I was a political science major in college. My reason for choosing that path is a longer story in itself, but, at least in part, what it all came down to was this: I was (and continue to be) fascinated with how people translate belief into action.
I cannot today remember how it came to be that my study of politics in those early years became political action for me, but it did. Somehow I wound up leading a campus effort to try to elect what would have been the first female congressperson from the state of Iowa. She had come close in 1980. We really thought 1982 would be the break through year.
And so I was allowed to set up a table in our campus center. I handed out campaign buttons and brochures. I urged fellow students to vote and traveled with friends to East Waterloo where we went door to door and registered people to vote. Turn out was high on campus that year. Indeed, people who studied such things marveled to see the spike in those who voted for the Democratic challenger from that particular precinct in an otherwise heavily Republican Bremer County. In the end, my candidate was soundly defeated as would be most of the candidates I supported for years to come. Either way, looking back I know this much is true. We never did have much conversation about the issues. Indeed, at some level I was aware that while my sphere of influence was small, my fellow students turned out to vote as they did simply because I asked them to.
Fast forward more than thirty years. In the time since I abandoned political science as a formal field of study and turned to theology. And yet, I never really did leave behind my interest in how people put belief into action and one could say that my work, locally, is as ‘political’ as any. Through this time I have served congregations where members leaned heavily Republican and I have served where most voted Democrat. This week I shook my head to see that my county was split: 51%-49%. I am quite certain that division is also reflected in the place where I preach most every Sunday. A lot may have changed in this time, but this much remains the same: We still don’t talk about issues, if we talk at all. And more than that:
- We have to fight against the temptation to ‘label’ one another as ignorant, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, misinformed, or bleeding heart.
- We see the other ‘side’ as over reacting.
- We feel how words hurt when flung our direction but too often fail to even try to comprehend how words also damage when directed the other way.
This is what I observe when I am able to lift myself above the fray I am experiencing even in my own heart. When I can’t quite do that, this is what I have known more than once in these last months and in a very real way in these last days: Fear has had its grip on me. For I am afraid of a future where we do not take seriously the effects of gun violence, the threat of climate change, the need for health care for all of our fellow citizens, and the insidious effects of racism on so many in our nation, to name a few. And I ache to see legitimate fear in the faces of people whose life experiences are different than my own and whose futures may be radically altered because of decisions made this week. And truth be told, I do not fully know how to talk about this with people whose perspectives differ so from my own. But still I am called to be a leader — to both those who see the world as I do and to those who do not. And too, too much is at stake for us to keep hiding behind the labels we give one another or we claim for ourselves. People of faith do need to talk to each other about these things that matter most. Indeed, I don’t see it happening much anywhere else. Perhaps it is God’s call to us to do so at this very time.
This is why I have not been content to allow myself to be comforted by those who would quickly assert that ‘God is in control’ in these last days. I mean, OF COURSE — and we most definitely affirm this in word and song as we celebrate the Reign of Christ on this Christ the King Sunday. But for here and now it is simply not enough — no, more than that — it is simply not right —- it is not faithful — to rest in platitudes like these which at worst can serve as a reason to think that the victors somehow have God’s blessing and at “best” can give us an excuse to do nothing at all.
Indeed, this week we stand together at the foot of the cross once more. We hear the strangled voice of Jesus speaking words of forgiveness — not empty platitudes, these, but words of promise which came at the expense of his own life. We witness as he takes on the ridicule of those who somehow could not, would not hear his teaching about love and could not accept his continual reaching across all that would separate us one from another. We see him hanging there between two who evidently deserved such punishment. And we hear the truth once more that there are no limits to his love, God’s love, for even this one dying beside him.
This Sunday people who voted opposite from one another will hear the same words of forgiveness, will receive the bread and wine — Christ’s body and blood — side by side. We will sit near each other and we will have our memories and imaginations stirred by the same precious images in scripture. Together we will pray for the sick and the dying, for the work and witness of the church, for those who serve our country and much, much more. Through it all, we will come together under the same banner of love and hope and promise. And that must mean something for who we are not only to and for each other but also for the sake of the world God so loves outside of Sunday morning, mustn’t it?
- I, for one, will come to this day and all the days before us seeking forgiveness for the ways in which I have not taken the time to really hear and listen — especially to those who differ from me.
- I will do all I can to model this in a way that is respectful and kind, all the while standing firm on principles of faith which transcend political affiliation. I will do this recognizing these as people with whom I may disagree, but as people I genuinely love.
- I will be putting on a safety pin as a sign and symbol to all that I am a ‘safe person’ to any and all who might be legitimately afraid in the wake of harmful campaign rhetoric and the spike in the number of hate crimes which threaten them in so many ways.
- I will have lunch this week with the president of our local Islamic Community Center and breakfast with the pastor of the largest African American congregation in town — two incredibly fine human beings whom I gratefully call my friends. And I will wonder with them at the meaning of all of this and about who we are called to be together in this community we share.
And yes, as I always have, I will keep wondering at what it means to put “belief into action” as I stand in the shadow of a Savior hanging on a cross whose last words this side of the grave were ones of forgiveness and promise to the undeserving. I will wonder at how that binds us all together. All of us. And I will keep wondering and working at how we can do better now for the sake of ALL those for whom Jesus died.
- Regardless of whether or not you are a citizen or resident of the United States, how have you reacted to our recent election results? What is your story?
- How do the images and words of this week’s Gospel speak to you in this particular context we share?
- What will you do in the days and weeks to come to build community and connection with those with whom you may disagree? How will you do away with the damaging simplicity of ‘labels’ and talk about things that matter?
- How will you show support to those who may be genuinely afraid in this uncertain time?
- What strength or confidence does your identity as a follower of Jesus give you as you seek to ‘do better now for the sake of ALL those for whom Jesus died?’