The Travels of an Independent Thinker

John Anderson, the presidential candidate who collected almost seven percent of the popular vote in 1980 as an independent, died on Sunday at 95. His life is probably no more than a footnote in national political history, but his journey to the ballot alongside Presidents Reagan and Carter might inspire disciples who strive to integrate the Gospel into areas of political import.

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Anderson began his political career as a staunch Republican, supporting Barry Goldwater and later eschewing the policies of President Johnson's Great Society initiative and the social advances of the civil rights era. However, when Anderson began to travel the nation, he saw beyond his Illinois district how different people were living differently, and he began to reshape his ideas. Eventually, he would no longer have a home in either political party.

A news poll recently reported that more than 70 percent of millennials want a third political party due to their dissatisfaction with the dysfunction of present partisanship. As fewer than one in five of them voted in the last presidential election, perhaps some political entrepreneur will rise to meet this need. Maybe the path that Anderson once trod will soon be paved as a permanent highway to ameliorate the bitterness and besmirching that prevents political progress.

Nevertheless, Anderson's life remains instructive: His travels taught him to evolve his thinking. This Advent-Christmas season is one of traveling. Mary journeys to Elizabeth in the visitation. Joseph and Mary take to the roads for the birth of Jesus. The magi follow a star to find them, and then "they departed for their country another way" (Matthew 2:12). The Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape Herod.

While Jesus was too young to remember all of this traveling, his parents, no doubt, recounted and repeated to him the stories of these difficult journeys of his early life, like parents tend to tell their children accounts of their formative years. How did these memories impact the imagination, psyche, and soul of Jesus as he grew from a boy to a man? Did the poverty of the people Joseph and Mary encountered influence and prepare his heart to grow ever more sensitive to the needs of others he would defend with his preaching and teaching? Were these travel stories influential in developing his sense of empathy that undergirds his presentation of the Kingdom of God? Did Joseph and Mary champion the charity of certain people who helped them in their time of need, prompting Jesus to later advance themes like the Good Samaritan because his family once benefitted from one?

We do not know, but we do have experiences of our travel changing us. Whether a restorative vacation, an exhausting business trip, or an emotional trip to celebrate a wedding or funeral, we return home with some fresh perspectives. Yes, travel can change us—if we let it. But, first we must take ourselves out of our comfort zones and into new places to encounter new environments and new people. Advent journeys just don't happen in Advent, though it is a fine place to start to prepare our heart. Happy travels.