Grace and peace. This is an interesting week. On one end, we celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On the other, we mark the transition of power from one presidential administration to another. Earlier this week, 11 youth from St. Patrick’s joined our Episcopal friends and our interfaith partners for a service day at the Washington Hebrew Congregation (see pictures below). It was a joyous celebration of what makes America great: the collective energy offered to help those in our midst who are in need.
As for this Friday, the transfer of power from one president to the next is the epitome of our collective life in the United States. Every time we do it, it marks a joyous celebration for half of us and a sigh for the others. That is the tension that exists in a country that relies on its people to select leaders and direction.
Four years ago, I attended the inauguration. It was a terrible experience. The first problem was that I underestimated the amount of time and the number of people making their way to the National Mall. When I got off of the crammed Metro near the Capitol, I was forced by the crowds and the barricades to the Washington Monument. It took almost two hours to shuffle less than a mile. At the Washington Monument, they had a gigantic screen showing the festivities happening nearly a mile to the east. I could see the video, but the sound was not consistent. I could see mouths moving, but I couldn’t hear the words. I told myself, at that time, that the 2012 inaugural would be my last. But, should it be?
In my memory, this inauguration is the most contentious. I do not know anyone who has told me they plan to attend the inauguration. On the other hand, I know many people who plan to participate in the march on January 21.
This past October, we studied The Righteous Mind, a book by Jonathan Haidt. His thesis was that in order to move forward in a divided country, we have got to build bridges, start conversations, and see ways to collaborate by drawing from both sides of the political spectrum (compromise). He warned that when we get stuck in the certainty of our own righteousness (our natural disposition), we resort to believing that all evil emanates from the other.
Most people agree that we live in a divided time. How are we going to bridge that divide? I don’t think we are going to do it with events that separate us from the other. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I can see value in positions each hold and I am somewhere in between. I don’t like the president-elect’s rhetorical style. It is way too confrontational for me and hurtful, but how will the next four years unfold if I (or we) don’t make an effort to work with him? Will our collective life be better or worse?
As for this Friday, I am still trying to figure how to live into the tension that exists in a divided country. Do I make an effort to meet my fellow citizens in a celebration of our democracy or do I boycott the festivities in response to divisive rhetoric?
I am a follower of Jesus. One of the things that has always drawn me to Jesus is his ability to speak to all sorts of people. He drew followers like the centurion and Joseph of Arimathea (powerful and rich) and the widow and the foreigners (poor and marginalized). Jesus bridged the gap by seeing the goodness, keeping an open mind, and not judging. Right now, we live in a country split in half. The only way to bridge this in the long-term is to challenge ourselves to see the goodness of those who think differently. That is a big challenge and a big risk for people on both sides of this ever deepening chasm as well as those caught in the middle.
I do know that I will pray, and I hope that you will join me in the Prayer attributed to St. Francis that Bishop Mariann recommended to us last week:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen. (BCP p. 833)