Adding to the Noise

It’s been some 24 hours since we’ve elected a new president to lead and guide the U.S. of A. Looking in on the decision from across the world has me feeling particularly reflective in my current insider/outsider status. I am actually encouraged to see my Facebook feed full of such contradictory opinions, because it gives me hope that the grand American experiment, which has long-held opposing ideologies in successful tension, will continue to do so. (After all, my FB feed is a great place to draw assurances about historical events…)

I grew up in a conservative Christian family, and I am very thankful for my foundations. Although I have had to unlearn a lot of empty religion associated with those years, I still count it my greatest honor in life to be identified with the likes of Jesus. Foundational to this identification is learning to love my neighbor as myself. Since leaving Alaska, my neighbors have ranged from African-Americans across the racial divide in Kansas City, Latin-American immigrants in East Boston, and most recently, scores of Syrian refugees here in Lebanon. These neighbors have all taught me to listen. They’ve taught me that issues are complicated. They’ve taught me the dangers of categorizing and stereotyping people groups, and the joys of getting to know individual, amazing, made-in-the-image-of-God people.

I like to follow MLK in the way he followed Jesus, and one of the wonderful encouragements he held regarding politics was this: “Look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both – not the servant or master of either.” So this morning, as the sun rises across Beirut and sets over Los Angeles, I feel the need to speak my conscience and remind us all that we are people, not peoples.

If you’re having trouble understanding why people are hopeful about this new chapter in the American experiment…

This outcome is exciting because many have disagreed greatly with Obama’s policies for eight years, and for the first time in almost a decade, they feel like they have a chance to make their voices heard. I genuinely believe these people did not vote in agreement with the divisive language that marked much of President-Elect-Trump’s campaign. No, their vote was about their desires for policies that more clearly reflect their own values. They wanted someone who was the opposite of a professional-politician, someone with business experience and insight, someone who came into the game from a completely new viewpoint. They see a health care system that is unhealthy. An economy that is broken. Many of them voted with a desperate desire to defend the rights of the unborn.

Not all of the people celebrating the outcome of this election feel like this, but perhaps some, with all their nuances and unique reasoning from their own life experience, do. You may disagree with their politics or their interpretation of the Constitution, but you cannot judge their motives. They voted with genuine concern and conviction… they want the best for their country, their community, and their kids, even if their way of showing it looks strange to you.

If you’re having trouble understanding why people are upset about this new chapter in the American experiment…

This outcome is painful because their president elect ran a campaign that made them feel marginalized or afraid based on something that is core to their existence. It got very personal. There are women who still shiver with memories of sexual assault, and they fear their incumbent president minimizes their pain. There are Muslim-Americans who are afraid of being forced back to the countries they fled for their own safety. There are Hispanic children coming home from school in tears because their friends are telling them that their parents are not allowed to live in the country. Watching a black man rise to the position that Obama did gave many people of color assurance that times were changing for the better – that there was hope for them despite the color of their skin, but now they fear that times are reverting. There are many who worry for America’s relationship with countries across the earth, not to mention the earth itself.

You may disagree with their politics or their interpretation of the Constitution, but you cannot judge their motives. They voted with genuine concern and conviction… they want the best for their country, their community, and their kids, even if their way of showing it looks strange to you.

The Jesus I read about in the gospels confounded the wisdom of the elites of his day. He saw and spoke to people’s hearts. He skirted around the political drama of the Roman empire and operated according to a different framework. At the core of his life and teaching: love your neighbor (including your enemy) as yourself.

As a teacher, I worked hard to give my students core values like empathy and respect for the opinions of others. I have interacted with a wide variety of kids from a wide variety of backgrounds. Sometimes their parents seem engaged and encouraging, and sometimes they seem checked out and clueless. But as I learned to take the time to listen and consider their own journey, especially now that I’m a dad myself, I began to realize that they are all trying as best they know how.

You may disagree with their approach or their interpretation of morality, but you cannot judge their motives. They parent with genuine concern and conviction… they want the best for their kids, even if their way of showing it looks strange to you.

May we have eyes today to see those who don’t see like us. May we love our neighbors (and our enemies!) like we love ourselves.

“We are a contemplative order. First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise.” – Mother Teresa

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