Monday, November 7, 2016

On the Eve of an Election: Just Breathe

So, tomorrow is the big day. It's been a very long and very divisive election season. I heard this morning that it was on November 8, 1860, that Abraham Lincoln was elected president of these United States. We say that with ease - "these United States." But the nation was on the brink of Civil War that election year (even without the "help" of cable news) and the notion that we would remain one nation under God was fiercely contested.

I am not usually prone to hyperbole; I tend to have a fair amount of Qoheleth in me, believing there is not very much new under the sun. (See Ecclesiastes 1:9.) But as I said in my sermon yesterday for All Saints Sunday, this is the most divisive and polarizing election in my lifetime. I would add today that it may well be the most polarizing one since 1860. Even so, what I hope the good folks in the pews at Church of the Good Shepherd heard me say yesterday was this: whatever happens tomorrow, the Church is called to be the Church on Wednesday morning.

Last night I joined a public witness of our diocese, led by our deacons, at City Hall in Worcester. That brief liturgy concluded appropriately with the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Whatever happens tomorrow, I will be praying "Lord, make us instruments of thy peace" on Wednesday.

At that prayer service, my boss, Bishop Doug Fisher, quoted his brother bishop to the east. The full text of Bishop Gates' Convention Address to the Diocese of Massachusetts can be found here and I commend it to you. But it's the last portion of that address that Bishop Fisher referenced and that I also want to share with readers of this blog - a quote from the late John Snow's book, I Win, We Lose: The New Social Darwinism and the Loss of Love. Here is what Professor Snow wrote:
Metanoia is the Greek word that refers to a change in mind, a different way of thinking.  Metanoia is the opposite of paranoia.  We cannot seem to learn the basic lesson of the New Testament and of history that fear is the cause of paranoid behavior.  At its heart, it is the assumption that each person is a potential adversary of every other person. … The more I imagine this anger in another, the more my behavior becomes defensive and hostile towards others, and the more that that happens, the more frightened and angry others become toward me.  Paranoid feelings are apt to cause runaway escalation. … Only love can cast out fear and allow us the luxury of metanoia. [p. 101]
This contrast between paranoia and metanoia resonates deeply with me on this eve of this election. There is paranoia all around us. It's anger and a huge helping of fear and pain on steroids. The more paranoid we become, the less able we are to be reasonable. And more importantly, the less able we are to love our neighbor. As Professor Snow puts it, only love can cast out fear. Usually in the New Testament the word metanoia is translated as "repentance." But that's a loaded word in our context. Using the Greek word helps us to remember that we are called to a change of mind and a different way of thinking and then being.

What this means, I think, in our day, is that we are called to love our neighbor with the Trump signs and our neighbor with the Hillary signs. And the neighbor I overheard at the YMCA yesterday who said he couldn't choose between "the wicked witch and the fool." Whatever happens tomorrow, we can pray not only for a peaceful transition of power, but for more metanoia and less paranoia in our communities. We can seek to be instruments of peace who value understanding more than being understood, and loving our neighbor more than needing to be loved by our neighbor.

A friend asked me recently if I was "holding my breath" until the election. I told him,"No, I'm trying to just breathe." I didn't mean to be funny. I hope that it is clear to anyone who has read this post this far that regardless of my personal partisan positions, I really do believe that God will still be God on Wednesday morning. If the apocalypse is not ushered in on Wednesday, then the work that the living God has given us to do is to breathe and to pray and to choose metanoia over paranoia in order to be instruments of God's peace. That might keep us busy for quite a while.

For those readers of this blog who don't own their own copy of The Book of Common Prayer here is a link to an online version. I have been praying "The Prayers for National Life" which begin on page 820 with some regularity, and I'll continue to do so. These prayers include a prayer "For an Election" that I commend to you who are reading these words.

But I'm even more drawn to the litany on page 838 under "Thanksgivings for National Life", entitled, For the Nation, because it reminds us of the work that lies ahead. It goes like this:
Almighty God, giver of all good things:
We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.
They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich
variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.
Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

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