Why Can’t We Be Friends?
A 2016 Election Survival Guide
I was recently visiting my parents during a major party’s national convention. As the nominee came on to speak, one of my parents jumped up and said, “Well, I’m going to bed!” In that moment, I realized that there are people I love deeply who differ from me greatly. And I’m struggling to reconcile that. I imagine you, too, have found yourself across the aisle from a loved one or friend in recent weeks and months. The thing is, we are all beloved children of God, but we’re not all feeling incredibly loving toward one another right now.
In a world where we can communicate with one another instantaneously, we might imagine that connection with and empathy toward one another would be infinitely easier than it was 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago. And yet we find ourselves wearied by the world - by the heartbreaking violence, by the political vitriol, by the constant state of fear we find ourselves in, and by the ways in which we often find ourselves on the defensive for our beliefs and opinions. Writer Margaret Wheatley says, “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.” But how can authentic conversation happen when our guard is up? And – of immediate importance – how can we tolerate one another until the November election and even come out on the other side with relationships intact?
Just as we have the freedom to choose the candidate whom we feel best represents our ideals and our hopes for this country, we also have the freedom to choose how to live our lives in the months leading up to – and even following – the election. We can choose to let our hearts be filled with fear and anger, or we can choose to let hope and love lead us in our interactions with one another. While it may feel like this upcoming presidential election is the only thing of importance, there is life beyond this. There are people with whom we share many things in common other than our ballot. So I invite you to try the following practices for surviving the election and finding ways to love our neighbor throughout.
Seek Jesus in one another.
In many ways, our tradition is a reminder that we are all beloved children of God and of the great lengths God goes to be in relationship with us. In times of discord, it’s imperative to remember this. It’s easy to vilify the other, those with whom we disagree or seem to hold nothing in common. And yet if we each strive to follow God, we must look for signs of God all around us, including seeking Jesus in the faces and hearts of every person we encounter on the streets, in the workplace, and in our community. If we believe that God is truly among us (and as Christians, we do!), then it would follow that God would not only show up in expected people and places, but also in the unexpected. Even if you have to squint your eyes and strain your ears, try to find at least a glimpse of Jesus in that person who seems to be your polar opposite. Maybe they, too, are seeking God within you.
Our world is filled with brokenness. We bear witness to daily violence in our news, are told to be vigilant against the enemy (who is also depicted for us), and watch as groups on the margins are continually oppressed. I talk with many people who are wearied by the world, people who dare not hope for wholeness because the world seems beyond repair. And yet it is sometimes when our hearts are broken wide open that we are able to see glimpses of the Kingdom of God shining through. As Leonard Cohen sings, “There’s a crack in everything // That’s how the Light gets in.” Our brokenness is causing us to turn toward one another and have new conversations about what our shared future might look like. In Japan, there is an art form called kintsugi, in which shattered pottery gets repaired with gold lacquer, amplifying the cracks and making the object’s brokenness part of its history and beauty. Perhaps today’s brokenness is an opportunity for us to help restore God’s creation to that which God intended.
Take beauty breaks.
Fear and darkness have the tendency to have a firm grip upon us, whereas joy and beauty set us free. One antidote to the violence and vitriol is to turn toward signs of hopeful and loving humanity in our world. You can read feel-good stories at huffingtonpost.com/good-news and goodnewsnetwork.org, and see everyday Americans facing the struggles and pleasures of this world at humansofnewyork.com. Each day leading up to the election, you can also challenge yourself to take a photo that depicts beauty, or to keep a gratitude journal where you document those things you are thankful for. Rather than ignoring the woes of the world, these practices can help us cultivate a sense of wonder and awe in God’s creation and remind us of God’s hope for wholeness. Let us consider the lilies, as Jesus reminds us in Luke’s gospel, for “they neither toil nor spin... [I]f God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!”
Face(-to-Face)Time a friend.
Facebook is a great connector, Twitter a great marketplace for the sharing of ideas, and Instagram a perfect platform for capturing moments of joy and wonder in God’s creation. And yet all of these mediums can remove our sense of one another’s humanity. When we’re not sitting face to face with each other, it’s easy to throw out reasonable rules of engagement. It’s easy to see people in fragments or labels, representing one issue or group that is certainly not the sum of their person. Because points can be misconstrued on social media and because it’s easier to make hurtful comments when we can’t see someone’s reaction, it’s imperative that we also have real conversation with one another. This may look like a private message to someone you seem to be having a public misunderstanding with online, picking up the phone to say hello to an old friend, or striking up conversation at a coffee shop. Keep in mind that social media can be life giving or soul sucking, so if it’s feeling like the latter, taking a sabbath is always a possibility.
Engage in true conversation.
I don’t mind talking about my children (they’re quite cute!) or how I spent my weekend, but I find that the thing that satisfies my spirit and stimulates me the most is true and meaningful conversation. There are times when I’m talking with another person and I feel a soul connection forming between us. There are also times where a friend and I dare greatly and have conversation in which we speak hard truths, but walk away having greater empathy and respect for one another. We each have deeply-held hopes and fears that guide our beliefs, but we don’t often share these with one another. True conversation is one in which we leave feeling that we’ve had the chance to speak and be heard, and knowing that we listened well. The next time you speak with someone you know or someone you don’t, or the next time you find yourself trying to win an argument or get your point across, Margaret Wheatley encourages us to sit down and take turns answering these questions: What is my faith in the future? What do I believe about others? What am I willing to notice in my world? Share your greatest hopes and your greatest dreams for your neighborhood, nation, and world. Observe the places in which you connect. Breathe through the places you diverge. Thank one another for speaking truth and for listening.
Be the change.
It’s up to us — not just those we elect — to bring about the Kingdom of God. When we put all of our hope on a single person or group, we forget our call as disciples to use the gifts God has given us. Join a community group that radiates your values, volunteer with one of the many outreach ministries at Christ Church or elsewhere, offer your gifts of time and money to communities in need, and use your voice and privilege to effect policy change. Jesus spent his life serving those on the margins, even when it made others uncomfortable, even when it put him in danger, even when it cost him his life. So let us be inspired to go forth into the world and make it a better place.
Pray and pray and pray and pray. Pray for our country, pray for our enemies, pray for God’s presence to be known, pray for us to have patience and love and hope. Use the prayer “For Our Country” found in our Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed and lost by the chaos of it all, turn to the simple mantra found in Psalm 46: Be still, and know that I am God.
For God is here among us. God is in you and in me. Come the morning after the election, I imagine God wants us all to wake up and turn to one another and continue working together to bring about Shalom: the Reign of Peace, the Kingdom of God.