The Weaning of a Nation    

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.

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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.”

screenshot-2016-11-14-10-09-51The 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.”

 

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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.

 

15 thoughts on “The Weaning of a Nation    

  1. Bishop Laurie, thank you once again for your insight and concern for our nation. I tried this week to put words of hope and love on facebook, in fact, I didn’t even include anything about the riots or the specific examples of people being bullied or threatened, only that we were created and asked by God to care for those who were afraid not dismiss their feelings. It ended up in a huge divisional rampage between two friends of mine who do not know each other (in their 80’s) one calling the rioters “millennial crybabies” to the other trying to explain the fear one might have if they aren’t white male. I finally had to just delete the post as they threatened each other with words about their lack of “Christlike hearts”. Oh we have so far to go in our journey. I will be sharing your post! I appreciate you being with us to help guide!

  2. I too was discouraged to hear of the negativity we have heard about in the past week, even the past 6+ months, but Sunday, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, MI voted to become a Reconciling Congregation. It was a vivid ray of sunshine when the people of Aldersgate said, “Come. You can feel safe here.” It is only a small congregation, but maybe others will hear us and join Aldersgate in offering love to those who have felt pain or are frightened.

  3. How can I back a president that has made his followers become cruel, judgmental, and threatening to people who are different or who they don’t agree of their lifestyle..worse yet of ethnic decent. I am having difficulty loving something that is so wrong. I just can’t back someone that has appointed a racist as his right hand man. How do I get this very strong dislike/hate for some thing I do not agree with? It’s like saying “love the devil” I want to be positive but having a hard time. I am a member of the Stevensville United Methodist church in michigan .
    I love and respect your letter. I am just having a hard time backing Donald Trump.
    Myra

  4. Bishop Laurie, losing Pastor Robert was the most heart-breaking experience ever! and the this strange experience that has the world wondering. Your message helps us to know all is not lost. Thanks!

    Jerry Rardin

  5. Thank you, Laurie. I have waited with anticipation for this blog entry. I know it probably was one of the most difficult to do, but we need your voice of strength and reconciliation now more than ever. I’m rather hoping your finger remains somewhat impaired, as it is a good reminder to all of us that we have much to be mindful of when trying to build bridges in our own communities.

    Blessings,
    DH

  6. Thank you, Laurie.

    You have you mirrored our feelings, and provided a path forward. We will need the time to heal, and we will heal. In the process we must never forget, who we are and whose we are. We cannot allow anyone define who is acceptable. We all are.

    Peace

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. I read this as not only as Methodist but also as an American. This is appropriate for all Americans to read as they work through this confusing transition. I understand that this journey seems confusing right now but this too will pass if each of us reaches out to each other with love and understanding rather then hate.

  8. Thank you, Laurie. It has and continues to be a long and painful week. It is going to take the efforts of everyone to confront injustice. Peace, love and prayer unite us in hope.

  9. I am so offended by your posting I can hardly breath. As a Christian I have always been inclusive. I am none of those things you listed just because I voted for Trump. You also failed to mention how hateful and vitriolic the anti Trump demonstrations are. Threatening death and retribution just because you didn’t get your way is not very inclusive. Our Country has become so devided under Obama and I blame the media mostly for that. But when the sky did not open with gold for everyone under Obama they decided they would demand it. “Give me more more more. You promised!” Police have been vilified, whites are accused of prejudice simply because they are white and the media sends out lies to scare everyone into voting for Hillary. Most were thankfully immune to this. Shame on you for supporting this kind of behavior. I pray for you. I really wish you would keep your political feelings to yourself. They do not belong in church.

    • I’m not surprised that you voted for Trump. I am not happy with the demonstrations currently going on protesting the election. However, a lot of the anger was caused by Trump when he told his followers to “rough up” protesters, or called Mexicans rapists, or that as a “star” he could assault women or go into a teenage beauty pageant dressing room while the girls were dressing for the swimsuit competition because he owned the pageant. Laurie says we should help President-Elect Trump fulfill his promise to be president for all Americans, and ensure that all people are treated fairly. I don’t know what kind of church you go to, but what Laurie is talking about definitely belongs in mine.

  10. Laurie,
    again you so eloquently put into words what I feel. I fear for the future of our country.
    I hope tolerance and love will conquer in the long run.

  11. Brava, Laurie!
    Also, I echo Jack Buege’s comments. Laurie is quoting scripture and reminding us to be kind, thoughtful, caring, fair and tolerant. That is not “political”, it is biblical.

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