Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Letter to My Church the Day After the 2016 Election

Dear CCCUCC folks,

I don't know about you, but I spent a sleepless night stunned, angry and fearful after watching the election results come in.  Church members whom I have seen today have expressed variations on feelings of sadness and anger regarding the election.  Yet, I suppose that even in our church, not all share the same feelings regarding the election.

I'm very aware that there are plenty of people out there for whom the election results were good news.  I try not to make generalizations about the political leanings of our congregation.  We may be a congregation made up of folks who largely lean leftward politically and religiously, but we do cherish diversity of thought and belief.  Just as there are always political liberals who sit quietly in more conservative churches, so also, I assume there are political conservatives who remain quiet in ours.  So, I want to be mindful of those who do not share my feelings regarding the election.  If that's you, please know of my love for you as your minister.  I recognize that people cast votes for all kinds of different reasons.  The love we share from our God is greater than our differences.

If you, however, share my feelings of sadness, anger and confusion regarding the outcomes of yesterday's election, then I have some thoughts for you.

1.  God is not dead.  That may seem like an obvious thing to say, but sometimes we can lose perspective.  God is bigger than any particular election outcome.  The words of the Psalmist seem ever more true to me today:

God is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
God is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Even politicians we may vote for will nonetheless disappoint us, but God remains faithful and true.  (For instance, I voted for President Obama twice and respect and admire him and agree with many decisions he has made, but not all.  His administration's policies toward undocumented immigrants have been seriously unjust in my opinion and the huge numbers of deportations that have broken up families--far more than the previous Bush administration--are a stain upon our national conscience.)  All political administrations are imperfect and broken, because the people who make them up are likewise imperfect and broken.  Yet, the purposes of God for justice and equality, peace and wholeness are not vanquished by one party or another.  God is still at work in our society and world.  Whatever our feelings at the moment, we should seek out where God is at work and there we will find hope and peace.  If you and I are open to the work God is doing all around us, then we can claim the words of the prophet Isaiah as our own:

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for God is my strength and my might;
    God has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to God,
    call on God's name;
make known God's deeds among the nations

2.  There are lessons to be learned from this election.  The level of racism, sexism, nativism, homophobia, transphobia and scapegoating has been alarming during this campaign season and the audacity in which candidates have reveled in blatant demonization of others is more than horrifying.  I believe our new president-elect trafficked especially in this language of oppression.   The leaders of our denomination, The United Church of Christ, said it well in today's pastoral letter:

Mr. Trump was able to win this election in spite of clear evidence from him of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and Islamaphobia. This was so blatant that many of his own party's leaders could not endorse him. Many who voted for him knew this, and yet their fears about what is happening in their lives overrode their distaste for his bombast.  In their search for a leader not connected to the power base of a government that has been perceived as corrupt, inefficient, and out of touch - his populist rhetoric appealed to them. He must now lead a country where people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, and an LGBT community all feel the sting and impact of his public speech.

Any who believe we have somehow moved past the evils of yesteryear when it comes to racism and sexism have no excuse any more for keeping their blinders on.  We are a culture awash in white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism.  

One church member shared with me today that in his job he talks to people all over the country and for weeks he knew the polls were wrong, because what he was hearing amounted to a victory for our new president-elect.  What I believe he was hearing was a deep cry of pain from many people who feel trapped by economic and political forces which have devastated their lives.  The divide between rich and poor which also amounts to the divide between urban and rural is the unspoken topic of this election season.  (If you don't know what I mean by this, I highly recommend the audio series by the public radio program On the Media "Busted: America's Poverty Myths.")  

When there is deep pain, humans too often look for salvation in the wrong place.  Human history is full of leaders who prey upon the pain of their people.  This pain is real, and unfortunately people in pain choose to scapegoat others--usually those in the minority--as the source of their pain.  This pain must be responded to with love rather than by choices to likewise scapegoat and demonize others.  If those of us who feel hurt by this election respond in kind to those we feel have demonized and attacked us, then we are no better than those we disagree with.  The words of the writer of 1 John are especially true the day after election day:

We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

3.  Now is especially time to care for the wounded and marginalized, the outsiders and the excluded.  Those who feel distraught because of this election have a choice whether or not to wallow in their feelings of despair or to respond with love.  There are people all around who have felt particularly targeted by the Trump campaign. Many are fearful for their safety and their family's safety today.  I'm thinking particularly of Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people and African Americans.  Whether they will be carried out or not, specific threats have been made towards these communities and they deserve support.  Seek out your friends, neighbors and coworkers who live in fear this day.  Share with them of your care for them and your support of them.  Reassure them they are loved.  Turn your fears into acts of love for others who are afraid.  I often am asked to read these words from Ecclesiastes at weddings, but they should be meditated upon whenever we are called to be friends to one another:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.

4.  Our church is needed now more than ever.  One of the things that has encouraged me this day has been our community of faith at CCCUCC.  

This morning my inbox contained e-mails from church members encouraging one another with poetry and songs and telling of their decisions to do something today that is positive and that gives light and life to others.  

This morning I visited a church member in the hospital recovering from surgery and although she was thankful for my visit, I was the one inspired by her strength and determination.  She expressed her gratitude for her church and the many who have been praying for her.  She has drawn comfort from your support.  

I am remembering the words of Rev. Cynthia Meyer who preached on Sunday.  Even though she has been denied the right to serve as a minister in her denomination because of her sexual orientation, she could preach at our church, because of the freedom and inclusion we practice.  She encouraged us to be "beacons of light" to a world shrouded in shadows of despair and pain.  Her words reminded me of the founders of our congregation who chose to put a star on top of our building, because they wanted our church to be a light to the world.  

When the Religious Right loses in political elections, they do not give up.  They work harder to organize and build their movement to promote a narrow view of God and to see that understanding of God promoted by the state.  I think trying to be a "Religious Left" is a losing game (we are called to a much bigger work of God's peace and justice than merely being a response to those on the religious and political far-right), but I do believe that people who believe in a God of love and welcome and grace must likewise organize and spread an alternative understanding of Christianity.  Similarly, I believe people who believe in a pluralistic society that not only tolerates difference but promotes mutual learning and understanding across religious and cultural boundaries must work harder than ever to create such a society.  People of all faiths and no faith who believe there is room for all in our society must find one another and work together.  I believe our church is uniquely suited to such work and the God we experience together calls us to do it.  The writer of Colossians speaks of God "reconciling all things to God's self" through Christ's example of sacrificial love.  Our world desperately needs a vision of Christianity that believes God is about reconciling all things together rather than one which professes God is out to destroy those whom they say are evil.

4.  Think hard about how you are using your energy and what you are putting into your consciousness and what you are filling your soul with.  If the discomfort you feel does not prompt you to greater acts of love, then God is not in it.  If you find yourself pulling away from others and having no space in your heart to hear the perspective of someone that differs from your own, then you are pulling away from God.  Let your discomfort, anger and sadness motivate you to care for others, demonstrate the love of God to others and create spaces where others find peace and opportunities for wholeness.  With God's help, you can be the one who is generous to others with whom you disagree even if they choose not to be generous to you.  You will find the emptiness you feel inside filled with the joy of being useful for God's work of reconciliation.  

It takes strength of will to resist the siren call of angry rhetoric and self-righteous declarations.  Today I had to make a decision to not get onto social media and not watch or listen to or read the news, because I was in a state where I was in desperate need of input that would give me hope and faith rather than anger and arrogance.  Be attentive to the state of your soul and allow things in which lead you to greater love.  This is what Paul wrote about when he said:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

I awoke this morning thinking of one of my favorite poems, "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry.  The beginning lines seemed to match my feelings: 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be

It's as if he wrote the poem for how I felt after the election.  Yet, he goes on to describe what he does in such moments:

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I think Berry is on to something that Jesus taught when he urged his followers to "consider the birds of the air. . . and the lilies of the field" in order to live in a state of faith and peace because of God's care for us.  

To sum up, if today you feel attacked, alone or afraid, please know if you are receiving this e-mail you have a church that cares for you and you are loved.  

No matter how you feel about the election, I hope you will take to heart the words of Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of our sister denomination the Disciples of Christ

"To those who are rejoicing, we recall '... but (if I) have not love, I gain nothing.' (I Cor. 13:3.) To those who are fearful this day: 'Perfect love drives out fear.' (I John 4:18)  

May you be moved to greater acts of love and peace trusting in our Creator and Sustainer who is our ultimate source of hope.

Grace and Peace,