By Rev. Scott D. Summerville
“….be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am
about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime….
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”
It is an amazing vision that is revealed to the prophet Isaiah. It is a vision of a time without conflict. It is a vision of a time when no human being inflicts pain upon another. It is a vision of a time when no creature inflicts pain upon another; “The lion and the lamb will graze together. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy,” saith the Lord.
I am picturing the lamb. This new arrangement works well for the lamb. “We are all vegetarians now,” says the lamb; “I can eat in peace without worrying about being somebody’s lunch. Great!” But we have to wonder about how the lion is going to handle this new arrangement over time. Yes, a day or two of eating grass is ok, “I can do that. I can do my part for the cause. Grass is not that bad.” I just have a feeling, though, that after a while that lamb is going to look awfully good, and those instincts of the hunt and the feast that follows cannot be suppressed forever. The lion and the lamb will graze together – how long is that going to last?
Conflict. Struggle. Pain. Only in the most extraordinary visions could we begin to picture a world where there is no conflict. Conflict is the great destroyer, but conflict is also the catalyst for change and growth. We need conflict; at the same time we need to manage it well, so it does not consume us or destroy us. That is true at this moment in our national history; this moment of intense conflict, where there is so much hurt and pain.
One of the primary ways that our church serves our community is by providing a home for a multitude of 12-step groups serving hundreds of people, week in and week out. Many times I am approached by individuals from one of these 12-step groups telling me, “Pastor, make sure the people of your church realize how much we appreciate this place, and how many lives have been saved because of this place.”
It is the custom of the AA groups to recite the serenity prayer:God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
If there was ever a fitting time for this prayer, it is now. As a matter of fact, let’s recite it together:
If there is any word that does not describe the mood of the moment, it would be “serenity.” The waters of our world and of our nation are churning and troubled. We endured through a seemingly endless presidential campaign full of extreme rhetoric, shocking revelations, and intense unrestrained conflict. Any hope that the conclusion of the election would break the tension and allow us to settle into some kind of normalcy have been shattered. Tension are virtually as high as they were in the heat of the campaign.
As a pastor who has been through ten presidential elections over the course of my ministry, I can tell you that the aftermath of this election for the people I serve is not like anything I have ever experienced before. Elections typically end with pleasure or disappointment. Sometimes great pleasure and great disappointment. But life goes on.
Something different is going on now.
In the days since election day I so many people have come to me in states of stress, confusion, and anxiety. I have not experienced anything like this as a pastor since 9/11. People have shared with me that they are suffering from, insomnia, grief, acute stress, high anxiety, depression and other symptoms. There is a common thread running through the stories of those who are experiencing these symptoms. The common thread is fear.
A person suffering with a variety of complex ailments tells me they are afraid that they will lose medical coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
A teacher is anxious, stressed and confused about how to talk with children in the classroom about our nation and our values in light of all that they have seen and heard during the presidential campaign.
A young African-American lesbian woman says, “I am afraid I am going to die.” Another young LGBT person is unable to return my calls and emails. I learned from a friend that he is experiencing trauma and is terrified of what will happen to gay people and to him in the current atmosphere.
A person with a scientific background and a deep commitment to earth sustainability is horrified at the possibility that at this delicate critical moment in the relationship between humanity and planet Earth –
while there is still a chance to avert the most catastrophic scenarios of climate change – our nation could actually revert to climate change denial, revv up the production of fossil fuels – and the future of our children and grandchildren be damned.
A woman who was the victim of sexual abuse is having a post-traumatic stress reaction to the election of a president who boasted of predatory sexual activity, and who stands accused of the same by multiple women.
An African-American struggles to come to terms with the overt and covert racism that surfaced during the campaign and in the aftermath of the campaign, fearful that there is more racism in this nation than they had believed, fearful of the reports of the rising confidence and boldness of white extremist groups.
Parents, who are worried – just plain worried – about the atmosphere of our nation and what it means for their children’s future.
Thoughtful people who follow politics closely and are students of the history of our institutions and our democracy are horrified at the possibility that critical institutions may have functioned in a partisan way in this election, or that this election was affected by interference from hostile outside forces.
The list goes on, and the common thread is fear.
One may or may not believe that all of these fears are well-founded, but for me this is a pastoral issue, because the fear is there. The fear is real. The congregation that I serve and the wider network within which I engage in ministry is saturated with fear.
As clergy we are not politicians, and I have tried to make clear how sacred and important that is. I believe deeply in the separation of church and state. You may or may not be aware that President Elect Donald Trump is on record as stating that the restrictions our laws place on churches engaging in politics should be eliminated, and that churches and clergy from the pulpit should be free to endorse political candidates and engage in other kinds of partisan political activity while retaining their tax exempt status. This is something that the Christian Right has been pushing as a way to increase their political influence. Should that bother you? It terrifies me. It turns centuries of our tradition of separation of church and state on its head.
After the votes were tallied, President Obama and Secretary Clinton stated clearly and rightly that whoever is elected president must be given a chance to govern. That is a sacred an essential principle of our way of life. Only a fool would want any president to fail. The president holds the hopes and dreams of a nation and in important respects the president of this nation holds the hopes and dreams of the world.
If President Trump is to succeed, if he is to govern well and effectively, he must address the fears that his campaign for the presidency has generated. Each of us is responsible for our words and our actions,
and that is no less true of one who has been elected to the presidency.
He bears clear, direct and certain responsibility for much of this fear that is in the hearts of the people with whom I minister and in the hearts of many other individuals and groups of people who feel especially threatened as a result of the rhetoric used in this presidential campaign.
In AA groups and many other 12-step groups, step seven is to make a list of all the people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step eight is to make a direct amends to such people wherever possible, except want to do so would injure them or others.
If our newly elected president enters office in that spirit, a spirit of self-reflection and willingness to try his best to undo the hurt and the harm in the fear, and to acknowledge his part in generating those feelings of injury and fear, then he will deserve our support and our hopes for his success. If on the other hand, as many politicians over the years have done, the list he makes is a list of enemies, then the condemnation of history will come down upon his head.
President Theodore Roosevelt famously described the presidency as the “bully pulpit.” “Bully” meant something different back then; it meant “wonderful.” He meant that the president has the most extraordinary opportunity to exert moral leadership by word and by example.
That is the kind of bullying we want from our president — to use the bully pulpit to unite us, to give us hope in spite of all our troubles, and to speak not only as a political leader but as a moral leader of the nation.
None of us is in a position to know or to control what path the new President will take; I pray he will choose wisely. In the meantime, there is all this fear and anguish and uncertainty.
If you find yourself in such turmoil, do not suffer in silence. Reach out: talk to your pastor; talk to your doctor; talk to your therapist. If there are causes and issues you care about and are now worried about, use your sacred freedoms to express yourself; join with others and take action.
You cannot change anything that already is. Stop playing those tapes over and over in your head. You cannot re-create what has already happened. You can only influence what is to come.
In that spirit and in homage to a great artist who died this week, Leonard Cohen, I conclude with these words from his pen:
the birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Grace and peace to you