October 20, 2016
I grew up in a world that held that at family gatherings, and in “polite” company, there were 3 matters that were not discussed openly, presumably because they generated strong emotions, and were often the excuse for rifts, irreparable and nearly so. Religion. Sex. Politics. And my family violated all three, frequently. At our extended family gatherings, the elders talked about religion as naturally as if it were a cloak we were all wearing. Part of my family, for several generations past, was very conservative (nee “Evangelical Synod”) Presbyterian, part Southern Baptist, and part Methodist. We were universally active practitioners of our faith traditions - Worship every Sunday (sometimes twice on the same day); Sunday School was the “norm,” with the memorization of Bible verses and the goal of reading the entire book from “cover to cover” held in high regard. There was a large format copy of the leather-bound, ancient text (in the appropriate, Authorized King James Version) on every household coffee table, and every meal was prefaced with prayer: “God is great, God is good....” The practice of faith was a part of our identity and self-understanding. It wasn’t a “once a week” garment that we held in reserve for Sundays; it was a 7-day-a-week context in which we lived. It made a difference in how we treated each other, familiar and stranger, all intended to gravitate toward grace, hope, and love.
Since we didn’t speak much of the second category - at least not in my hearing! - let me turn toward the third for a moment: Politics. Among the members of one branch of my family tree was an elected Town Constable, a couple of State Senators (in different jurisdictions), and an Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia (who ran for Governor, but was defeated in a close election). For the most part, the conversations were among the men (and those of us who could listen from the periphery), and were partly informational and insightful, and partly, they pointed to some of the absurdities and quirkiness of the way things operate in the public arena. I don’t recall anyone ever trying to “buttonhole” anyone else, and forcibly persuade them to see things “his” way. Mostly, it was good-natured and -hearted.
I’ve had a number of friends and congregants along the way with a range of political perspectives from far-right to extreme left, and a good many “fence sitters” who didn’t make up their minds until they stood in the Voting Booth and had to make a choice.... or else come away looking pretty confused, like they’d wasted a perfectly good opportunity to vote “For” or “Against” something or someone. I have missed my brother, Brantley, and my “brother from another mother,” Doug, and a great friend, Jim, in these last couple of months.... just to talk about the looming national election with folks who seemed to be able to “see both sides of the coin” simultaneously, and provide their insights as friends, interested political observers, and people of faith.
On October 6, 1774, John Wesley, the spiritual father of our Methodist tradition, wrote in his journal: “I met those of our [Methodist] society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them: 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; And, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
Last evening, against my better judgement, I watched the entire 90 minute debate between the two major political party candidates. I found myself simultaneously bemused, saddened, horrified, embarrassed, skeptical, hopeful, angry, and prayerful - at the things each said about their intended agendas, about the state of the nation, and most pointedly, about each other. There wasn’t any of the assumed “polite” handshakes or greetings beforehand between candidates, let alone their families and kin; there was nothing conciliatory between them when their wordy weapons were ordered sheathed; there were not even any proffered “prayers” at the conclusion of “God bless America.” Just vilification each of the other, of their opponent’s character, records, greed, personal histories, and brokenness. It was like the car wreck I witnessed on the Berkeley Bridge going into Norfolk, when I was about 7 or 8. I just couldn’t look away from the horror, the bloody, broken people emerging from smoking cars, and yet, I didn’t want to continue, either. There’s not enough bleach to purge that kind of scene from my memory.... Last night, too. The pain and suffering and bloody mess that was both born and inflicted by each on the other was of the magnitude of which “Colonel Kurtz” (played by Marlon Brando) spoke in hushed tones near the end of “Apocalypse Now:” It was “The Horror. The Horror.”
I wish we remembered and took Mr. Wesley more seriously, not to “sharpen” our spirits “against those that vote on the other side.” I know I’ve spoken before of Robert Fulghum’s little book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In it he refers to a children’s rhyme about sticks and stones; but then he takes an unexpected turn, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can break our hearts.” I saw lots of “sharpened” sticks and “jagged” stones and vitriol splashed everywhere last evening, and a lot of bloodshed and hearts broken, both on the stage and across the county. It was a brutal, gory spectacle.
Let me invite you to consider two things, just now:
1. Pray. Now. At home. In your car on the way to/from work/leisure/shopping/etc. Pray for the candidates and the nation each proposes to lead into remarkably different future scenarios. Bring those prayers to Worship; on each Sunday morning between now and Election Day, you’ll have the opportunity to come to the Chancel - in the best UM tradition - to spend an extended moment in the presence of the Almighty, asking for His intentions to prevail.
2. Be about the challenging work of choosing a candidate for whom you will vote, going to the polling place, voting, and then (here’s the hard part!) uttering nothing ill about “the other guy” - and his/her supporters, no matter who prevails.
Hold this coming election, local, regional, and national, in your hearts and prayers, and know that “when it’s all said and done,” your ultimate Citizenship remains in the Kingdom.... and we can intentionally, deliberately act in that way.
Grace and peace.
Jim Earley, Pastor
PS - Responses? Send to my e-address: RevsRUs@Cox.net Thanks.