Thank God for the World Series! For ten days or so America was offered a delightful respite and diversion from the merciless cycle of election coverage, with each day bringing, if not new revelations, then new ways of packaging and slinging the mud that’s splattering over all of us. As attacks have become so personal through this entire campaign season, more and more people have taken it more and more personally. It feels like after Tuesday we’ll need to take one huge national shower. It is sad and it is embarrassing, and I truly feel for parents and teachers of younger children, how you are talking with your kids about what they can’t help but see and hear. It is important for all of us to take control in whatever ways we can: to take care of ourselves and our families, be kind to our neighbors, and to exercise our most precious right and privilege in a democratic society by voting. There is too much riding on this election not to.
As I was thinking about this Sunday I obviously knew that the election was on everyone’s mind, and that, like the nation at large, there is significant stress over it. I know that I am feeling it. An American Psychological Association survey found that 52% of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress for them – about even for registered Republicans and registered Democrats. Interestingly, this was the case with 54% of adults who use social media, and 45% of non-social media users.
There has been more analysis of the dynamics of this election season than I ever remember seeing – and there is so much to analyze! It is clear, as many have pointed out, that anxiety and fear of many kinds have gone unaddressed for a long time in our society, and this election season has provided the opportunity for these fears and anxieties to be joined by forces of hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny that have always been there, if barely under the surface, allowing it all to re-emerge – legitimizing aggression as a response to fear. This should be of great concern to all of us, and to the church of Jesus Christ. These are never forces we can accommodate for the sake of political expediency, not if we are followers of Jesus.
There’s a lot of information out there about the psychological impacts of this election. I wondered about the spiritual impacts – so I went on line and googled “spiritual impacts of the 2016 election.” Not much there, and what is there for the most part comes from the far right of the theological and political spectrum (though this year there are some significant breaks among evangelical Christians from the right wing political agenda). I was talking the other day with someone who said that her sister told her that the pastor of her church proclaimed from the pulpit that it was God’s will that Donald Trump be elected president. There you have it.
I was looking through my old Presbyterian worship book – the one I used early in my ministry. I came upon the prayer that we used this morning as our prayer of confession, and I found myself moved by the last sentence of that prayer: “Raise up in us a right patriotism, that sees and seeks this nation’s good . . . ” Raise up in us a right patriotism . . . They’re not making it easy on us in this election season to see through the haze of negativity what a “right” patriotism might look like in these days filled with such division and vitriol. But we pray not so much for what we can see, but for what we look to God to raise up in us.
A right patriotism recalls the hopeful vision of a land of peace and liberty, and the sacrifices of our fore fathers and mothers who, through good times and bad, built and carried on and bequeathed to us the continuation of the grand experiment that is this nation.
At the same time, a right patriotism acknowledges and confesses the ways we have failed to honor and protect the rights and freedoms of all – its native peoples, the African slaves who for centuries were treated not as people but as chattel, forced to labor for the sake of others’ needs and comforts – the legacy of which still painfully impacts its descendants and our common life. It acknowledges and confesses that only white, land-owning men could vote in the first centuries of the republic.
A right patriotism sees that pride can easily overlook national wrong and sacrifice “justice for all” for lesser, selfish goals. A right patriotism does not promote division but seeks to heal it.
And – we pray that God would have mercy on the heart of this land, acknowledging that none of our hearts are pure, and if we were not held in God’s merciful hand the chaos that threatens to undo us would surely have its way.
After Tuesday it will be over, and it will not be over. And folks are anxious about that too, no matter how it goes.
My wife Karen was sick last week – a terrible cold she couldn’t shake. She spent a couple of days at home, with no energy to do anything except watch TV. The TV has been more or less locked on cable news stations for months now – so that’s what she watched for a while. She got to the point where she couldn’t take it anymore, and turned it to the Hallmark channel, and for the next day and a half she watched those movies. They’re all Christmas movies now – with essentially the same predictable plot line, and always with a happy ending. She said it was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, to take care of ourselves, we need to turn away for a time.
And when we do turn back, I believe there are certain Christian rules of engagement with the world. I think the Prayer of St. Francis states what they are as well as anything:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
In order to engage with the world – in our time and place just now an election season being as it has been, with national and personal anxiety at such a high level – if we are to seek to bring peace, love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy we cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in their opposites.
Jesus said to his disciples, “ . . . do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” He reminded them how God provides for the birds of the air, the lilies of the field – God will also provide for you. He didn’t speak these words into a vacuum. The society in which Jesus lived and in which the early Christians formed the church, was filled with political intrigue and danger. Their nation was occupied by Roman forces, and they faced persecution from all sides. Jesus told them not to be afraid. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Be generous, he said, give to the poor. Do not be dragged down in worry, do not be held captive by the fears swirling around you.
We don’t know what lay ahead, but we do know whose we are, that we are held in God’s merciful hand, and that though there are anxious days ahead our joy is to be found not in what the world can provide, but in the struggle itself to be instruments of God’s peace.
So I am feeling patriotic this morning. I am moved by our prayer for a right patriotism. I am moved to honor the highest ideals of our nation in the midst of an election season dominated by the lowest attempts to divide it. I am moved to confess past and present injustices, and rejoice in our capacity for helpfulness, fairness, and compassion.
I am moved to give praise to a sovereign God, who tempers judgment with mercy, who fills our hearts to sing of a life that flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation, who gives us ears to hear the clear, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.