The Journey Continues, ... Responding in a Post-Election World

The Journey Continues, ... Responding in a Post-Election World

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton


This week I have had a series of conversations with pastors in our annual conference regarding the events surrounding the recent presidential elections.  During the course of those visits, a similar statement emerged from each one – “What do you say when you don’t know what to say?”

The events leading up to, surrounding, and following the elections will be studied and analyzed for years to come.  Those events go deeper than two candidates.  This was a vote that revealed a deep and significant divide in our country.  The rhetoric beyond the debates expressed dissatisfaction, discord, disagreement, and distrust of candidates, politicians, government, and even one another.  It has left me, at times, rather pensive and reflective.  Perhaps I too have been one of the ones saying, “What do you say when you don’t know what to say?”

In thinking about that question, let me offer a few suggestions:

  1. When you don’t know what to say, listen. Perhaps this is a season when we should all re-group and make sure that we listen, deeply and meaningfully, to one another.  On the morning of the election, some pollsters and media personalities were sure that one candidate would win in a landslide.  By evening, those same people were confessing that somewhere, somehow, they missed something.  One well-known journalist even suggested that “perhaps we were only listening to ourselves and not those around us.”  It begs the question, “How well are you listening?”  “Do you really know the thoughts and feelings of those around you?”  In order for any of us to respond to events taking place around us, whether they are good events or bad, we have to be able to understand the context.  We have to know the reality.  We have to listen.
  2.  When you don’t know what to say, pray.I take great solace in the reality that when life doesn’t make any sense, God still does.  I find great peace in a faith which I embrace that says when I can’t figure it all out, God can.  I rest at night believing that I am held in the hands of a loving God who will not let me, or us, go.  I pour out my soul in silent, intercessory, confessional, thankful and gut wrenching prayers knowing in my heart of hearts that God listens and God cares.  In the midst of what I cannot comprehend or make sense of, God says to me, “It’s okay.  Just let me know how you feel.” It’s very good therapy to bare your soul to your creator.  It’s the best way I know to get that heavy block of burden off of your shoulders.
  3. When you don’t know what to say, be careful what you do say.  When things happen that get the best of us, our tendency (or at least mine) is to act before we think.  How many times have you said something that you later regretted or sent an e-mail that you wished at some point you hadn’t sent?  One of the greatest realities of this season of our lives is that we have run the risk of losing our civility.  We somehow feel as if we have been given permission to say and do anything we feel like saying or doing with no regard to the harm those words or actions may cause another.  I believe that protesting is fine but it becomes wrong when violence and looting and hatred is involved.  Stating your mind is fine but it becomes wrong when you assume the role of judge and jury over another who may disagree with you.  These are days to exercise great care in the way in which we respond to those around us.
  4. When you don’t know what to say, do what we do best.There has been a lot of unbelievable and, at times, very discouraging things that have taken place during this election season.  Things have been said that are very offensive and inappropriate.  Accusations have been leveled that have no regard for the truth.  Emotional responses have created a gap in relationships that will struggle to be repaired.  These reactions are a sad but real commentary on the way in which the human race so easily digresses into behaviors that damage and hurt others.  But what we do best is offer an open table to all who wish to come.  What we do best is open our hearts to others regardless of their background or baggage.  What we do best is offer the world an alternative – a life of grace and hope, acceptance and possibility.  In the midst of damaging rhetoric, inappropriate words, and demeaning behaviors, now is the time for us to do what we do best – offer them Christ.
  5. When you don’t know what to say, love.I truly believe that we in the church have been handed an unbelievable opportunity to clearly, courageously, and convincingly proclaim that there is a better way than what we have resorted to in this election season.  It is the way of love. Over the course of my ministry I truly believe that, with God’s help, I have won more people into the heart of God by loving them than I have by shaming or judging them.  Love is the answer that breeds compassion, sympathy, and grace. It informs things like non-violent resistance, advocacy and justice.  We owe it to our world to offer an alternative to this mess that we find ourselves in.  We owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to raise the moral consciousness, elevate the ethical standard, and proclaim a compassionate alternative in response to what we have recently encountered.
To be honest, I can’t begin to understand how some people are feeling today. In an article I recently read by the Dean of Yale Divinity School, Greg Sterling wrote these words, “At this moment, I am particularly concerned about a number of groups: women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ persons, immigrant, refugees, and Muslins to mention the groups foremost on my own mind. . . As a straight white male I will not pretend to see through your eyes, but I can – and do – stand in solidarity with you.  We must all stand together to protect the most vulnerable.”  I couldn’t agree more.  We stand together because we believe that God created us as God’s children.  We stand together because we have chosen to love one another like God loves us.

In the hours this week when I didn’t know what to say, our son Ian was the one that spoke the loudest.  Our third child is a brilliant and insightful young man of deep and profound conviction.  In a Facebook post following the election, my son wrote these words:

This post isn’t gonna side with anyone, but I just want to say that real change begins at the bottom.  It begins with you.  So stop crying, stop with the woe is me “what can I ever do.” 

You can do everything to make someone feel safe, to help someone succeed, to be inclusive.  You don’t need a president to hold your hand to be a good person.

Go out and get what you want to get, go out and be the change you want to see.

That’s it.  When you don’t know what to say, be a good person, help someone feel safe, love everyone without reserve, and go out there in this big, confusing, chaotic world of ours to be the change you want to see.

Thanks Ian.

The Journey Continues, . . .

Thomas J. Bickerton
Resident Bishop