Rev. Yme Woensdregt
We have just come through one of the nastiest, ugliest election campaigns in the United States I can ever remember, and the result is not what I had hoped for. Instead of a campaign of ideas and vision, it was a campaign of slurs, accusations, innuendo, and character assassination. There were times I said to myself, “Enough! I’m not going to watch this nonsense anymore. I can’t stand it. I’ve had enough!”
And then something else happened which sucked me back into the ravenous maw of the news cycle … and I began to reflect on it.
Last week, I suggested in writing about All Saints Day that the church remembers differently than the world remembers. We don’t honour those who were great or successful as the world counts those things. We remember those who live with humility and grace and compassion. We honour folks like St Francis of Assisi who embraced poverty and cared for the earth; like St Teresa of Calcutta who, even in times of deep darkness and depression, held strong to her commitment to serve the poorest of the poor, the “Untouchables” in India.
That got me to thinking about this week’s events.
I read once that Henry Kissinger used to walk into the Oval Office and begin a meeting of the Presidential Cabinet by saying, “Today, we will make decisions that will impact the course of human history!” And they believed him. And often, the decisions made in that room did impact the course of history.
Then Watergate happened. It was a scandal that rocked the nation. A few of the gentlemen in that room, the ones who were making decisions that would change the course of history, went to prison.
One of those people was Charles Colson. In prison, Colson’s life was changed when Jesus found him. He became a follower of Jesus. He became a part of a thriving jail ministry. After his release from prison, Colson kept serving in a prison ministry which reached out to thousands of prisoners.
Years later, Colson made a trip to Rome. He walked around the great historic city, and it dawned on him that the Roman Senators might also have started off their days with someone telling them “The decisions that we made today will change to course of human history.” Then he realized that Rome was just a pile of rocks, but that the Kingdom of God keeps going on.
In my reflections, I realized that like millions of other people all around the world, I got caught up in this campaign. I don’t do social media, but I understand that Facebook, Twitter and all the other feeds went crazy. They were filled with people saying some pretty hateful, bitter, and fearful things to and about others.
There is a sense with every election that “this is the most important one yet.” People are nervous and angry and fearful. But fear is often the result of misplaced hope and misplaced loyalties.
Our Christian tradition calls this “idolatry”. We make an idol when we make a secondary thing a primary thing. That’s how money can become an idol. Or the nation. Or the tribe we belong to. Or almost anything else. The warning against idolatry is a caution to us all to remember what is primary and what is secondary in our lives. Don’t make secondary things something primary.
The thing about idols is that they are very rarely bad things. Idols are almost always good things. Elections aren’t bad; they are a very good thing in a democratic society, and allow for a peaceful transfer of power.
But elections are secondary things. They are not primary. As we thought that this election “might be the most important one yet,” it became an idol for us. In this way, good things like elections and democracy become idols.
Now that we know the results, I pray we all remember what is primary.
As a follower of Jesus, what that means for me is to remember that we are primarily citizens of the Kingdom of God. In God’s reign, all is secure. God’s reign suffers no losses, goes from era to era, lasting into eternity when nations and rulers and ideologies have passed away. The Kingdom of God persists as towers and statues turn to ruins and rubble. It will be standing through the next 4 years, as well as the next 4000.
No matter the results of the election, Jesus still reigns, and the church continues to live into the fullness of God’s love. In God’s reign, we celebrate compassion and inclusiveness and gentleness. We seek to live with compassion and love and grace. God breathes into us the peace of Christ, so that we can be the peaceful presence of Jesus in a chaotic, anxiety–filled world. Even when we disagree with others, we can still speak well of and with others. Our hope in God’s future can override any joy or anxiety of short term political wins or losses.
One of the common Biblical refrains when people are confronted with God’s love is, “Do not be afraid.” Today, a few days after the US election, a year after the Canadian election, do not be afraid. We remain secure in the unshakable Kingdom of God.
As noted ethicist David Gushee puts it, my life is bound up with God’s reign “and the local church, an ancient institution far from the madding crowd. There I am fully engaged and find uncomplicated joy in my work of thinking, teaching, preaching and leading. I am more and more persuaded that the long, slow work of spiritual development, intellectual inquiry and moral formation probably matters a whole lot more to public life than does politics itself.”
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook