Casting Lots, Casting Votes, Casting God Into the World
Here’s a word I hadn’t known before yesterday: Cleromancy.
I was thinking about the midterms in the car, and found myself thinking about casting my vote, which then made my mind wander toward wondering about the biblical tradition of casting lots.
In related news, I am easily amused and occupied.
When I got home, before I hauled out my theological dictionaries, I did a quick Google search, and the first entry to “casting lots” was ‘cleromancy.’
Never heard of it, darn it.
Naturally, I went to my personal fave web page www.etmyonline.com, punched in ‘cleromancy,’ and learned that it means the coming to a decision by way of tossing dice or lots. The word comes from the Greek word ‘kleros’, that is ‘lot’ (Fun fact: the word ‘cleric’ and ‘clergy’ comes from the same root, because the Lord is their ‘lot’ [Deuteronomy 18:]), and ‘manteia,’ namely ‘oracle.’
The idea is that through diviniation (-mancy) as evidenced by how the chips fall (so to speak), the will of God/the Universe/the Powers That Be will be manifested, and/or a person of interest (complementary or nefarious) will be identified.
In other words, whatever the dice or lots reveal also reveals what God wants to go down or what has gone down or who caused something to go down or who should cause something to go down.
‘Lots’ were pieces of paper or small objects with specific markings, colors, words, or names on them. They were placed into a container of some sort—a cup, perhaps, or a bowl or urn—and either plucked out, or cast down to the ground.
When a certain one was chosen or a particular pattern was discerned in how they fell, so (obvs) was the answer to the question at hand.
We see lots being cast in Esther 3:7 to determine a date, Numbers 26:55 to divvy up land, 1 Samuel 14:42 to sift out a guilty person, and Mark 15.24/Matthew 27:35/Luke 23:34/John 19:24 to parcel out Jesus’ clothing in an act of utter humiliation.
The tradition (which isn’t only Judeo-Christian, but existed and exists in cultures and religions all around the world) puts its trust in the belief that casting these lots yields God’s purpose or God’s truth.
To many modern (technically post-modern) minds, in a word it’s positively nuts to make key decisions or come to critical discernments by way of complete chance.
Clearly, lot-chucking results are all and only random.
But actually, during my afternoon of nerding out about cleromancy, I stumbled on news that some people are beginning to wonder whether ‘random’ choice is the better way to elect politicians.
Given the disproportiate role of money, power, and gerrymandering in election results, four folk with experience in politics, academics, research, and social activism are proposing that we give cleromancy, namely casting lots, another look, saying:
Sortition, or selection by lot, has considerable advantages over elections. Unlike elections, public lotteries cannot be readily rigged or bought. The members selected by lottery would owe nothing to special interest donors or party leaders. They would be free to focus on making good policy, instead of playing to the media, which now feeds on the permanent election cycle as voraciously as politicians themselves. Americans from all walks of life would see people like themselves in a “Citizen Assembly” selected at random. Women would make up roughly half its membership, and a plurality of its members would probably identify as political independents.
(As an aside, did you know that the word ‘lottery,’ not to mention city lot, sand lot, lots, and lot-in-life all come from the cleromantic word ‘lot?’ Who, I ask you, knew?)
ANYway, the point is, they say that the basis upon which our political system is built, representation, doesn’t actually represent us, and given the nature of chance, odds are are that we’d get better political representation and decisions if we selected our politicians the way we do juries: by lot.
I see their point.
It is definitely worth some reflection.
But the chance (see what I did there?) that we will change our election process any time before, oh, I don’t know, say….THE MIDTERMS is not just remote: it is not going to happen no matter how many times you roll those dice.
Instead, I wonder, given that we can’t change our election process, if we change the way we think of our election process, before, say, THE MIDTERMS, whether we could take some electoral direction from the way that decisions are often made in significant church deliberations.
It’s a process called Ecclesial Voting, a style of communal decision making that isn’t only about voting (though it is that), but about call.
That is, the entire arc of the process is bent not toward what we want, but what we attempt to discern that God wants.
Now, strictly speaking, ecclesial voting is more nuanced and complex than this simple upshot, but that is its basic premise: what is God calling us and calling this person to do right now?
So, fine…but how do we figure that out?
Well, for starters, we consider two things and remember a third.
We ask: Who is our God? What is God’s agenda for the world?
We remember: We are only stewards, owning nothing, but serving only God’s will in the world in everything that we do…even our vote.
An electoral process—regardless of whether it’s related to church or politics (technically, I suppose, even when the family votes about what should be for supper, but I don’t think God really cares that much)—is not, that is, about our will or us: it’s about God’s will and God.
We discern what that will is by way of prayer, and by paying close attention to the actions and the message of those up for vote.
We listen, then, and we cast our vote for the one who seems closest to representing God’s intention for the day and for the future.
So given that THE MIDTERMS are approaching, it’s key for people of faith to reflect on those very same three points:
1) Who is our God;
2) What is God’s agenda for the world;
3) How do we as stewards of God represent God in the world, not least of all by way of our vote?
Turns out that from a faith perspective, your vote is not about you, in short, or at least not mostly.
In fact, your vote is to be about God’s will not just for you, but for all people.
In fact, your vote is to be about God’s will most especially for vulnerable people.
In fact, that is, as an act of faith, your vote might be a vote precisely and fairly radically against you and your best interests.
In fact, if you look at it that way, your vote isn’t really yours to cast: your vote represents God’s will in the world, for you are a steward of God in all things.
When you cast your vote into the ballot box, then, you are casting your God, or your god, into the world.
So who is your God?
Who or what is your God?
When you vote, see, you are making decisions that have ridiculously important, lasting, life-or-death sort of implications.
People will live or die based on your vote.
And so with whom does your God stand?
Because as people of faith, our vote is called to stand with those very ones too.
Fortunately for us, although the Bible has a variety of things to say about a variety of things, where it, and where God, and where the people of God stand by way of the poor, and the foreigners, and the sick—in short, the Least of These—leaves little room for confusion.
God’s with them, and therefore so are the people of God.
So, for example, Mary’s song, as she sings her praise for the advent of her son and the Savior of the world, gives us a bit of a hint:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (19:34)
“Learn to do right. See that justice is done — help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows. (Isaiah 1:17)
Or Matthew—and note that in this text, Jesus is not talking about individuals, but nations.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
These texts reveal the Judeo-Christian God.
If you are a person of faith, your vote reveals your faith.
And, it’s worth saying, our lack of vote reveals something too.
See, if you don’t vote, you have lost the opportunity to steward God in the world.
You have missed a means to lift up the lowly, to protect the foreigner, to give orphans their rights, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and heal the sick.
In fact, if you don’t vote, you have quite plainly abandoned them not to chance, but to those who do vote, and vote not at all in keeping with the God whom we see revealed in Jesus, not to mention the rest of Scripture.
Whatever critiques one can offer up to Decision Making by Cleromancy, that those who use it lack faith isn’t one of them.
They trusted that God worked through the system.
We might question the integrity of that system, but we can’t question the integrity of their faith.
One can also question the integrity of our system, of course, one which works not by casting lots, but by casting votes.
Its integrity is questionable too, when the integrity of our vote is not based on our faith in God, but in our faith on principles which are anything but of God.
Just as bad, when people don’t vote, the hope of righteousness and the Least of These are abandoned not only to chance, but to agendas that are not of God.
Please, this November 6, cast your vote.
Cast your faith.
Cast God into the world.
Check out the recent OMG blogs in the links below!
Of Dominent Men, Subversive Courage, and My Very Fine Woodpile
Of Coyotes and Trains and Tremors, or Take Off Your Shoes and Sit
Thank you and bless you for the amazing gift of this blog! I have shared your “Casting” post with my Social Justice Advocacy Ministry at my church in Chagrin Falls, OH. I am forever indebted to the spiritual, intellectual and personal friendship I had with your father at ULC in East Lansing, MI during the 1990’s. Keep up the Good Work! Barry
There is a TED Talk on this, think his name is Brett Hennig. He is one of the founders of the Sortition Foundation, which is investigating the possibility of selecting our public servants in this way. There are a few experiments in the world, one being in Ireland and I think Brussels is looking at the possibility of having one elected house and one chosen by random. I imagine starting at the local level would be the easiest, but as I currently am sitting at jury selection for my community, no one is really happy being here. Alas, no one ever wants to serve, we only want power.
I will definitely look into this Ted Talk. And poignant truth about power vs. service. Seems I heard something like that somewhere…something about people clamoring to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left?
One more thing…you present a very reasoned argument, but it has been proven again and again that most people vote based on their feelings/emotions. I think this was proven again in the last election. Kerry lost because we was too intellectual; Obama was a great inspirational speaker. Also, we are finding that are emotions are being manipulated by political ads and posts on social media. While we might be nostalgic about elections being about issues, those issues were always tied and governed by emotions over reason. Not to say that emotions are bad or inferior but rarely do we find balance of emotion and reason. At least a random selection would remove the element of emotion out of the decision process. We would have to see if a truly random process would yield a more fair and balanced governing body…could it be worse?
Emotion plays a huge part of it, to be sure. But the emotion that we saw in November’s 18 election was one of indignation, and the emotion that we saw in November’s 16 election was of fear: the key indicator to voter’s support of Trump was if you were a Christian nationalist. Fascinating. So emotions are key, but I do believe that people are voting out of emotionally-driven issue-fervor-—whether ones to benefit their “own” or the Other is the question.