What Will We Tell the Children?

Stunned and Searching 

By habit and profession, it’s my personal pattern to attempt to put words around things that are sometimes bigger than words can carry. So, here I go again, reflecting on the stunning surprise of Donald Trump being elected President of the United States. 

The election doesn’t change any of the concerns about Trump that I’ve written about in the past year, but it puts them in a different perspective.
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With the picture of my granddaughters going to the polls with their mother in mind, I’ve settled in on the question:What Do We Tell Our Children?

That’s a particularly challenging question because so much about the past behavior of our next President has been a bold-faced contradiction of the most basic values by which we try to raise our children. So, here’s my random attempt to answer that question. 

 

It’s great to live in America. 

We’ve been through the most divisive, mean-spirited, relentlessly fact-free and often vulgar political campaign in any of our lifetimes. But now that the votes have been counted, we move into another peaceful transition of power. Hillary Clinton’s concession speech represented something very good about being a citizen of this nation. 

Sometimes the bullies win.            

Our daughter, Deborah, who experienced her share of bullying in school, said it feels like the playground bully was elected Homecoming King. It’s a hard fact of life, but we can’t hide it from our children. Just because we try to be decent people who do our best to treat others the way we would like to be treated doesn’t mean that we will get chosen for the Homecoming court. The good guys don’t always win…at least not in the short run.

Sometimes people rise to the level of the task to which they have been called.  

Visiting Monticello and looking out across the Washington Mall this summer was a visual reminder of the ideals that gave birth to our nation and that continue to call us toward “a more perfect union.” We can hope and pray that as Mr. Trump prepares to take the oath of office he may feel called to rise above the vulgar, narcissistic, xenophobic, racist emotions that he unleashed during the campaign. If he lives into the words and spirit of his acceptance speech, it may be a sign of hope.

The arch of moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Dr. King often quoted that line as a way of giving hope to people during the civil rights movement. Our children need to know that the work of freedom and justice is never fully accomplished; we work toward a goal that is always beyond what we have achieved. In the words of Ted Kennedy: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Remember who you are. 

The thing that defines our identity is not that whether we are Republican or Democrat, win or lose, but that we are followers of Jesus Christ. That changes everything. Our primary citizenship is not in the USA, but in the Kingdom of God. (Philippians 3:20)  We are called to live by values that are sometimes consistent with our national values but are never superseded by our national interests.

I can’t help but pass along this message from my friend, Neil Alexander, who just retired as the President of the United Methodist Publishing House.

Welcome sorrow and defeat for all they can teach us about the depths of human experience and our reliance on the mercies of God and our need for each other.

Stand, sit or lay with all who suffer because in doing so we share a deep and wretched pain that awakens our souls and imaginations – and places us at the center of God’s graceful work in the world.

Do all of that and then by God get up, shake the dust from your shoes and start doing the things that make for genuine peace and merciful justice.

We lost last night. Big time.

What will we learn and snatch from the ashes of defeat? How will we awaken to the factors and forces that expressed their will with such ferociousness yesterday?  How will we increase our empathy for the aspirations and fears that made themselves heard while we stood by as if dumb and obtuse?

Let’s be alert and vulnerable, but not wallow. We will learn much from this. We will adapt and regroup. We will grow wiser and even more determined.

Trusting God’s promise we will not abandon hope. Instead we will boldly choose to live into hope by faith in things not seen.

We will not deny or hide our despair. But as we embrace it we’ll simultaneously turn on a dime and go to work.

We will not retreat or fade away. We will step up. We will choose life.

Grace and peace,

Jim

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Why We Need “Saints”

All Saints’ Day — And Why We Need It

imagesToday is All Saints’ Day, the celebration for which “All Hallows Eve” was the dark night preceding the remembrance of those who have modeled the way, truth and life revealed in Christ and have joined the saints around God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17).  I agree with John Wesley who called it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

It’s also a day we desperately need this year!

“This Ugly Year” 

David Brooks, who is becoming the biblical prophet of our time, described “this ugly year” when “the nation’s moral capital is being decimated.”

Brooks defined “moral capital” as “the set of shared habits, norms, institutions and values that make common life possible.” He could not have been more true to scripture than when he confessed, “Left to our own, we human beings have an impressive capacity for selfishness…the struggle for power has a tendency to become barbaric.” As a result, “decent societies” develop “codes of politeness, humility and mutual respect that girdle selfishness and steer us toward reconciliation.”

Then Brooks named the painful truth.

“This year Trump…dismantled the codes of etiquette that prevent politics from becoming an unmodulated screaming match. By lying more or less all the time, he dismantles the fealty to truth without which conversation is impossible. By refusing to automatically respect the election results he corrodes confidence in our common institutions and risks turning public life into a never-ending dogfight.”

Brooks also points to the contributions the Clintons have made to the diminishing of our moral capital, though by his outrageous behavior, Trump has dragged us into the gutter of some of the darkest urges of our darkest selves and has made acceptable language and behavior that our “codes of politeness, humility and mutual respect” have previously constrained.

Brooks called us to the “giant task of moral repair ahead of us.” He concluded,”The one nice thing about Trump is that he has prompted so many people to find their voice, and to turn from their revulsion to a higher alternative.” (You can read his entire article here.) Which brings us back to All Saints’ Day.

Our Need to Remember the Saints 

We need to remember the saints because they show us that “a higher alternative” is possible for all of us. Emily Dickinson wrote:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies–

As a part of my personal spiritual discipline, I follow the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints. It provides a brief description of each person along with related scripture and the prayer for the day. I am continually reminded of the way otherwise ordinary people have become extraordinary witnesses for Christ by facing the opportunities and challenges of their time as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. They remind us that it is possible to go higher, in Paul’s words, to “seek the things that are above.” In Colossians 3:1-17, describes what Christ-like “moral capital” looks like.

So, on this All Saints Day, may we hear them cheering us on as we follow Christ to a higher, holier, more loving way of life.  As the children’s song says, “they were all of the saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.” (“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”)

Grace and peace,

Jim