Graduate students and politics

Looking at Ecclesiastes 8 this past week, we had a delightful discussion on politics. Once again I was surprised and delighted by how well informed graduate students can be on politics – and their diverse opinions. At the same time, there is not always time and energy left over to care about politics, especially local politics (Local politics suffer the most because students tend to be only temporarily in this place, even voting in the local elections elsewhere).

We pondered the words of Ecclesiastes 8. The wisdom of verses 2-4 to act astutely in the power of the king spoke to our own experiences of trying to respond to academic expectations that we don’t find to be healthy or appropriate: outright questioning or rebellion tends not to be helpful, but perhaps there are still ways to shift things slightly. The text also encouraged us to criticize less those who are in charge – because it is easy to be caught up unawares in things bigger than ourselves (v.8) and because no one knows what the future brings or the exact consequences of one’s actions (v.7). This led to the question of what it means to extend grace to the current President, especially when so many of us don’t understand the reasoning behind his actions even as we also recognize that some of this country’s systems are in need of changes. It was a good discussion but somewhat disheartening as there seemed no easy answers to resolving the challenges in society around us, whether that be the parking problems on our local street, the high number of marijuana places here in Lansing, foreigners living and working here, or universal health care.

The author’s conclusion to the matter, despite the challenges inherent in politics and government, is the same as it’s been for most of the previous chapters: Life isn’t fair; (v. 14 says sometimes the wicked get what the righteous deserve and vice versa); this is meaningless/vanity/futility. So he recommends pleasure: eat, drink, and be merry. In other words, do your best to enjoy and make the most out of life.

In the midst of grad school when many things can be overwhelming – not least of which is the political situation – this practical wisdom provides a refreshing perspective. It reminds me that before I go back to striving to do everything and try to make the world a better place (or simply get all my work done) that I should take a step back, rejoice in the good gifts I have, and give thanks to God.

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