Grace and the Presidential Election – 11/9/2016

Although I attempt to refrain from putting my detailed and full thoughts on display for all to see, I thought it necessary to say my two cents, and perhaps a different perspective, especially on something as historical and important as this. Regardless of your political stance, I think there is a general consensus that this election season has been a tiresome one, a heavy one.

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely elated with this election’s outcome either. Seething, actually. Absolutely seething. Seething that this man, who boasts in his misogyny, who has little regard for life in and outside the womb, who has little regard to freedom of religion, to freedom of sexuality, who charges full speed in his ignorance; this pathetic excuse of a man, this demagogue, is now the President of the United States. An apt definition of a Shakespearian fool obsessed with power (very reminiscent of Macbeth, really).

I woke up to read a text this morning, sent from my dear mom of the results of the chaos that ensued the night before. I’m not going to pretend that night wasn’t stressful, that I had composure, and that I was civil about everything. I really wasn’t. Exceptionally choice words flew out of my mouth. So I decided to sleep the night and the anxiety away and hope for the best in the morning. When I saw the word, “Trump,” so many things rushed through my thoughts in a whirlwind. I thought of the church I was helping to pastor and lead this past summer. I thought of my minority friends. I thought of my Muslim friends. I thought of my LGBTQ+ friends. I thought of the Church.

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I fear for my girls, my spiritual daughters; that they grow up in a country with such a man in power, that the rights that they deserve will be edged out of their collective grasp, that the gross gender inequality that perpetuates American culture will tip even more in favor of an already heavily patriarchal society. I fear that they will live in a world, which was already opposed to them, that will oppose their progress more. I pray that you will stay strong and know your worth, and that you will rise above and against the odds.

I fear for my boys, my spiritual sons; that by our election of such a man that prides himself on assaulting women, cheating people, and ignorance. What does that speak to our values? Do we value policies over people? I want my boys to grow up to be young men, who honor and serve others, at the sacrifice of themselves. I want them to be able to see the Imago Dei equally in women, in people following other faiths, in people with different sexualities, in different people. What does electing such a man speak to who and what we value? I pray that you will love relentlessly, serve humbly, and seek after wisdom and justice.

I fear for my minority brothers and sisters; regardless of if you were born in the States or somewhere else, regardless if you are African-American or Asian-American (or any other race that I have definitely missed), I fear and I love and I pray for you. I fear that the systematic corruption that’s already been put into place will get worse, especially by the hands of such a xenophobic man. The threat of Trump’s, “Law and Order,” policies now seem so real. We will be judged by the color of our skin, and I pray for light and love to pour from your lips like streams, despite the aggression and the hate.

I fear for my Muslim brothers and sisters; and although we may butt heads on faith and truth, I am afraid for your safety. Perpetuating fear is never the way to dispel hate: but it seems Trump is painting the normal Muslim as the jihadist. My brothers, my sisters, I know you all have different stories to tell and diverse, wondrous experiences to speak of, and it is grievous to see all of that put down by greatly xenophobic remarks on the part of Trump. It is a very real fear that Trump’s threats might come to be real themselves. I pray for your safety and for your freedom, and for strength to know your worth.

I fear for my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters; it angers me to hear about the money spent by Pence on gay conversion therapy, and to hear Trump speak of the Orlando shooting so lightly. It is undoubtedly painful to hear that the man who seems to be opposed to you, who brushed you aside, now possesses one-third of the power of the government; and I fear that you will come under heavy fire as well. I pray for your safety and that the hands of God would shield you and embrace you in such a time.

I fear for the Church, my Church; that you will divide and argue over political parties and social and moral rifts, although we are to be one in Christ. I pray that our leaders will find discernment and wisdom to be beacons in the fog, and that those outside the Church will know us by our Love, by our unity.

I fear.

But if I’m also being honest, I wasn’t banking on Clinton if she won either. Although I was putting my vote on Clinton (if I had the wisdom to get the absentee ballot so that it would come on time or if I had realized I could register in Illinois), she wasn’t going to be much better.

The list goes on with her corrupt politics, blatant lies, deleted e-mails. There’s no end to the charges against Hillary either.

If I were to draw an analogy, it would look like this:

Would you like cyanide or arsenic in your coffee?
Would you like your corruption and racism completely blatant or systemized?

I will admit, it is very hard for me to love Trump and his supporters. I have good friends who voted for Trump, and I know that they are still good people, and nothing can change the way I view them and love them, but despite that, I am absolutely baffled and angered that anybody could support such a man, even under the name of Republican policies and values. Please do not misunderstand: I’m not trying to disparage you if you voted for Trump, regardless your reasons: nothing on this Earth could ever change your worth or your value as a human being. But it is utterly terrifying that such a xenophobic, homophobic, racist, and misogynistic man is now the President of the United States of America, knowing that some of my friends might have to face deportation policies or tightened immigration policies. That some of my friends might have to come under fire because of their religion or the color of their skin or their sexuality.

ghosts

A little while ago, I did a series that I called Ghosts, and I haven’t found the time to upload all the pictures. I really like that series.

It’s funny how detached we can become when we see a figure on a screen as just a ____. You can fill in the blank.

Just a ghost.
Just a Muslim.
Just a gay person.
Just a Christian.
Just a Trump supporter.
Just a Clinton supporter.

Do you see how detached we become when we just put labels on people? We tend to think that we have people figured out when we put labels on them. If we label someone a Trump supporter, we might assume that they actually like the values of Trump and condone his actions by voting for him. If we label someone a Clinton supporter, we might assume that they’re all for the murder of infants or whatever.

The story dramatically changes when we ask a Trump supporter why and be open-minded. The story changes when we ask a Clinton supporter why and be open-minded.

Some stories I’ve heard go like this:
“I’m voting Republican, but under majorly protesting Trump: I was helping out with Marco Rubio’s campaign at first.”
“I wanted to vote Bernie, but now I have to choose between Clinton and Trump… So I chose Clinton.”
“I’m a Republican, but I voted for Clinton; I don’t think Trump stands for what the Republican party actually stands for.”

Stories sound so much more different than labels.ghosts-6I think it’s easy to look at this picture and be detached from it: there’s no source of human empathy or connection. It’s just a formless, white mass vaguely titled as a ghost. It’s easy to forget that behind the sheet, there’s a person with a background story, with emotions, with feelings, with thoughts, with a face behind that bedsheet. We need to learn how to navigate through that sheet. We need to learn how to navigate through that label.

Am I guilty of labeling people?

Absolutely.

And I don’t want to excuse my labeling; because it’s wrong. It’s very wrong. And I truly apologize to any Trump supporters that I’ve perhaps offended: I didn’t mean to demean your opinions or your thoughts or your humanity. You are worth so much and I am proud to call you my brothers and sisters. But you must understand, you must know where people of the opposite side of the spectrum are coming from.

My New Testament Interpretation and Literature professor spoke about the election today, and spoke so much that rang true.

“Welcome to the Apocalypse,” she began. And she spoke of her fears and her anxiety, and despite all this, what really cut deep for me is that she spoke of grace and to continually work.

We were never promised tomorrow, only that we would pray for today.

I love that phrase and I know that I will cherish it in my heart for days to come. She spoke of the apostles of old, and how they were expecting the coming of Christ to happen at any moment; yet they worked urgently and fervently. They gave grace. They loved. And despite the persecution and the hardship, they worked.

Oh, how that we would worry not for tomorrow, but pray for today!

Grace is a hard thing: it is so easy to look at the prospect of tomorrow and the four years of presidency that will ensue and point the finger at people, screaming, “It’s your fault!” It’s so easy to worry, to have anxiety.

But what is it to lean on Grace?

There is an author and poet by the name of Kahlil Gibran, whom you may know of through his more famous works, The Prophet or Jesus, the Son of Man.

I’ve been reading the last poetic work he wrote before he died. It’s titled, The Earth Gods.

The basic premise of the book is that there are three gods and they are all discussing on what the purpose or meaning is of Man. The first god argues that the stench of Man is foul, and Man seems to have little purpose other than to be food for gods. He bemoans that his eternity is given unto him by withered hands. The second god argues that Man is to be toyed with, that there is pleasure derived from toying with man, and his suffering and his toil. There is pleasure in their fear of the gods.

In the midst of the first and second gods’ bickering, the third god hears a man sing; singing love songs to his bride. He hears the bride sing back, and he witnesses their wedding. And each time he tries to draw his brothers’ attentions to the beauty witnessed there, but his brothers are ever-unhearing, until at the very end, they concede to hear and submit to the third god: that Love courses through Man. I love one of the ending phrases,

“We shall pass into the twilight;
Perchance to wake to the dawn of another world.
But love shall stay,
And his finger-marks shall not be erased.

The blessed forge burns,
The sparks rise, and each spark is a sun.
Better it is for us, and wiser,
To seek a shadowed nook and sleep in our earth divinity,
And let love, human and frail, command the coming day.”

How fitting a metaphor, two gods bickering about the seemingly-important trivial, all the while reason cries out for attention. Two divides bickering all the while Love cries out to be known. Love cries out to be known, to be sought after. And yet, despite our ignoring it, despite the rise and fall of kings, despite the corruption and the decay, Love always prevails, does it not? I think it very much echoes 1 Corinthians 13.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Love does not dishonor others. Love never fails.

So what is it to lean on Grace?

Let Love command the coming day.
To love [agape] others, regardless of who it is.
To honor one another.
To know each other’s stories.
To know as we are known.

We do not have to ignore the struggles and the repercussions that will come from Trump’s presidency, we should be very aware of what is to come. But how shall we respond?

Love.

We don’t have to bemoan our struggles, we don’t have to run away, we can face them.

We will overcome.ghosts-5

And as I’m drawing this to a close, I wish to cite Paul’s Epistle to the Church of Philippi;

This Epistle was written as a prison Epistle; in other words, it’s a letter written from prison. But Paul, fully knowing his struggle and his bleak situation, chooses to write of joy.

Isn’t that absurd?

I want to talk about two specific parts of this Epistle though: chapters 3:1-14 and 4:10-13.

Let’s start with Philippians 3:1-14.
For people who aren’t familiar with the Bible or Biblical history and background; this is a basic character analysis of Paul. Before he became a Christian, he used to a be snob. Like a huge prick. Like, one of the biggest goody-two shoes you could imagine. Also, arguably a terrorist by definition, attempting to wipe an entire people group by definition of religion. So not exactly the best person ever. He was a Pharisee, which means he followed the traditions of Judaism to every letter, every single tittle. So he’s the definition of perfection, when it comes to following a religion. Then one day, he gets radically converted because he meets Jesus, and starts to preach the Gospel. Which is a little crazy, because now he’s following the religion that he wanted to eradicate.

Fast forward to the time that he’s in prison, writing this letter to the Philippians: he’s basically telling them that everything he’s accomplished is utterly meaningless in comparison to knowing Christ. This is a big deal. If anyone could claim utter perfection, utter goodness in terms of following the Law, it was this man. Yet, he considers all of his accomplishments, all of it to be trash (and some scholars might substitute this word for shit although it is HOTLY debated). None of his greatest accomplishments, some of which we might vy so much for, means anything in comparison to knowing Christ. Nothing compares to knowing Christ. Everything, in all of its glitz and glamour, pales in comparison to knowing Christ, in all his Love, his peace, and his grace.

So lean on it. Know what is to know Christ.

Let’s close with Philippians 4:10-13.
I’m sure many of you know this phrase.

I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.

Honestly, it’s taken out of context and stripped of its meaning way too many times.
In its context, Paul  starts to close his letter and talks to the Philippians, thanking them for their gifts to him. He then talks about that it’s not that he needs their gifts, because he’s learned to be content in every situation, whether he’s brought low and humbled, or whether he’s living in abundance. He’s learned to face every circumstance, including his current time in prison. At the end of this train of thought, he states, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” It is not, “I can get a small loan of a million dollars if I put my mind to it.” But rather, it is learning to navigate and face and go through every situation, good and bad, for better or for worse, and be content THROUGH the peace of Christ. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to be sad or happy, you’re allowed to have emotions. You just learn to push on through and persevere.

This presidency is just another season that would’ve happened sooner or later.

Do men not live and die, witnessing the rise and fall of kings great and kings small? History repeats itself; there will always be people vying to grasp power and to satiate their greed and selfishness. There’s nothing we can do to change what’s happened and what will happen. How will we respond?

I will pray for Trump, and that God will somehow move his hand in such a way for good.
I will pray for our nation and our people.
I will learn to lean on Grace and be content with the good and the bad.
And I will Love, whether that looks like helping the oppressed or helping organizations to fight racism or poverty,
I will Love.

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