It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. On Wednesday, as the nation reeled over our election results, I woke up after barely five hours of sleep to a text from one of my students. She was scared, angry, and said, “I’m having an extremely hard time loving my neighbors this morning because now I’m afraid I’m the one who’s blinded by fear and hate. In need of guidance.”
When her text came, I was in my pajamas drinking coffee and seriously considering staying in my pajamas all day. I thought I might add in some serious brownie eating, too. Personally, I was disappointed in the results. I was so eager to celebrate our first female president and had publicly shared my joy on Election Day. I did not want to leave the house or lead anyone or be pastoral. I did not want to see this as an opportunity or to inhabit a big tent. I wanted more coffee, and brownies.
Instead, after realizing I had no excuse and a very obvious call, I texted my student back and I posted an invitation on social media for Wesley students and any others to join us that evening for prayer and pizza. Here’s what I posted:
“However you are feeling today and no matter who you voted for, God loves you and is with you. From our Christian perspective, the election results have not changed anything essential about the world, which was changed fundamentally and forever by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. As always, our hope, love and life is in the One who met hate, fear and death with love, the One who ate with sinners, befriended strangers, healed the sick, reached out to those outcast, welcomed children, included women in his inner circle, and proclaimed blessing upon the poor, meek, peaceful, hungry and sorrowful. No matter who you voted for or what mix of feelings you are experiencing today, please consider joining us for prayer and pizza at Wesley today. Bring your whole self and feel free to bring friends. If you need to talk or cry or laugh in a safe place, this is it. No matter who you are, we will call you neighbor and extend the hand of love. Plus, you know, free pizza. Drop in any time between 4:30-6:30pm today or stay for the whole time. Until then, go out and meet your neighbors with radical world-changing love!”
On Wednesday night I set the tables and lit candles and provided pizza and chocolate and they came. They brought friends who’d never been to Wesley before. We talked and ate and prayed for over two hours.
What surprised me but shouldn’t have was how earnestly they longed to love all of their neighbors, even and especially the ones who were experiencing that day differently than they were. They asked how to love their neighbors in divisive times like this ... What do I do with my anger? How do I talk to someone whose vote I don't understand or respect? What do I do with this pressing fear? How can I comfort those who are afraid? ... These are deeply faithful and hopeful questions. I know and love these students so I was not surprised at their deep wells of faith and love, but I was surprised at how close to the surface these questions were (versus others they could have posed) and how quickly (less than 24 hours) they got there. At root, everything they said or asked came back to How do I love my neighbor?
Why am I telling you this?
Because as I sat around the tables flickering in candlelight as the darkness settled in that evening, I recognized what a holy space we were inhabiting. I recognized how hungry they were for honest and safe and true community where they did not have to have “answers” or “inviolable positions” but where they could wrestle and “show their work” and be vulnerable and full of hurt and hope together.
I am telling you this because what we as the church offer and say this week matters as much or more than it ever has. Whether or not you have young people in your pews, they are watching and listening. Everyone in your community is.
Please, if you are offering perspective (as I hope you are), do not stop with simply saying that Jesus is the one who changed the world (and so, the changes this week are insignificant by comparison). That is true and the hope by which we live, but on its own, that statement is not enough this week. Go further. I tried to do this in my prayer and pizza invitation by also stating explicitly the kind of change Jesus is and what that looks like, even now (“ate with sinners, befriended sinners … proclaimed blessings on the poor,” etc.). Resist platitudes.
Please take the fear seriously. That goes for both the fears you consider founded and those you don’t, the ones you relate to or experience yourself and the ones you can’t comprehend. Some people on both sides of this election were driven by fear as they cast their votes. Many people are fearful now, based on statements and campaign rhetoric from President-elect Trump. Time will tell if he follows through on some of his promises/threats, but this doesn’t negate the current fear. Resist patronizing and placating advice to those living in fear; try to listen to them.
Be a loving neighbor. Not Who is my neighbor? but How do I love my neighbor? — because they are all our neighbors (Luke 10: 25-37, especially vv. 36-37). Resist allowing your sermon or your church’s statements (or lack thereof) to fall neatly in line with a political party, prevailing sentiment or cultural moment. As Bishop Stanovsky wrote this week, "Jesus is calling us out of our lifestyle enclaves into human community, as surely as he called Lazarus out of the tomb." Be the confounding, community-oriented church of Jesus Christ, the One who insisted on creating a family of misfits who weren’t supposed to know or relate to one another and weren’t considered upstanding or good company or “on the right side of history.” Let your love shine so brightly that it blinds out fear and hate and gives your members and your community a life-giving way not on offer through partisan news networks and social media.
I know you know all this, but I needed some reminders this week and maybe you do, too. It’s been a long week, with miles to go before Sunday. Then it will be another week. I'm giving thanks to the God of Love for the students who accepted my invitation on Wednesday and ended up being blazing signs of hope to me. May they help light your way as well.