I’ll start like the Gospel of Mark: politics is good news. God’s politics, called the kingdom of heaven, has come to earth as Jesus. Then it comes as us.
But most of us sleepwalk, living private lives of work, home, and market, shutting our doors against the joy and the dangers in public space. We live public lives only by proxy, voting for representatives and writing checks to charities. The Western church is weak because it largely supports this delegated life.
The terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God,” of course, mix politics and religion. This mixture can’t be diluted by making it a mere metaphor for the afterlife. If the kingdom of heaven were a metaphor, Jesus wouldn’t use metaphorical language to describe it.
Jesus uses metaphors and parables to describe the kingdom of heaven because politics is both hidden and incarnate. Politics is like treasure hidden in a field. It’s an open secret, like the gathering of discontents with David in the Cave of Adullam. It’s a gathering of odd stones for an altar, not a building of homogenized bricks, like the ancient empire’s Tower of Babel.
Heaven’s politics is James C. Scott’s “hidden transcripts,”1 not the “immanentized eschaton” Eric Voegelin warned against.2 It’s Josiah Royce’s “beloved community,”3 not Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” of Christendom or (later) nation states.4 It’s Tip O’Neil’s “All politics is local,” but it’s far more interpersonal than local government. It’s the public space we create when we, by faith, step over our thresholds into the unknown and hope heaven somehow meets us there.
Political Devotions helps imagine public space through local action: passive resistance, mutual aid, public lamentation, hospitality to strangers, indigenous practices, community advocacy, anticipatory democracy, carnivals, spontaneous local councils, and more.
Political Devotions encourages us daily in our nascent public lives. In a year’s worth of weekday devotions and discussion questions, Political Devotions hopes to help transform private consumers of divisive ideology and mass culture into public people.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt called politics miraculous, and she challenged her readers to study Jesus’s sayings for their philosophical implications.5 Political Devotions accepts Arendt’s challenge. While it doesn’t pretend to be a treatise, it cites over 280 works by theologians, political theorists, literary critics, and other experts. Political Devotions amounts to 261 exercises in what William Cavanaugh calls the “theopolitical imagination.”6
We need a political devotional—not just a new book or a new theory, but a new genre—to call politics and religion back to their central tasks of creating a public world.
Political Devotions comes in these daily devotions along with weekly blog posts and monthly podcast episodes.
The daily devotions come each weekday during 2024. These devotions and their discussion questions add up to a book series of 52 essays, each with its own biblical epigraph. I make the ten-part introduction and a sample week’s worth of devotions free. The rest of the series comes with a paid subscription.
All else is free. The podcast and blog posts, together called Public Spaces, focus mostly on my and my friends’ journeys into public life. My wife and I recently moved from the suburbs to the city, and we’ve found people here living public lives against the grain of our society’s privatized existence.
For details on the free and paid subscription levels as well as the devotions, the blog post, and the podcast, see the “How it works” page and visual.
I also keep in touch through the site’s notes and comments. I hope you’ll join me there. I hope also that our various journeys into public spaces cheer us all over our homes’ thresholds to act.
Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Pr, 1990.
Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics: An Introduction. Pbk. ed. Charles R. Walgreen Foundation Lectures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, 119-20.
Royce, Josiah. The Problem of Christianity. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001, 125.
Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised edition. London New York: Verso, 2016.
Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin Books, 2006, 166.
Cavanaugh, William T. Theopolitical Imagination. London ; New York: T & T Clark, 2002.