November 15, 2016:
It was a difficult week for Americans. Voters were mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. After Donald Trump’s surprise victory, we tried to get some sleep, woke up weary, and lamented, “We need a break. No more inflammatory and hateful rhetoric. No more Facebook, no more Twitter, no more TV pundits. Our country needs to heal.” However, as we have seen over the last six days, the weaning process will be much more complex.
I was reminded of my own experience with weaning. The journey began on July 14 when I woke up, only to discover that the front knuckle on the fourth finger of my right hand was bent over. When I straightened out the knuckle, it just flopped back down. By some odd coincidence, July 14 happened to be the day I was elected to the episcopacy.
“It’s a ruptured tendon,” the orthopedic specialist said. “When there is no precipitating accident, like jamming your finger, the connective tissue sometimes just deteriorates with age.” Feeling old, I dutifully wore a splint on my finger for three months and imagined myself as the bent-over woman in Luke (13:10-7).
Shunned because of her disability, this woman knew what it was like to be bent-over, burdened, and marginalized. Not one person had touched or spoken to her for eighteen years, yet she never wallowed in self-pity and kept coming to the synagogue… until that fateful day when Jesus touched her. The bent-over woman gasped, straightened her back, and suddenly found herself staring into the eyes of divine love.
Of course, one could claim that the analogy breaks down here. There was no instantaneous cure for my bent-over finger, even after three months in a splint and three weeks of gradual weaning. My finger is no longer flopping over, but it is not totally straight, either. I suspect my doctor will tell me this afternoon that my finger will never be perfect again.
In the same way, we would be negligent if, in our national weaning, we ignored this important transition time between administrations and assumed that life has returned to normal and everything is fixed. The truth is that no matter who is president there are some things people of faith must never wean ourselves away from. If we do not continue to insist on radical inclusivity, equal opportunity for all, and justice for our neighbors, we fail in the mandate of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I confess that at this moment I am fearful for the future because of what has been happening on the ground in the US over the past week in response to the election. Our country has clearly spoken for change, but that change must not come at the expense of other Americans who are now being targeted by hateful words and threats. The election results seem to have given a voice to and emboldened those who would demean minorities, put down women and mock those who are “other.”
The day after the election, middle school students in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak began chanting during their lunch break, “Build That Wall,” which was part of President-elect Trump’s platform. Twelve-year-old Josie Ramon recorded the incident with her cellphone. “Tears were running down my face,” said Josie, who is Mexican-American. “I was so upset. A friend went to the bathroom crying. Everybody was chanting along with it. She was scared. She looked really upset. I felt really bad for her.” The video went viral.
School officials responded immediately, and Royal Oak School superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin, who is also a United Methodist elder, issued this statement, “In responding to this incident – indeed in responding to this election – we need to hear each other’s stories, not slogans. We need to work toward understanding, not scoring points, and we need to find a way to move forward that respects and values each and every member of our community. We will be working on this in school today.”
I am deeply grateful for Christ-followers like Superintendent Lewis-Lakin, who are able to compassionately guide our youth into a deeper understanding of what it means to be good citizens. Sadly, many incidents like this have taken place across the country over the past week. A United Methodist pastor in my conference is attempting to comfort recent immigrants to our country who are fearful that they will be sent back to their homeland, where their lives will be in danger.
A pastor is providing care for a lesbian woman who was physically threatened by three men, who cornered her car and taunted her with gay slurs right after the election. Still another pastor is ministering to a Muslim woman who is terrified that not only will no more Muslims be allowed to enter the U.S. but that her family, long established in this country, will be deported. A handicapped young man I know is frightened to live in a country where it now seems okay to mock and mistreat those with disabilities. I have heard way too many stories of women who have been victimized by sexual threats or violence.
Spray-painted signs have been seen, “Gay families burn in hell,” and “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your vote.” African-American, Muslim and Jewish parents fear for their children’s safety … and for their own. Have the election results now given license to people to be openly bigoted, cruel, and hateful? These unprecedented outbursts of hatred and racism are diminishing of others, are not who we are as a nation, and must be confronted.
This is a teachable moment for all of us. The work is just beginning. We cannot wean “from” without weaning “toward”. Weaning ourselves from hatred and division implies weaning ourselves toward loving our neighbors, engaging in respectful conversation, standing in solidarity with all who are marginalized, and allowing ourselves to be bent-over with the pain of the world.
The lesson of this election is that we must bear this pain together. We dare not build walls to keep others out but must begin to construct bridges of understanding together. We dare not stereotype others but must build relationships of trust together. We dare not shut ourselves off from the cries of those who, as minorities, do not feel safe and are bent-over. Rather, we must participate together in creating a country where every person can stand straight, tall, and unafraid. We need all of us.
Donald Trump has pledged to be a president for all Americans. It is our responsibility not only to help President-elect Trump fulfill his pledge but to work tirelessly ourselves to resist evil, injustice, and oppression by ensuring that all people are treated fairly. It’s a long slow obedience of compassion in the same direction.
Do we have it in us to use our own bent-overness and humility to wean others from bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination? Do we have it in us as United Methodists to engage in honest and painful, yet gracious conversation? Do we have it in us as world citizens to be tolerant of those who are not like us? Do we have it in us as children of God to make room in our house for all?
When the bent-over of this world look into your eyes, will they see divine love? The weaning of our nation begins with you and me.