On November 9, the quadrennial presidential election marathon, which has consumed more space in the media and in the psyche than any time I can remember, will be over. A winner will be declared and a loser will concede defeat. And no matter how it turns out, millions of people will be hopping mad.
They will be mad because their candidate lost, and by extension they, too, will feel like losers. Many on the winning side will want to rub it in, and will do so in infuriating and demeaning ways. Taunting is a flagrant foul in sports, but there does not seem to be much consequence for it in the public arena – aside from making angry people even angrier.
For the next six and a half months, most of the country’s energy will be focused on winning – who will win, how can they win, what are the unique geographic and demographic pockets where winning is possible. All that is important, and indeed it is critical to our future. That said, we also need to be paying some attention to the aftermath on November 9, because if there are vast swaths of the populace that are angry now, they are going to be even angrier in the wake of a lost election.
We live in a culture that seems to be more and more devoted to the binary dynamic of winners and losers. It feels good to win, and we get pressure to win – be it a good grade, job, place to live or relationship. And if winning doesn’t come the way we want or expect, we often declare ourselves winners by making sure someone else loses – so that we somehow end up on top, or ahead, of somebody else.
All of this reinforces distance between people, which is already a significant issue in our country today. In 2008, journalist Bill Bishop wrote The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded American is Tearing Us Apart. Bishop demonstrates that, for several decades now, people have been clustering themselves geographically, politically and economically. It is increasingly the case that people live, eat, work, worship and play with people who tend to look at the world in the same way. We are becoming a society of silos, which means there are fewer places where people have the opportunity to share different perspectives. And when such a meeting does happen, more often than not an exchange of perspectives devolves into a nasty competition to see who will win.
This is a problem, and our election season merely deepens it. And this is where we as people of faith come in – which is where Jesus came in. Jesus’ economy was not about winners or losers, but about blessing. And the blessing Jesus offered was brought about, in large measure, through reconciliation. He particularly offered blessings and reconciliation to people whom the rest of the world thought were losers. As members of the Jesus movement, we are invited to follow his lead.
We can start by listening. Listening is the first step in reconciliation. The cultural anger that has broken through the carapace of civility is rooted in fear. Fear of change. Fear of losing. The despair of feeling that one has lost. We need to listen – and to create space and trust so people’s fears can emerge, a relationship can be formed and differences can be honored rather than fought.
Reconciliation is an ongoing journey of transformation toward a deeper friendship with God and people. Acts of reconciliation requires patience, given that the process requires space and time. If we are unable to find space and time for reconciliation, we need to create it. Which means we need to listen more. The world certainly needs our witness; and we are graced by the fact that our scriptural and liturgical tradition provides a deep grounding for us to be reconcilers.
Going Local, a congregation-based process which we have been about as a diocese for two years, is really about reconciliation. The process begins with listening: listening to scripture, listening to our neighbors – both the neighbors in church and in the community. What participants in the congregations involved the Going Local process are learning is that listening moves us out of the polarizing dynamic of winners and losers and into the realm of blessing. Listening invites deeper relationship – within the parish, with the community and with the living Christ.
Reconciliation requires an investment in hope – which is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change. The current political landscape might suggest that reconciliation is not possible. But our faith invites us to a vision of reconciliation and blessing. And those who are involved in intentional listening and reconciliation are beginning to see the evidence change.