Advent: Hope for a Dark World

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Candles. Mike Labrum, unsplash.com

Turn on the news. Pull up your Facebook feed. Go outside. The world is a dark and messy place. It is full of destruction and darkness and death.

Battles rage around the globe. In Aleppo, Syria not a single hospital has avoided bombing. In the United States there are approximately 415,000 children in foster care, mostly due to the harmful choices parents have made. Families fleeing war wash up on foreign shores. 1 in 3 women in the world today is a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. We are still a nation viciously divided by politics and race and culture.

None of those things are part of the world that God intended. None of them are welcome here. And one day, all them will be defeated.

The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote these words about that one day:

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2)

No more war. No more violence. No more greed induced destruction. No more hate.

The things we once used for harm will now be used for nourishment. We’ll turn our bombs into flower pots and machine guns into shovels. We’ll turn our tanks into merry go rounds and our jails into libraries. One day we’ll use our protest signs to roast marshmallows and the police will use their batons for a game of stickball.

This is not some crazy pipe dream. This is not some hippy fantasy. This is God’s plan and vision for the world.

This Advent we put our hope in that vision. And while God’s vision isn’t fully realized yet, it has begun.

It begins with the coming of Christ. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is realized when the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and the lonely are loved. It breaks through when forgiveness is found and lost sons and daughters come home.

It doesn’t just happen in our churches. It happens in our day to day. It doesn’t just happen one day way off in the future. It happens now in our hearts and in our homes.

If one day we will put away our weapons, perhaps we should put them away today. Maybe we don’t fight with swords or guns but we’ve likely wounded and cut with our words. We’ve likely caused pain and destruction in the way in which we treat others. Lets beat our words and thoughts into things that bring encouragement and growth.

If one day all wrongs will be made right and all enemies will become friends and all strangers will become neighbors, then lets work to make that a reality today.

If one day peace will reign, then I want to begin to realize that peace today. I want to be first in line to make it a reality in my world.

We have hope that God will make all things right. That justice will roll down like a mighty river. That the things that now destroy will one day be destroyed. That darkness will ultimately give way to light.

That is our hope. And that is our mission. We don’t just live with hope, we work toward that hope. With expectation. With anticipation.

We live and work with a holy ache for the world as it should be. We put in the blood, sweat, and tears to join God in the redemptive mission to reconcile all things.

We put our hope in Christ and therefore reject the idea that we can hate our enemies. We put our hope in Christ and we live as ones who cannot be finally defeated. We put our hope in Christ and lay down our rights. We put our hope in Christ and live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and work to bring about the beautiful vision laid out by Isaiah.

This Advent season join in God’s vision to bring all people together and to bring an end to the wars that rage on the news and in our hearts and in our homes.

Let’s walk in the light. Let’s defeat darkness little by little, candle by candle. Let’s see the world as God intended. Let’s work toward that end. Let’s hope relentlessly and let’s be that hope with skin on. 

 

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A Way Forward

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Michael Browning, unsplash.com

We are a divided United States. The tone and rhetoric of the presidential campaigns was as divisive as I can personally remember. The hyperbole and fear-mongering turned all the way up to 11. It felt as if we were becoming more polarized with each passing day.

And then the election happened. The person who was elected president was not the person with the most votes. That is our system and, like it or not, that is where we are today. Over half of those who voted are angry and/or disappointed. While a large percentage of us celebrate, another large percentage of us grieve. People are protesting, friendships and families are being pulled apart, and the ugliness continues.

Our exit polls tell us that our country continues to be divided by race. We are split on what issues matter most to us and the best ways to handle them. We are divided on our outlook and by our religions. We are divided by urban and rural population groups.

To be clear, we have been divided in the past. We once enslaved people. We once had a sitting vice president kill a political enemy in duel. We once fought a war between states. We once had separate drinking fountains for people based on skin color. Division isn’t new to the US of A, but it’s not good for her either.

Will we ever unite again? Are we doomed to polarize until something breaks? Is this the new normal? I believe there is a way forward.

Simply put, we need each other. We need our varying opinions; we need our vast array of experiences. Our differences do not have to separate us. They don’t have to alienate us. We do not want uniformity, but we do need harmony.

Harmony allows us to sing distinct notes or play unique parts while working toward the same goals. Harmony allows our differences to combine for something bigger and more beautiful. Harmony will lead to us unity.

This was the vision of our founding fathers. They set up our nation so that we could find room to disagree while still having protections and a say in the process. They wanted everyone to have freedom and a voice. John Adams said, “When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power, we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” Actual American patriotism is rooted in diversity.

Unifying despite our diversity will be neither quick nor easy. If we are to harmonize it will take hard work, patient determination, and calm resilience. It may eventually take acts of Congress or grassroots organization, but we can start today with the small things.

The way forward I would like to propose is the way of the kitchen and dining room table. If our country is ever going to be big enough for all of us, a good first step will be to make sure our tables are big enough for all of us as well.

When we pull up a chair at our table we communicate that a person has value. When our lives intersect with one another, we find that along with our differences we carry things in common. When we share the same experiences, we see our shared humanity. When we sit and talk with people who are not exactly like us, we learn and we grow and we are better for it.

If you don’t know why a person could possibly support Donald Trump, have dinner with someone who did. If you can’t fathom why a person might vote for Hillary Clinton, ask someone who did to go for coffee with you. Don’t try and change their mind or show them how wrong they were. Listen to them. Right or wrong their opinion is just as valuable as yours.

Invite a person of a different race into your home. Ask them their story. Ask them what they feel is unique to their experience.

Instead of mocking people for wanting a safe space, create one for them in your home or office and hear them out. Maybe you’ll both be better for it.

Instead of characterizing anyone who doesn’t agree with you with the worst labels you can come up with, ask them how they came to their conclusions. Maybe you have the wrong idea about them. Maybe they have the wrong idea about you. Maybe you are both partially wrong.

Find someone who has immigrated to our country. Talk to them about why they came and what the American dream means to them. Ask them what things they like or don’t like about our immigration policies.

If a person is responding to this election by saying they are afraid, ask them to help you understand where their fear comes from. To dismiss pain and fear is to dismiss people. That is not the way forward.

Instead of sharing sound bites and memes, share apple pies and book recommendations.

If you don’t understand the things that concern a 20 year old, get to know a 20 year old. If you can’t comprehend how a 64 year old might feel about the direction of our country, go talk with them.

Find people who disagree with you on something divisive, then find what you have most in common and celebrate it. We might disagree on the best way to do healthcare but maybe we can agree to love our local sports team. Let’s make finger foods and paint our faces and unite around that.

When is the last time you sat and talked with a person who practiced a different religion or no religion? Are you even sure what other faiths believe or don’t believe? Spend time together.

If you can’t think of anyone you know or anyone you love who believes differently than you do, that is a major part of our problem. We’ve isolated ourselves from our neighbors and fellow citizens which makes it easy to assume we are always right and demonize anyone who thinks otherwise.

Some say fences make great neighbors. I say fences make poor tables. Let’s tear down what separates us and use the wood to build a bigger table with room for everyone, even those we do not yet understand or appreciate or agree with. This is a first step toward a united nation. This is a first step in overcoming the worst parts of us. 

Unity won’t mean that we all agree. It won’t mean that suddenly my convictions will change. Realistically it won’t solve all our issues. It will, however, mean that I can’t dismiss you immediately. It will mean I am more likely to hear what you have say. It will mean that I can’t label you my enemy because you believe differently.

It is a lot harder to hate a person for their beliefs when you love them for who they are. If we value each other as part of a common community we will work to find a way to bridge the divides between us. We will compromise where we can, agree to disagree when we must, and be united by our shared care and concern for one another.

Let’s start here. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s sit and talk. Let’s listen.

The way forward is around a table, sharing a meal and a laugh. The way forward is watching as our kids play together in the front yard. The way forward is working shoulder to shoulder to make our communities a better place. The way forward is in being teachable. The way forward is you and I and us and them, doing life together, loving each other from the start, and putting in the hard work to make sure we are doing right by each other.

From city to farm. From Christian to Muslim to Hindu to atheist. From white to brown to black. From rich to poor. From gay to straight. From Trump Train to those With Her. From sea to shining sea. You are welcome at my table. Let’s move forward, together.

If Your Candidate Loses on Tuesday…

The end is near. Barring an electoral college rarity, on Tuesday there will be a new person elected to the office of President of the United States of America. Some will be elated. Some will be despondent. Some aren’t going to be happy if either front runner wins.

In fact, no matter who comes out ahead there will be a large portion of this country who will be disappointed, scared, or even angry. Up to half of those who vote (and technically even a little over half) will later find out their nominee was rejected by the nation.

Losing is not fun. Not in a foot race, not in Monopoly, and certainly not in something as important as a general election. It stings, it hurts. Some of the issues we are facing are quite contentious. Some of the decisions that will be made by the next president may impact us negatively. Losing carries not just pain, but a lot of potential anxiety as well.

So, what do we do if our candidate loses? I’m glad you asked. I have three suggestions.

We can start with acting like level-headed adults.

Sometimes my children don’t get what they want. Sometimes when they don’t get what they want they cross their arms and push out their bottom lip. They acquire a high-pitched moan in their voice. They pout.

But all the foot stomping and whining doesn’t change the fact that in our house we don’t eat Kit-Kats for breakfast (at least when the children are present). Pouting changes little to nothing, sometimes even making the situation worse. Fortunately, children are cute so we can usually smile at their little tantrums.

You and I are adults. And we aren’t all that cute. So if your preferred candidate isn’t elected, please don’t pout. Don’t whine. Don’t stomp your feet and declare “no one loves me.”

Maybe pouting isn’t your thing. Perhaps your response to losing is less like my children and more like George Brett. You charge the umpire, throw whatever you can grab, scream your head off, and must be restrained by multiple people.

Again, this response does not help anything. Reacting in anger may garner you some back slaps from like-minded people but it won’t make anyone change their mind on how they voted. It will just make you look like a sore loser and further convince people you’ve lost your mind.

Don’t lose influence or respect because you respond to losing like a child or lunatic. Take a breath. Count to 10. Bite your tongue. If you can’t do that, have a friend change your Facebook password for a week. Pick up yoga. Relax.

Which leads me to my next suggestion for the losing side: Take a step back.

Remember how talking heads told us Obama was the certain death of our nation? We survived. Some of us are better off, some of us are not, but we are still here.

We’ve survived Republicans and Democrats and we will again. Your preferred person not being elected is not the end of the world as we know it. (If this is the apocalypse I’ll buy you a shirt that says “Don’t blame me.”)

We need perspective. This is a four-year term. If we get it wrong, we can try again soon. People will be campaigning for 2020 by May.

We have these great checks and balances that help ensure electing a bad candidate won’t dissolve the republic. We can impeach, challenge, veto, block vetoes, and vote again in the years to come. We can go before courts to contest laws. We can elect a new Congress. We have a system strong enough to survive 44 flawed presidents thus far; I’m confident we can handle one more.

I understand you probably have some major concerns about what might happen if your candidate isn’t elected. I just want to remind you to take a step back and look at the whole picture.

Finally, let’s be good to each other.break-glass

This election has moved us further and further to the extremes. The venom and propaganda has reached a fever pitch. Let’s move away from that. Let’s move toward each other. Or at least let’s move forward together.

We won’t ever all agree, but we can do better. Imagine if we could disagree with each other with a modicum of respect and civility. Imagine if we didn’t call everyone who votes differently names. Imagine if we didn’t assume that the other side wants to ruin our lives. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not only one.

Let’s not assume the worst of the other half of the country. They are your neighbors, your friends, your fellow worshipers, your co-workers, your kids, maybe even your spouses. Are some of them misguided? Yep. Are some motivated by the wrong things? Probably. But let’s not put any more barriers between us. Let’s come together, lets share meals, lets learn from each other. Let’s be kind in our social media posts, let’s be careful with our words to the people we encounter, and let’s be considerate even in the way we think about the folks that disagree with us.

This is hard work. It doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Just because its difficult or unnatural doesn’t mean it’s not worth our time and effort. Just because everyone else around us has adopted hateful rhetoric or a doom and gloom outlook doesn’t mean we must do likewise.

After George W. Bush defeated Al Gore and the hanging chads had been recounted, I saw a shirt with his picture that read, “Not My President.” It bothered me then and it bothers me now. We have one country, diverse as she may be. Whoever wins will be the president of all of us: those who vote Trump or Clinton, those who vote Johnson and Stein and McMullin and Castle and even those who write in Jesus or Mickey Mouse.

We are in this together. You and I. Republicans and Democrats and Independents and the Amish. So if your side loses please act your age. Remember this is probably not the end of America and try to always be good to each other.

We might lose an election but maybe we can regain some decency. Maybe we can win at the stuff that matters the most. I think we can do it. I’m committed to try. I hope you’ll join me.

And if your candidate happens to win, please celebrate graciously. That is important too.