I have been waking up in the middle of the night, with my stomach in knots about the presidential election. I know that the deep divisions, the emboldening of hate speech, and the propagation of conspiracy theories will make it incredibly difficult for the next president to govern a population so distrustful of their leaders and their fellow citizens. The election will not resolve the conflict, only move it to the next stage.
To help me get back to sleep, I remind myself of history and all that this country has already survived: a civil war, four presidential assassinations, two impeachments, one resignation, and one contested election brought before the Supreme Court. Somehow, we have managed a peaceful transfer of power (for the most part--the Civil War, not so much). I also remind myself of the trust I have in our Unitarian Universalist values and practices that I believe are stronger than my fears. Here is an excerpt from a sermon I gave a couple of weeks ago:
I listened to a webinar by the Quaker teacher Parker Palmer called, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.” Palmer notes that our forbearers created a system of government that was intended to hold tension, that difference and conflict are not the enemy of social order but the means for creating a better one. The work of democracy is standing in the tension between what is and the realities of that and what is possible, what we hope for most deeply. The true political divide he says is not between the left and the right, between liberals and conservatives but between cynicism and hope. Cynicism is a deep mistrust that drives us to choose to act only for ourselves because we believe there is no hope. Fear and hatred are the tools of cynicism, used to manipulate and divide by those simply seeking power for themselves. Hope is the capacity to look honestly at our brokenness, at what is wrong AND to see underneath a hidden wholeness, the possibility for growth and change. It is not optimism or what Palmer calls irrelevant idealism, where you only see the good. It is bearing witness to the shadow side as well as to the potential in our humanity and yet trusting that we can make progress. We can only make that progress, however, if we are in community, if we are engaged, if we are a Palmer says more committed to right relationship than we are to being right. The practices of right relationship are simple: welcome the stranger, listen and evoke the stories underneath their values and beliefs, making it less possible to dismiss, despise or demonize them; and engage in acts of simple witness to each other’s humanity. Do not let ourselves be threatened by difference. Instead, create the conditions for us to be uncomfortable, make mistakes and yet remain in conversation. We cannot heal the breach if we refuse to engage it.
No matter the election’s outcome, we are going to keep practicing hope, we are going to keep practicing right relationship, we are going to keep practicing covenantal community.