hides everything in me."
It seems to me, as our preacher said not long ago, that the joy known to those who know the Lord may, paradoxically, be, for us, one of the most difficult things to talk about. The language of faith is so easily manipulated. I don't doubt for a moment Rick Perry has great faith, but he becomes, in a way, a victim of his own politics--as does Barack Obama or Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann--the moment he talks about faith, simply because he is a pol and he is running for office.
It is not particularly easy to talk about faith because, in fact, it is marvelously easy.
I sometimes think that one of the most easily forgotten mandates Christ put on the table was the warning to pray in private, to go where no one can see you. Sometimes, with faith, Jesus might have said, silence is golden.
And I wonder whether part of the legacy Mother Teresa leaves behind grows from the fact that her own life-changing pledge, the vow she says changed everything--a vow not to refuse God whatever he would ask--was made more powerful because it wasn't broadcast over CNN or written up in a Calcutta mission newsletter. It was between the two of them--she and God.
It's impossible for politicians--republican or democrat--not to talk about their faith. They must. And because they are who they are--politicians!--it's easy to roll your eyes. At any of them.
What Mother Teresa teaches me with this silent vow of hers, is the lesson the scriptures offer, the lesson of Psalm 46: "Be still and know that I am God."