“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” is a line from the synoptic gospels I want to think about a little here in light of how I’ve treated a thought about the president and our political system in general and our current state of collective reasoning. This “render” passage has been used to say—and maybe it does really mean—pay your taxes and obey the laws of the land, now “what is God’s, give to God.”
“Don’t give too much worry away to the affairs of the powerful,” is also what I hear. It’s especially an interesting thought to apply when ostensibly one’s government is also one’s self-and-community. When “we” are Caesar—but of course “I” am not—then to render unto the affairs of state is also a directive to participate in collective decision-making, is it not?
Something I am also seeing in this Caesar/God render-directive is a call to keep one’s aims focused & properly delineated.
I have seen the word “compassion” called something like “an educated empathy.” That is, kindness can also be aggressive & harmful if it is not focused and knowledgeable.
In pursuit of Justice, then, do so justly.
In pursuit of Peace, do so with a peaceful heart.
(I do not mean here to say that all shows of force are unpeaceful in their ends, but that too often a response to injustice and oppression represents not a struggle for justice and freedom, but merely the other side of the aggressive coin. Violence begotten by violence remains violent. Blood feuds eventually forget whose cause is right, only remembering whose blood was last spilled and how much more dearly the others must pay.)
In pursuit of a relationship with one’s creator, a consideration of what that creative force represents is necessary. If I happen to relate to God as being “a person” expressed from out of a particular set of books, those books can give me some idea. If I happen not to ascribe to a personal-god philosophy, but to humanistic tradition of moral vision—I am still, I think, seeking out a way toward “the good,” and I can call this thing my center and I can name it my creator in some sense, that which makes me what I am. What I mean is that it isn’t necessary to carry around the name “God” to find oneself in search of the underlying principles required by a maker of its creation. & likely it couldn’t hurt for one ‘faith’ to recognize it shares some kindred relationships between itself & seemingly disparate belief systems. It’s not my goal here to litigate all the differences, but merely to express my own heart/mind on the matter, & in brief. & so too—
In pursuit of God, do so with a heart after that of God.
In the midst of a lot of wild political meanderings yesterday, I found a comment by a good friend—and one of my favorite poets—that helped illuminate for me what I find true about a notion of rendering unto Caesar in the parlance of our times:
“Melt the money, but until then, feed the hungry.”
I don’t know if it’s his line. I couldn’t find it elsewhere. It doesn’t really matter. It highlights the specific intentions of a political thought about how we might best as a society affect great change towards better taking care of one another, while at the same time acknowledging that such things require time & effort & struggle & consent. In the mean time, there remain those around us who need help. & so we are called to help.
If we are to give over to the state that which the state requires of us, we participate in debate, we follow the law to the best of our ability—without doing harm or finding ourselves complicit in harm, as much as possible. We work toward a more just society of living sentient things.
If we are to give over to our maker that which our maker requires of us, we spend time in spiritual/moral/prayerful contemplation. We educate our hearts. We feed those in need of food. We encourage the downtrodden. We do our best to love one another.
I think this is also one of the goals of the separation of church & state, and of the separate treatment of disciplines: not to draw battle lines, nor to make walls between belief systems, nor to declare for all time that, say, scientific endeavor and religious endeavor be found endlessly at odds; but instead to allow us to proceed with clarity and freedom.
When we remember where to appropriately render what may be rendered, we may also act.
If we perceive the collective will to be suppressed by those in power, it need not strike fear in our hearts.
It may convict us to speak out in favor of another way, but too often—and I have felt it—there is a sense of paralysis which comes into the broad political concerns. On a national stage, there is one moment to look at—an election, & that takes forever—& then from there we fall to trembling & name-calling & whatever else lies in a forest made of fear.
So, for example, many have pointed to Brexit & the ascension of Trump & nationalism on a global scale & now this current treatment of refugees—they (we) have drawn parallels to the state of the world in the early-to-mid part of the 20th century. They (we, I) have exampled the radicals of that era in attempt to educate and dissuade us from a path that seems heads us further into suffering, violence, separation.
But one of the unfortunate realities of our own era is that the names of these radical paths have been emptied of all meaning, since we—as a general statement of all of us people—have practiced the crying of “Nazi” into an ever-forgetful, ever-desensitizing public ear.
To draw comparisons between a world leader of today & one remembered from our not-long-past is to invite vitriol & a general agreement that hyperbole of this kind is uncalled-for.
The comparison has lost all its probative value. Remember that, at first, there was a snake in the garden, & by the end he was called a dragon. The evolution of both our heroes & our monsters is ever such that from age to age they all become as vapors—unreal, overlarge. We forget what humanity is capable of because we see the past in black & white & the present we do not see & we yearn for the colors of a future that never arrives & the present—we do not see. We forget that all our monsters have had mothers. We forget that all our heroes have had demons (& whether or not one can look at a duck and call it a duck, there seem so many unwilling to believe it is a duck).
But calling a thing what it seems to us it is—& having that rejected by the powers that be—need not also be a signal to us to lose heart, nor to lean into the anger we may rightly carry with us for all we see in our midst (& ever pouring our way)…all that might have been prevented.
We may educate our hearts & speak truth to power & listen to one another. & we may never forget the fact that we will always have the poor among us. That there will always be someone who needs help. & we must always strive toward the unity of need with assistance. The unity of action with principle. The unity of ourselves with our maker.
Maintain perspective. Work toward the good. Never give up.