*Author’s note: I almost didn’t post this today as I feared it might not be appropriate on Veterans’ Day. However, after attending our town’s parade and ceremony this morning, hearing the bands play our patriotic songs, seeing representatives from every military branch, and paying our respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country with dignity and honor, I realized it was more than appropriate. Thanks to the sacrifices of these men and women, we live in the greatest country in the world, where we continue to be free to disagree and wrestle our way through some hard discussions.
God Bless America!
About a quarter-century ago, I was preparing my first student teaching lesson for a West Virginia history class. I remember it well.
Often theatrical, I was rehearsing quotes from John Brown, the crazy-eyed, self-proclaimed instrument-of-God abolitionist whose band of ruffians stormed the armory at Harpers Ferry. Though really not that big of a deal in and of itself, the raid was a spark that helped ignite the powder keg of division that became the American Civil War.
“I am now quite certain,” I quoted Brown in my best gruff, indignant, mountain man voice, “that the crimes of this evil land will never be purged away … [lengthy pause for dramatic effect] … but … with … BLOOOOOOD!” I poured that final word all over the students who were half-amused, half-terrified.
Herman Melville referred to Brown as the “meteor before the war,” a harbinger of things to come. Certainly, John Brown didn’t start the Civil War, but he was a perfect example of the violent, embittered passion that was flowing through the stream of consciousness of Americans who would soon take the lives of not only their neighbors, but their own family members.
God help us all as that seems all too familiar.
As I watched the 2016 election results trickle in through the early morning hours, I kept hearing echoes of John Brown. In a nation so painfully divided as ours is right now, one could easily imagine a bitter conflict spilling over from this election. The only questions were who would win the White House and who would fire the first shot.
As a lifelong student and a teacher of world history, economics, international political systems, and religion (and don’t forget psychology—yeah, I have a decent idea of what’s going on in your heart and your mind), I had to remind myself of words I have repeated to students many times: “Very little changes with the occupancy of the White House. Regardless of the letter next to the winner’s name (R or D), the vast majority of us will continue to get up every morning and lead the exact same lives as the day before.” As the Avett Brothers sing, “You’re life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected.”
While I still believe that to a large degree, I’m beginning to hope that I’m wrong … dead wrong … because I’m not sure I like who we’re becoming as a people.
I certainly don’t like the shadows that have wormed their way into my own heart.
So, what’s a Christian to do in such times? I suppose it depends on whether your candidate won or lost, right?
But—wait! How’s that? As a dear friend commented just this morning, “God won this election.” The Christian champion won, right? Doesn’t scripture clearly identify God as, “Yahweh (R)”? That notion doesn’t sit well with other Christians who fear that the anti-Christ has just been handed his throne.
I sit back and sigh as Jesus’ words ring in my ears: “Give unto Caesar.”
When Jesus asked his somewhat rhetorical question two-thousand years ago—“Whose image is on the coin?”—he was actually probing a much deeper question. His question about an image on a coin is spiritually tethered to his words in Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” You see, in Kingdom economics, the only monetary unit worth anything is the heart. Jesus isn’t talking about money with his almost snarky, evasive answer. Your heart is the treasure, your life-savings tucked away in your body-bag of a coin purse. Ultimately, Jesus answers a question about taxation by asking, “Where is your heart? Whose image is burned into it? To whom is it dedicated? Have you surrendered that treasure (along with your passions, hopes, and dreams) into the hands of our Father, or into the hands of a politician?”
Give unto Caesar.
Friends, I’ll cut to the chase and boldly confront you: Whose image is on your heart? If it’s a political candidate, if your heart was overly swelled or deflated by the outcome of this election, I fear for you. Regardless of which political side you’re on, your jubilance or your depression the day after the election is a telltale sign of where your treasure has been invested. Hopefully your morning-after emotions become a wake-up call as to the state of your own heart. As a Christian, if you truly feel that we have ultimately won or lost something by this election, I fear your faith may have been best described by the old Scottish preacher, George MacDonald: “[…] the paltry character of such a faith […that’s] good enough for a Pagan, but for a Christian, a miserable and wretched faith.”
I’ll admit, I’m challenging myself with these words, because I have certainly felt waves of emotion throughout this whole ugly political contest. So I’ll ask you (and myself) again: “To whom are you paying homage with your most-prized currency —your heart?” If a political candidate’s image on the television screen makes your heart either swell with pride and satisfaction or despair and disgust, pay attention to that. As Dan Allender poses in The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, your emotions are an accurate reflection of ultimately how you’re doing with God. In short, your reaction to this—or any— governmental activity reveals as much about your faith as it does your political persuasions. Rather than asking him to intervene on behalf of your personal political agendas, why not ask him, “Father, why am I feeling what I’m feeling? What are you doing in all of this … and in me?”
I think Jesus was both amused and disappointed when his listeners answered bluntly that it was Caesar’s image stamped upon their coins. They didn’t get it. I can almost see the wry grin sliding up his cheeks as he quipped, “Then give unto Caesar.”
I absolutely love Jesus’ playful, sarcastic sense of humor that pierces like a sharp blade. By design, his words cut straight to the heart. At least they should.
One of the guys I grew up with posted on social media just this morning, “I think I’ll go buy another gun to celebrate the election!”
I smiled (whether it was one of annoyance or amusement, I’m still not sure). Perhaps he was hearing the echoes of John Brown’s words, too, and something was urging him to get ready for what’s to come. I pray not.
I’ve seen friends grieving and half-joking about moving to another country (Canada’s immigration website keeps crashing from overuse). Other friends have replied bitterly, “Good! I’ll help you pack!”
I see friends and family members on both sides of the aisle so caught up in all of this rhetoric that it’s easy to imagine actual shots being fired to herald our next civil war. And why? Because we refuse to believe that someone with a different opinion and alternate point of view can actually share our same values, and THAT is the ultimate lie that we all must purge from our hearts.
For a moment, I’m going to speak directly to my Christian followers: In the immortal words of Bob Newhart, “STOP IT!”
All of you. Just. Stop. It. Give it a rest. Let us all have some space to process where and what we are, and then let’s begin some actual conversation—which, I’ll remind you, requires more listening than talking.
You want to cure that political hangover? Here are some tips:
First, don’t assume you fully comprehend the other side. All the people I know (myself included) are walking contradictions who barely understand themselves. How can you (with a good conscience) make sweeping assumptions about other people? Just because someone voted for Trump doesn’t mean that they’re a neo-Nazi, racist, womanizing, ignorant, backwoods redneck with an 8th grade education. And just because someone voted for Clinton doesn’t mean they’re a welfare-sucking freeloader on a socialist mission to destroy your family, bankrupt your business, defecate on the Constitution, steal your guns, smuggle in terrorists, and kill your unborn children. Good glory, folks. Have some common sense and decency.
No matter where you stand, the national vote was about half-and-half. Are you ready to argue that half of the people in our nation are either hopelessly stupid, evil, or set out to destroy the country we all love? If so, we should consider a nuclear launch against ourselves. In veterinary medicine, if we have an animal that’s half-eaten up with cancer, euthanasia is usually the most loving thing we can do. Likewise, if you believe the “other” half of our country is your enemy and not your fellow countrymen with similar hopes and dreams, then let’s just call it a mercy killing and nuke ourselves.
As I was writing this, I learned that a friend and neighbor commented on social media that he didn’t consider me a friend because I am registered with the “other” political party. I’m afraid he has assumed a lot about me based on manipulative “news” sources and the many shades of truth/lies vomited out through social media and internet memes. He and I have never had cross words about politics or anything else, but I’m not his friend because we disagree on how our government should function?
Second, try to learn from someone else’s perspective. Friends, intelligence and kindness, as well as ignorance and contempt are well represented on both sides of the street. I urge you to engage the other side with the expectation of finding the former; if met with the latter, don’t sink so low as to return ill for ill. Rather, try to overcome ignorance and hatred by sharing your heart with honesty and humility. Be vulnerable, ask honest questions, and risk being wrong about some of your strongest opinions (we all are).
Why are people so devastated by this election? Perhaps it’s not because their candidate lost, but after all of the sensational media coverage, they fear what will become of them, their friends and family members of different races and religions, their educational chances, their gay family members, their healthcare … and the list goes on. And they have legitimate concerns. It’s no secret that white supremacist groups are celebrating this election and calling it a monumental victory for their warped visionary cause. Millions of Americans fear that ignorance, hatred, and bigotry will become more tolerated and systematically ignored.
On the flipside, how can people be so joyously satisfied with this outcome? Perhaps they’ve felt that for too long they’ve been forgotten and left behind by a government that has worked hard to protect certain rights, freedoms, and interests of some groups at the expense of others. Maybe they’re tired of policies that have cost them their way of life in the effort to protect some bird’s nest. Perhaps their vote was for the same freedoms and opportunities we all expect, but they felt our current administration was hurting them more than helping. And that is all more than justified topics for conversation.
But that’s the crucial word: Conversation.
The biggest problem in our country right now is the extreme polarization of two sides that refuse to come together to even talk.
Talk to those with whom you disagree.
I promise, if you give it a chance, you’ll learn to appreciate and respect that person you’ve been manipulated into hating, and you just might learn something about yourself. Even if you still disagree with them on how best to achieve our goals, you’ll find that we all want the same things.
As Bob Dylan sang, “We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view.”
Guys, this country is a messy powder keg of passion right now, and not everyone has to agree with you or think like you in order to be correct. As Americans, I believe the vast majority of us love, honor, and value the exact same things; we just differ in what we think is the best way to live out those values.
For my over-zealous Christian friends, if you think there’s only one way to honor your faith and everyone who disagrees is wrong, then I want you to commit right now to which of our faith founders should be cast into the fire: Peter or Paul? Those two guys were known to outrageously disagree on multiple issues. But if you’re sitting there telling me that only one viewpoint can be correct and all others must be wrong, then you’ve just amputated a valuable chunk of your own faith structure.
There’s a fine line between standing up for your convictions and being a my-way-or-the-highway, arrogant jerk. As Brennan Manning writes, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Jesus calls us to love God and love others. If you can’t do that, no one really cares about how you look in your Sunday best while you’re standing in the voting booth.
For the rest of us, it’s okay to respectfully agree to disagree.
It’s not a personal surrender to allow someone the honor of taking a different stance, so why not give each other the space and the grace to have diverse ideas as we come to the table to try to understand each other?
For the winners in this election: Don’t gloat. I’ve seen some of you crowing around in shameful arrogance. You remind me of that third-grade bully on the playground who kicked a smaller kid’s ball over the fence. Big fat hairy deal. You picked the winning horse. Congrats. Just don’t be the guy who goes out and urinates on his neighbor’s car because your team beat his in the Super Bowl. Trust me. You’re becoming an embarrassment to the team you think you’re supporting. Try on a little dignity and humility. And try to understand why the other side feels so devastated right now. Though you may not want to admit it, you’ll find that their fears and concerns are legitimate.
For the losers: Suck it up. It’s not the end of the world. Democrats managed to survive eight years of Bush; Republicans just endured eight years of Obama. All the clocks are still ticking and the world is still spinning. What goes around comes around and all that. You look like Chicken Little. Have a little faith and some hope in the goodness of your fellow citizens (and the majority of them are VERY good). Without making wide-sweeping judgments, try to understand why the other side feels so passionately victorious right now. Though you find it impossible to imagine, there’s a reason many of them feel vindicated by the outcome of this election.
For all of us, remember this: These are growing pains. On an international level, our country is still the young kid on the block. Perhaps we got too big too fast, but we’re still struggling through relative adolescence, clumsily dealing with issues that other nations resolved decades and even centuries ago. We’re still not even close to the nation we’re going to grow up to become, and the onus of what that is ultimately rests on your shoulders, not the shoulders of whoever sits in the Oval Office.
As a people, we are far more than any president.
You have the opportunity every single day to go out in your community and be a shining example of the kind of country you hope we can be. I implore you to do just that, and do it with strength, humility, love, and compassion. If you can do that, I think you’ll find yourself working alongside that neighbor you just unfriended, but never tried to understand. I hope you have many good conversations.
If we’re already too far entrenched in our own agendas, then I’ll just slip into my John Brown costume and say a few words …
“The crimes of this evil land will never be purged away … [lengthy pause for dramatic effect] … but … with … BLOOOOOOD!”
… and prepare for my brothers and sisters to open fire on each other.
Give unto Caesar.
And pass me the ibuprofen.
Here are a couple of articles to further your conversations and your own growth: