The mother-wisdom I used to offer my children is coming back to me: Trouble and Goodness are both always abundant in this world and so the way we engage life depends on how we focus. We can focus our attention and our energy on what is negative and we will live our lives with anxiety, anger and fear. Or we can focus on what is positive and live our lives with gratitude, generosity and hope.
We can say the glass is half empty or we can say the glass is half full. But it’s still the same glass. It’s still the same world. It’s still the same America.
I’ve been struggling to see the good in these days since the election. I’m anxious about the future of our nation. I’m angry that nearly unbridled power is being handed over to mean, ugly men. I’m afraid that our vision of an inclusive, compassionate America will be deeply damaged during the next four years.
I’m struggling to find my balance and to figure out how to focus my attention and energy. If these negative realities take over my vision, then I may become paralyzed; this feeling makes me want to crawl into my shell, pull the covers over my head, put my fingers in my ears and repeat “la-la-la-la…”
But today I will remember that positive realities are also at play. Today I will focus on the good, the healthy and the helpful. I will continue to believe that our collective goodness is greater than the darkness that threatens our nation.
On these days when my emotions overwhelm my reason, when my head and my heart are out of balance, I have to be especially careful to challenge myself to operate out of my intellect. Times like this I have to discipline myself to engage in cognitive exercises that help me find my balance.
For example, I ponder our current reality within the larger perspective of history.
American politics have been deeply divided many times before, the most horrific of which was the time of secession and civil war. At least we are not there.
As we remember the venom and vitriol of the public conversation over our history, we can recognize that today’s ugly jousts are nothing new. As we recall the incompetence of some of our former presidents, we can realize the sturdy fabric of America endures even with the many flaws within our system. As we are repelled at the horror of brothers killing each other on American soil, we can trust that we have learned some things that will help us navigate any future divide.
Things are not as bad as they have been and today we have the capacity to shape our future in light of the lessons of our past.
For me, as a Christian and a minister, I have been especially grieved at the unfaithfulness of American Christianity during these days. Modern Evangelical Christianity has sold its soul to the devil of politics and has damaged the witness of Christians everywhere. Americhristianity has revealed itself to be completely bankrupt.
But when I put even this shameful reality into the larger perspective of Christian history, I find hope.
Christians in 19th century America were deeply divided over slavery. Too many people allowed the culture of slavery to blur their vision of the gospel. Too many preachers abused their position and misused Scripture to justify inhumanity and evil. But at the same time, many Christians – because of their faith – sacrificed their lives and fortunes to fight against such darkness.
Christians in 20th century Germany were deeply divided over the ideology of racist nationalism that swept the country. Too many Christians allowed the climate of hatred and fear to infect them. But at the same time, the Confessing Church of Germany stood against that evil. Again, many people – because of their faith – offered themselves as martyrs to the cause of goodness and justice.
At least we are not there.
I don’t know what the next four years will bring to America. I may be looking at our glass as half empty. I may be over reacting to the negatives; I certainly hope so.
But given the lessons of history, we will do well to stay aware of both the Trouble and the Goodness that are ever abundant in this world. We must not allow blinders to obscure our vision. We must train ourselves to see the big picture.
At the same time we look our Troubles in the face, we must also discipline ourselves to focus on what is positive. Only then will we be able to live our lives with gratitude, generosity and hope. Only then will we find the strength to stand against the evils of our own century.
This new administration has many unacceptable attitudes and approaches I cannot and will not affirm. Therefore I will faithfully and adamantly protest what I see as harmful to the American dream, unworthy of the American ideal and contrary to the gospel.
But I will protest from my faith, not from my fear. I will advocate from hope and not from despair. And I will engage all my fellow humans not from hate – but always with the power of love.
I wrote these words before the election and I affirm them today:
I believe in the goodness and generosity of the American people. I believe in our creativity and resilience. I believe in the panoramic, stereophonic, technicolor America that our Founders unwittingly launched into being all those years ago. And I believe there are millions and millions of us who share that big, beautiful, courageous vision.
We cannot let that vision die.
We will not let that vision go.
It feels like our American glass is half empty these days; we certainly have plenty of challenges ahead. Even so, let’s commit to work together across all our divides so that some day our nation will actually overflow with the fullness of liberty and justice for all.