Today, a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook that starts,
There is a special, insidious sort of cruelty to telling people they're being unreasonable for worrying that a president elect will do exactly what he said he would do…
It is long and strident and you can read the whole post here.
It has received a lot of reactions. Four people loved it, five people were sad, 72 liked it and 61 people shared it. Twelve people commented on it, and those comments received 37 additional comments. It has resonated strongly, either positively or negatively, depending on where you are on the political spectrum.
The first comment, from a conservative Republican friend was,
The amount of hate coming from the left is amazing.
There is a great amount of hate out there right now, and while it is tempting to suggest most of the hate is coming from the other end of the political spectrum than your own, it appears to be across the spectrum.
People hate Muslims, Mexicans, black people, gays, transgendered people, women, people on welfare, members of the one percent, Trump, Clinton, Republicans, Democrats, and all kinds of different people. I believe we are called love our neighbors and pray for our enemies.
Yet there is another form of hatred. Hating racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, injustice, and oppression. I believe that part of our call to love our neighbor includes working against all forms of injustice and oppression.
We fight injustice many ways. We vote. We write. We assemble peaceably. We must acknowledge hatred across the political spectrum. We need to try to find ways to hear the hurt of people different from us and not pretend it isn’t there.
Recently, a Facebook friend who is a priest ask his friends how he should be thinking as he prepares for this coming Sunday's sermon, the Sunday after an election that has caused such strong, polarized feeling. The first thing that came to my mind was 1 Samuel 8 where the Elders of Israel asks Samuel to appoint for them a king. It is a stern warning about looking for earthly leaders instead of heavenly leaders. It is pretty bleak, but I know it is what a lot of people are feeling right now.
Yet as an Episcopalian, I prefer sermons based on the lectionary. The appointed Gospel for this Sunday is Luke 21:5-19. It is also pretty bleak, with lines like, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven”.
Where is the Good News?
Perhaps we can find it in the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 65:17-25, which starts
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
This may not sound what many are experiencing. It may sound a little too pie in the sky, but I think there is something there.
“I am about to create new heavens”. Have you ever lived in a house that was being renovated? I must admit, I’ve never really lived through that, but I know friends who have. They struggled with sealed off rooms, sawdust everywhere, the kitchen being available and having to live off meals of bought already prepared and eaten off of paper plates in the living room. It isn’t fun, but they endure it because they believe something better is coming. As they endure it, they change. Their ability to endure difficult situations grows, their ability to understand other people who struggle daily increases.
I know many people who are very concerned about the future, perhaps less about their future, and more about the future of others, whether the others be Mexican, Muslim, handicapped, transgendered, or female. There are others who are excited, who think that finally their voice is being heard. How do we share good news with everyone? How do we lovingly comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?
Recently, I’ve been reading some of Brother Lawrence. The second conversation with Brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God starts off:
Brother Lawrence told me he had always been governed by love without selfish views. Since he resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.
Perhaps this is where the real challenge lies and the real opportunity. How do we treat those different from ourselves, whether they have different religions, different countries of origin, different ability, different gender identities, so simply just different political views? How do we model, with our words and actions, practicing the presence of God, of making the love of God the end of all our actions?
I don’t have a good easy response to this. Perhaps all I can say, all any of us can say and do is to reaffirm our baptismal vows.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God's help.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God's help.
Recently, I was hurt very deeply by a group of people whom I believe were trying to do what they believed was best for me. It wasn’t a physical injury. Instead, it was an emotional and spiritual injury. Over the past year and a half, many people have come forward to me to tell their stories of similar injuries and I wonder what I am supposed to do in my case, and in the case of others. I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.
Recently, I was speaking with the head of a domestic violence shelter about how we, as innocent bystanders, need to respond when we see intimate partner violence or fear that a friend of ours may be abused, or an abuser. I think this latter point is really important. How do we lovingly get an abuser to become less abusive? The head of the shelter is working on a blog post about this.
It came into sharp focus this morning when a friend on Facebook book wrote,
Every few weeks lately I hear my neighbors fighting. They are a young couple with a baby. The mom is often crying and saying she wants him to leave. The cops have been called at least once.
Sometimes I stand in the doorway so he knows I have my eye on him. I haven't been sure how much more to intervene, but have been on the verge of going out to talk to them and offering to call the cops (which you know is something I would only do as a last resort).
Tonight, just as I finally decided to attempt to stop reading election tweets and go to sleep, I heard them again. I heard a smack and I jumped out of bed and went outside. As soon as my porch light came on he ran off into the house and I saw her lying in the street and sobbing.
How do we respond to violence or the threat of violence? I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.
Today is Election Day. The level of anxiety in our nation is great. It permeates everything. I wonder if that anxiety was a contributing factor in my friend’s neighbor’s situation. I wonder how that level of anxiety is affecting me, and those who injured me.
A long-time political friend on Facebook, a conservative Republican, posted
Republicans let the underbelly of the American entertainment complex take over the party and right now I’m watching smart people who I respect trade their most core principles for fealty to a political party.
What are our core principles? That all people are created equal? That all people are created in the image of their Creator? That all people are loved by their creator? How does this relate to our loyalty to the institutions we are part of? Where does faith fit in?
Another conservative friend of mine on Facebook posted
We need to grow up in Christ and come back to our right mind and good senses! I don’t know about you, but my relationship with Christ isn’t affected by anyone or anything. My blessings are not contingent or dependent upon who is in office. If need be, God will make Hillary Clinton my servant and cause her to deliver blessing right to my front door. Nothing shall separate me from the love of God in Christ; not Hillary, Donald, or anyone else.
As I look forward to this day, and the days to come, there are a few thoughts that come to mind. I posted this on Facebook:
Will the glass shards that surround us tomorrow be from a broken glass ceiling? From Kristallnacht? From some combination of the two?
It is up to each one of us, what we do today when we vote and what we do afterwards as we work towards truth and reconciliation.
I also posted the prayer for an election on Facebook
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The voting will be over by the end of the day, and it will be time to start reconciliation. I need to work on the long hard slow process of reconciliation with those who hurt me. Couples will need to work on reconciliation. Our nation will need to work on reconciliation. We need to spend a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.
For the past few months, I’ve been advocating filling social media with poetry as an antidote to much of the vitriol in the U.S. political discourse. Some friends have been sharing poetry. I especially enjoy it when they share their own poems and when the poems are focused on the beauty of the world around us.
A couple weeks ago, the American Psychological Association came out with a survey about election related stress: APA Survey Reveals 2016 Presidential Election Source of Significant Stress for More Than Half of Americans. The press release makes some suggestions about dealing with the stress.
“If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing you stress, limit your media consumption”. I get most of my news online and I try to read enough to be informed, but not enough to stress out. I try to fill my time with poetry and prayer instead.
“Avoid getting into discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate to conflict.” There are two thoughts I have on this. First, if joining the discussion is unlikely to have an impact, which seems to be the case in most political discussions, just avoid it. However, three are times that you need to speak up, just because the voice needs to be heard.
A quote from Thomas Merton comes to mind:
"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."
Indeed, concentrating on “on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself” seems key. Yet it also seems lacking in many of the discussions about the election.
“Stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about.” I’ve seen people post, things like, “If you check FiveThirtyEight constantly, but aren’t phone banking or door knocking, you’re doing it wrong”. Many of my friends have travelled this weekend to battleground states to get the vote out. Pundits have said that at this point, it is all down to the ground game. The candidate that can get the most people out knocking doors will most likely win. This gives me some reassurance, but that doesn’t always work out to be the case. Door knocking gets people to the polls that might not otherwise make it. It rarely, at least in my experience, especially this late in the game, changes people’s opinions.
“Vote. In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter.” If you don’t go out and vote out of your hopes for our country, at least go out and vote as a means of relieving stress.
With this in mind, let me share a poem. My choice has probably been affected by the current political climate. Here’s an annotated version of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.
Here are links to various chances to pray with others for our nation and the election
Moral Revival Watch Party - A Call to Action and to Vote at New Haven Peoples Center 37 Howe St. New Haven CT, Sunday, November 6 at 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM EST
Collect For an Election (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 822)
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ ...
And, a final link, Taize - Stay with me
Election Day is a little over a week away and I am running as a minor prophet, err, I mean a minor party candidate for State Representative in Connecticut. It is not a role I have sought, but one that has sought me.
I have spoken out in the market place before, and my voice has not been heard or has been unheeded. Seeing how the prophets were treated in the past, so I have been all too willing to walk away unheard and unheeded. Yet I have been called a third time to stand, and I know that I must stand to once more proclaim boldly the Word of the Lord.
This election cycle, I have spoken plainly about the lack of civility in our political discourse as the biggest issue we face, here in Connecticut, and in our Nation. My opponent has mocked me, suggesting that I don’t really understand the issues. She seems to think that the budget is the biggest issue. I have responded that unless we can work civilly with one another, there is no hope for addressing our budget. We must address civility if we have any chance of addressing the budget.
Yet as I think back on this, I think there is an even greater issue. The lack of civility is based on a lack of hope, a lack of faith, a lack of love.
We have lost God in our public discourse. It is understandable. Too often, people use their belief in God as a tool, as a weapon, to justify division, to justify hatred of people that God has created that are not like themselves. Too often people have used their belief in God as a means to seek their own will instead of the will of the Lord. Because of this, those of us who worship the true God, the God of love, have too often been silent.
As a result, the people of America have moved from worshiping the God of Abraham, the God of love, to our modern day Baal. What was sought after in the by the Baalites in the Jewish Bible was rain. What is sought after today is prosperity.
Today, we see people worried about prosperity. For most of us, the paycheck leaves less and less disposable income. It becomes harder to pay the bills. More and more people face hunger, the inability to meet their health needs or the educational needs of their children. If only we could return to the prosperity of the post war era, when the economy was booming, it would be better. But that is also the days when women and minorities were treated even less fairly than they are today, which is not to say that women or minorities are getting a fair deal today.
This brings me to the story of Elijah, of the one whose name means “My God is Yahweh”. Elijah boldly criticizes those who worship prosperity instead of the God of Abraham. In 1 Kings 17:7-16, Elijah comes to a widow and asks for food. The widow replies,
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
This reflects the discourse of the day, back in the time of Elijah, and today. How do we address budget deficits? We make our last meal; that we may eat it and die. So often I have sat in vestry meetings. (For non-Episcopalians, Vestry is the board of the local church). We have looked at the budget, the deficit, the shrinking endowment. We have drafted up new budgets based on the idea of making a meal for ourselves that we may eat it and die.
We have been consumed by fear, by the death of Christendom, of culturally Christianity, a time when everyone went to church, not because they loved God, but because it was what was expected of them. We have seen church budgets cut out of a lack of faith that the Lord will, in fact, provide.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t cut programs that aren’t working, that are no longer relevant. either in our churches or in government. We do need to be good stewards of what God provides. But we do not get out of our predicament by timidly doing less and less. Instead, we need to step out in faith, willing to fail, willing to suffer and die with Christ that we might also see rebirth, resurrection, and live with the risen Lord.
This is my message to the voters in my district, in our state, and in our country. Reject the prophets of fear who seek to preserve their own wealth at the expense of the downcast. Instead, step out in faith to seek a God of Love, a God of Hope. It is the same message I have for local parishes, our diocese, and the church as a whole, and perhaps especially for myself. Do not be timid in seeking and sharing God’s love with those around us as we look at tight or dwindling budgets.
I know that this message is unlikely to get me elected. I understand how proclaiming it may make it harder for me to receive what I most fervently desire, and I believe God desires for me. I don’t do confrontation well, and I worry that in speaking up, I may take on the trials of a minor prophet.
Yet still I believe in a loving and living God, and so I will sit down with Elijah, the widow, and her son. I will eat and wait for the rain to come.