Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What's a pastor to say after this election?

First answer: I'm somewhat at a loss. I have too much to say and not enough to say, all bound up together in a numbing confusion.

Those with whom I share common political perspective hope I'll say something. Those who disagree with me politically are probably wondering whether it will be comfortable to come to church Sunday. So my ability to say anything meaningful is constrained by my own confusion and disappointment, and the wide range of expectations in play.

If you know me well, I'm going to try to be pastoral, while also being totally transparent about the particular perspective out of which I think and pray and speak.

At a very basic level, I myself have a mix of feelings about this election. I'm worried on behalf of women. There was a lot of misogyny in this election. I'm worried for people of color and immigrants. I'm really worried about refugee resettlement. I'm worried that basic civil liberties and progress will be rolled back. I'm worried about Supreme Court nominations, and I'm worried that Trump really is at risk of implementing fascist strategies. So I'm watching for that.

On the other hand, I'm more "ready" than "anxious", because I consider our democracy to be rather resilient and sturdily constructed, and I'm hoping that the checks and balances of our system will function well. I plan to use my voice and vote in every possible way to protect my neighbors who I believe are now threatened by a Trump presidency.

I also think that Trump won because he listened to a broad cross-section of Americans better than the Democrats did, and inasmuch as Democrats write that whole group of voters off as "fill-in-the-blanks," they're failing to listen to the actual concerns. It's more complicated than that. It must be, because 45% of all United States voters voted for Trump. Think Bell Curve here.

Responses to this election vary widely. I have friends who woke up this morning and had to comfort weeping, scared children, even while they themselves were panicking. I have friends who woke up this morning not that worried at all, more curious how things will work out between a Trump presidency and a Republican House and Senate.

I have friends who have said, essentially, "Huh... well, I wouldn't have voted for that man, but many of my friends and relatives did. So I guess I need to watch and see and learn why they did so."

I have friends who have decided to move, because the climate of fear and hate will be too much for them in their communities. They feel literally less safe today than yesterday.

I have friends, especially conservative Christian ones, who woke up this morning and said, "This will finally shake things up in Washington."

In other words, we live in a world so divided by politics that our horizons are incommensurable. It's as if we live in two different countries. There are two different sets of facts. Maybe there are even more than two sets of facts. But it's confusing living in the same country that is two different countries.

It's especially hard to listen to each other, or understand each other, if the facts, the discourse, the whole ecology of understanding, is on different footings.

This election cycle has been a frenzy of rococo micro-aggressions and gothic macro-aggressions. We've built up an edifice of cross-condemnations, partisan brinkmanship that brought the doomsday clock dangerously close to its metaphorical midnight... but the bell hasn't tolled, and we woke up this morning wondering where (and when) we were.

Here's a collection of quotes from friends. I think seeing the range of responses is illuminating.

Critiquing liberal doom-saying
Liberal voice of solidarity 
Prayer for unity when it's hard
Incommensurable horizons
The civic duty
Naming implicit white supremacy

I resonate with many of these quotes, to be honest. But quoting them doesn't yet get me to saying what I need to say.

So what I am supposed to say as pastor? I think my job is to offer hope-filled realism. I'm taking this assignment from the gospel lesson for this Sunday. Jesus both warns that many things will happen to the community of faith, many of them difficult to endure, but then tells them to have hope, and to be strong.
Luke 21
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." 7 They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" 8 And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and, "The time is near!' Do not go after them. 9 "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
This is the text I'll preach from Sunday. It's the assigned text. It's in the lectionary.  I didn't pick it. But it is right for the moment. I think it's my responsibility to listen, express grief, express solidarity, and then point to hope.

I'm supposed to tell the truth. But I can't get to the truth without a deep listen, especially listening to voices that make me uncomfortable. If I write off everybody who voted for Trump simply because I disagree with them (and find the man himself disgusting), I miss an opportunity to build coalitions that can move us forward in the future.

I think my job as a pastor is to stay, and stay strong. I'm supposed to keep steadily pointing in the right direction, the arc that bends towards the justice of God.

Also, and this is important, how did I ever get the impression that I as a Christian would get to be on the winning side, in the position of power? Certainly Scripture doesn't teach us that. Jesus is speaking in the passage from Luke to a small and oppressed religious minority. The text is written probably around 70 A.D., after the destruction of the actual temple, and to the early Christian community, themselves a small and oppressed religious minority. His words, Luke's words, are words for our moment.

Christian, this is your moment. You've got your work cut out for you. You may get arrested. You may be betrayed by family. You may be brought before the government, or even before the church.

This will give you the chance to testify. And you get to testify yourself, and hopefully your fellow Christians will listen to you, even if you need to tell your fellow Christians, "Wake up, you haven't been listening very well!"

But don't get all apocalyptic about it. When the moment of martyria happens, it will happen, but you shouldn't hope for these things, or imagine them before you're in them. Don't get so wrapped up in reading the signs of the times that you over-signify the present moment.

And don't go chasing after candidates of false hope. You'll end up disillusioned (and as a side note, and as someone interested in statistics, what are we all going to do with the news that data is dead?).

And so on.

I can hardly think of a gospel passage more appropriate to our present moment. Go read it again, and again. It offers some comfort.

I often think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in these moments, because he more than many Christians of the modern era intersected Christian faith and power politics. Bonhoeffer had many professional opportunities, and spent time as a pastor in Italy, later in England, then study abroad in the United States. But when things got particularly rough in Germany, while he was in New York at the invitation of Union Theological Seminary, he made the decision to return home. Here's how he explained his decision to Reinhold Niebuhr (one of the more prominent and politically savvy Christian theologians of the 20th century):
"I have made the mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security."
I do not yet know if our present moment is as rife with peril as his was, but there are enough parallels that I am mindful of it. So that letter of Bonhoeffer, it serves as a clarion call, an alert. It wakes me up each time I read it. "I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people."

If you're reading this, and you're really afraid... I see you. You're my people. Give me a call. Send me a note. I'm happy to talk.

If you're reading this, and you're really glad Trump got elected... I have to tell you, I'm not happy, but hey, I'd still like to work together for the common good with you. Can I tell you why I'm so worried, and can you tell me more about your perspective?

That might work. It might not. Jesus teaches that sometimes he will unite us, and sometimes he will drive us apart.

But I'm going to try, inasmuch as possible, to stick with Jesus. Which is I think what a pastor is supposed to say after any election.

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1 comment:

  1. A measured and extremely heartfelt response. Your "best-you-can-do" meant the world for me to read, Clint. -DDM