For many years when my second son was younger, I tucked him in with this prayer: “Lord, we thank you for our boy, Caleb. We are so glad to have him in our family. Give him sweet dreams and good rest so he can get up tomorrow and do your work and be kind to all he meets. Amen.” I’ve been teaching my boys since they were very small to be kind even when others aren’t. I remember Benjamin’s preschool teacher telling me that one of the other toddlers had hit him and Benjamin responded by patting him on the back and gently saying, “be nice.” I remember another teacher telling me that a boy Benjamin had befriended had finally started opening up in class and that it meant the world to his mother that Benjamin was his friend.
Any time my sons would mention there was a new student in school, I would ask them what they were doing to help them and it had to be specific: sit with them at lunch, introduce them to friends, walk with them in the hallway. This was harder for Caleb since he is shy but he also reached out to others. More than once, the invitation to Caleb’s birthday party was the only one a particular child had ever received. He stood up for a child with a physical disability when others bullied him. I have continued to repeat this message of embracing the stranger and the outcast to this day with my sons.
So, when we grant power to a person who hurts others, it is startling to me. The media said that Donald Trump insulted various populations of people. Insulted doesn’t truly reflect what he did: he deeply wounded people. Remember Clayton Williams? He was running for governor of Texas and made a flippant comment about rape and his political career was over in a split second. Remember when David Duke, the infamous white supremacist, ran for governor of Louisiana? The voters chose a candidate considered dishonest rather than elect a racist.
I thought any one of these actions would have been deal breakers:
- To call Mexicans rapists and drug dealers is deeply wounding
- To brag about ogling half-naked, teenage girls backstage is deeply wounding
- To mock a disabled reporter is deeply wounding
- To joke about violating a woman’s boundaries is deeply wounding
- To assume that all African Americans live in poverty and are unemployed is deeply wounding
- To say that women who have abortions should be punished is deeply wounding
- To recommend that Muslims register their religious status with the government is deeply wounding
I come from a politically active family. I worked in campaigns from the age of 10. I know how democracy works. Over the years and in this past election, I voted for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And while I have had serious ideological differences with some winners, I accept the election outcomes and move on. After all, for democracy to work, it requires opposing voices and diversity of thought. I feel very strongly that everyone should vote - not just the people that agree with me.
To be clear, this is not about winning or losing a contest. I am grieving the loss of my belief system. My lifelong belief that most people are good and kind has been shaken this past week. We all have a dark side and this election has given us permission to let out the darkness within us. The reports of bullying, violence, and hate crimes continue to come in. For the most part, I felt safe, physically and emotionally, in this country. Now I am feeling that I need to protect myself from others – my fellow Americans – and that breaks my heart. What I believed to be true changed overnight and it is going to take some time to discern what that means for me. In my personal ministry, I must keep my heart wide open and it requires a certain vulnerability to welcome all people. It is painful for me to be in a state where I want to close off my heart and insulate myself.
This will take some time; grieving cannot be rushed and it doesn’t have a deadline. I know if I invite God into my grief, he will resurrect something amazing from the suffering. My baptismal vows require me to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.” I do not have the luxury of protecting myself forever because obedience and comfort are mutually exclusive. My prayer is this: Lord, show me what you want me to do to bring light into the world in a new way and grant me the courage to carry that out.