Monday, August 11, 2008

Swing Vote

"...responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation." - Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2008 (US Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Swing Vote is a fun and heartwarming little movie that any red-blooded American would enjoy; but sadly, it has not done too well at the box office so far.

It resounds with a message not heard much since Jimmy Stewart filibustered his way through the Senate in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939.

In this film, Kevin Costner stars as Ernest "Bud" Johnson, a very simple man living in a trailer home with his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) in a small forgotten town of Texico, New Mexico. We come to learn that Bud doesn't care much about anything: his home is a mess, he neglects his job, he drinks himself silly, he oversleeps every day, and while he seems to love his daughter, he doesn't put much effort into being a decent father.

When Molly asks him to vote on election day, he doesn't even bother. Wanting to make up for her father's loss, she sneaks into the polling place to vote for Bud. Unfortunately, the power goes out at just the right moment and, long story short, Bud is given the opportunity to cast his ballot again - and this vote will decide the entire presidential election.

Who wins or loses, who the candidates are and even what they stand for is secondary to a larger theme in this film: apathy has no place in our culture today.

Swing Vote is the story of an apathetic man's conversion to a life of thinking and caring - about himself, about his family, and about his country.

Apathy infects a lot of people around the world. There are those who don't seem to care much about anything that doesn't affect them personally, and even that isn't a sure thing either. Bud might seem a little extreme, but apathy affects almost everyone. I have been guilty of being apathetic about my health. But apathy doesn't do anyone any good. Just because we don't have an active role in something doesn't exclude us from thinking and caring about it.

In this election year, the Catholic bishops of the United States have released a special document called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. In it, the bishops state "...responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation."

In other words, apathy has no role for anyone, especially a follower of Christ.

We must get active with the world around us, not because it's some sort of American requirement or because the Catholic bishops are making us feel guilty. Rather, we must get active because our Christian faith demands action on the part of any believer. Jesus did not tell his followers "sit back and do nothing," but told them to get active, make a difference, and change the world.

Participation in the political process, action in the local community, and involvement in important issues that affect us and the world around us are all ways we can rid ourselves of apathy. Bud's journey from apathy to action is an example we can all follow.

So what can we do? Check out the Faithful Citizenship website developed by the staff of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops: It's a great first step in a process that can make a real difference in our nation and in our world.

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