Election: I Will Not Be Moving On, and Here’s Why
I was listening to a book by Jim Finley, the great Roman Catholic contemplative teacher, and he said something extraordinary.
He said, and I paraphrase here, “Great pain is always pointing to great unacknowledged truth.”
I can’t think of a more apt description of how our nation has been feeling this week.
This is not a pulpit sermon. I will not be preaching this to my congregation during Sunday morning worship.
It is instead a very personal reflection on what I have been experiencing in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as our president, and how I see the scriptures relating to that.
Jesus is right with us in the beginning of our gospel lesson today.
“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘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.’”
This week many things were thrown down in our lives, first and foremost our image of what we thought America was, how far we thought America had come.
I think many of us really believed that with our first black president and the advent of marriage equality, our nation had really turned a corner.
We were living in a fool’s paradise.
We underestimated the anger of a large segment of our nation.
But anger is not a primary emotion. It always covers up either fear or hurt.
And fear has been sown like a malignant seed deep in our nation’s soul, growing and multiplying over the years ever since 9/11, burgeoning through the Great Recession, and now we have a bitter harvest being brought into our barns.
People who feel threatened will lash out, and the easiest targets are minorities and vulnerable people.
The patterns of comfortable persecution and convenient oppression are worn deep in our country, and it takes very little fear-mongering to bring them raging to life with new and toxic strength.
The people who voted for Donald Trump felt like they were being ignored, but by God, no one can ignore them now. The “Fag Church” and “Heil Trump” spray-painted on the walls of my former parish this week speak that loudly and clearly.
What an achingly painful truth it is that it takes open racism and misogyny from a candidate for the highest office in the land for 50% of this country to feel its voice is being heard.
But worse than that is the price being paid today by Muslims, women, people of color, LGBTQ people and all those demonized by the populist right-wing victory of this election.
We have pain layered on pain here, and the very worst impulses of the American psyche have now risen all the way to the White House. What have we become as a nation?
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death,” Jesus says in our gospel.
This is what hurts so much, I think.
Statistically speaking, for Donald Trump to have won the presidency, about 50% of the people I know and love, 50% of my parishioners, 50% of people I admire and trust, had to have voted for him.
And I can’t understand that.
I feel betrayed.
And I know they must feel betrayed by me and what they must see as my out-of-touch liberal elitism.
And even to recognize the pain of the Trump voters feels to me like I’m betraying people of color, gay and lesbian people, people with disabilities who are now dealing with existential fear in their own communities.
This wasn’t betrayal with a kiss. It was betrayal with a punch. And we’re all reeling.
Never in my life have I been more aware of my privilege than I have been this week.
I have been seeing and hearing clergy colleagues and community leaders preach a gospel of “coming together and moving on now that the election is over.”
And I have to say that I find that sentiment appalling.
I don’t mean that we should be protesting the election’s result or challenging the peaceful transfer of power.
Donald Trump won fair and square, and his election is an honest and open reflection of the majority of American opinion.
But I if get on board with the “let’s come together and move on” idea, I am abandoning all the people who were thrown away by the Trump movement as worthy only of violence and contempt.
And I’m jolly well not going to do that.
I’m not here to encourage anger or violence or additional polarization.
But I am here to attempt to answer Jesus’ call to solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed.
And I can’t do that if I acquiesce to this election and act like it’s okay.
It is fair, and it is legal, but it is not right, and it does not reflect my American values, much less my Christian values.
I’m not here to challenge the result of the election. But I am here to challenge whatever policies are enacted that reflect the racist, misogynistic, homophobic rhetoric that Donald Trump preached for the last two years.
I have an affirmative moral obligation to do that.
I have asked myself over and over again, “Whitney, are you being overdramatic? Are you getting caught up in some self-congratulatory, moral heroics narrative that’s really all about you?”
But I cannot escape the deep conviction that history will judge us by what we do now.
This is real, and this is important, and Jesus told us it would happen.
“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. This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
No doubt I am ensnared in an ego-trip of martyrdom that does me very little credit in terms of spiritual maturity.
But that does not lessen the reality that very ugly forces have been unleashed in this country, and we have an urgent moral responsibility to speak against them and to stand in solidarity with the marginalized.
This is what I mean by privilege.
It is a staggering privilege both to talk about “coming together and moving on” and to quibble about my psychological and spiritual maturity in the midst of our nation’s identity crisis.
People who can talk about coming together and moving on are not worried that someone will beat them, that someone will deport them, that someone will yank their hijab off their head in a Wal-Mart, that someone will scrawl a swastika across their car windshield, that they will have no health care.
People who can worry that they are being overdramatic are people who do not face literal, physical threats from their fellow citizens and potentially from their own government.
I do not understand what it feels like to be terrified for my safety and my future the way immigrants, gay and lesbian people, and people of color do in this nation today.
I am a very privileged person serving in a very privileged context.
But I have realized that there is no such thing as an ideal servant of justice, and it doesn’t really matter what I am or what I am not, what I can understand or not understand about another’s experience. Because this not really about me.
It is about the people in my nation who are under very real threat, and my obligation to respond to that.
Jesus tells us today not to worry about these things, but to fling ourselves into the arms of the Holy Spirit and trust that we will know what to do.
“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
That’s a terrifyingly vulnerable place to be.
To not prepare a defense in advance sounds ridiculous.
But that is my call as a privileged person more than ever.
Already vulnerable people have been driven to the edge of a cliff of fear and potential violence against them.
And I must try, in whatever limited way I can, to go there with them and stand there with them.
This is where we get to the heart of what we are called to do.
I am sensing a call to the crossroads of prayer and civil disobedience.
Again, I don’t mean protesting Donald Trump’s election—our nation has spoken and that’s the result.
But if and when policies start coming down that persecute the vulnerable and jeopardize their rights, then it’s time to hit the streets in peaceful protest.
God knows I have been shamefully absent in any real way from the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of other justice-seekers.
What an awful truth that it takes racism and misogyny of this magnitude to get me off my couch and further than being a smug laptop liberal.
But God calls the flawed and incapable to do God’s work, so sign me up.
I feel I am being asked to pray with discipline, with openness, with an ever-growing hunger for compassion to take root within me.
I am being called to pray for courage, for awareness of my privilege, and for the desire and ability to ask where I am needed and how I can best help, rather than assuming I know what that is.
The great news is that I know that this prayer works.
I know this kind of prayer can move me from one place to another, from helpless raging emotion to tentative but growing peace.
And I know this because this week I have found myself in very familiar emotional and spiritual territory.
For reasons I won’t get into here, the intersection of anger and grief is a ground I have paced and trod and climbed and slipped down, beaten with my fists and watered with my tears for many years of my adult life.
I know this ground.
And this time around it hurts viciously, but I am no longer afraid of it.
When I turn the corner and find myself on the old familiar soul-mire of anger and grief, grief and anger, the place of “why did this happen?” and “why couldn’t I stop it?”, I know what to do.
I sit down right there, and I pray.
I have done this in my life. God has upheld me in faithfulness to prayer in this awful place, and with my small stubborn hope and God’s unending gentleness, some grace sprouted for me there.
The grace is very small and the pain is very large, but that fragile bud of grace is real and it cannot be overwhelmed by the darkness.
So I’m back on this ground, where I know that if I can find the faithfulness to pray, God will give me the knowledge of what next small step to take.
It’s a low-tech and unglamorous solution to the “post-haste and rummage in the land,” so to speak, but it helps me cut through my own grandstanding.
So I will not be moving on, because I feel it is unjust and a false salve for unhealed wounds.
I am asking God to not let me surrender to exhaustion and the desire to escape the news and the hatred.
I will not be moving on; instead I will be moving in and moving out.
I am moving in to the haven of prayer within myself, and I will be moving out into the world and asking what I can do to make things better.
I am moving in on the public space claimed by divisive and hateful rhetoric, and moving out of my cocoon of privilege.
If I can.
I don’t really know if I can do any of this.
The only thing I know is that I have offered my anger and grief to God before, and God received them like a cherished gift, with a tenderness that really made me believe that not a single tear of mine or my loved ones went unnoticed or ungrieved by God.
So I will do it again, and give thanks for those much wiser and braver than myself who I perhaps may follow in the call to justice and love.
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