On the morning after the election, I sent out a pastoral note that I called The Morning After. I received some very nice comments, and I deeply appreciated each person who took a minute or two to express their thanks.
Then I stopped and looked at who the responses came from. It caught my attention. The notes all came from folks who are pretty much socially, ethnically, and culturally like me. That was when it dawned on me.
I wrote from my various positions of privilege.
I had attempted to write a pastoral letter to the whole church, and I still believe everything I said. My intention was sincere and, I believe, sincerely received. Still, it was too easy for me, from my position and perspective, to say, “It will be okay; we all have to get along.”
From that perspective, though, I failed to appreciate fully the fear and anger being felt and expressed by some of those I’m called to serve. I could see the questions, but I failed to appreciate them fully.
- What will happen to the health care system I’ve come to depend on?
- Will decisions be made that cause the state to annul my marriage?
- What will happen if we lose the progress that we’ve made on civil rights?
- What about friends and neighbors who, only because of their religion or ethnicity, are in some places perceived as a threat?
- Can I continue to feel safe?
I’ve heard and read each of these questions in the past few days. They are the types of questions that, if we start to think we know the answers, we should stop and take a breath. Regardless of how any of us may feel about any of these questions, they are quite real to people that I’ve come to love.
They are not as real to me, though, because, frankly, I’ve never had to ask them.
That distinction is at the heart of what I was trying to say. If we are going to live into a vision of true community, we have to be able to hear and receive difficult questions. We don’t have to have answers, and we don’t have to agree. However, we do need to be able to hear and understand. Until we can do that, we can’t live in the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Perfect love does indeed cast out fear, but to claim love without understanding is superficial at best. Getting to that point requires each of us to recognize and acknowledge our own privilege. It necessitates a deeper understanding of how each experience and perspective is different.
Do I believe that all will be well? Is my faith still the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? Absolutely. But living faith is active faith. I can listen; I can know myself better; I can allow space for discomfort, because I believe.
Pulling together is more easily said than done. It won’t happen quickly, and each person needs their own space to comprehend. Any unification of the church or the country is going to take time, commitment, empathy, and sacrifice. Unity cannot be forced.
I turn again to words from 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
May the God of grace grant us patience and kindness, convict us of arrogance and rudeness, and allow us to rejoice in the truth.