As I think about the upcoming U.S. presidential election, I can’t help but remember what happened to me a couple weeks ago at church. I’d only returned to regular service for 5 weeks, and I’ve been trying to let go of my stubbornness and biases. I want to hear what the sermons for what they are worth at face value, without my past pain coloring my perception the message. I understand that this change of heart will take time, that 15 years of absence will not be erased in just day or weeks or even months. As I sat in the back of the sanctuary during the worship service, I listened and read the the lyrics of the hymn. As the worship band played their instruments and the congregation sang, something hit me…
… and I cried.
For those of you who know me in real life, you might be surprised at this. I’m not a crier, not in the privacy of my own home, and definitely not in public. I didn’t cry at my wedding, I don’t cry during sad movies, I didn’t even cry when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010 (I thought that would have put me over the edge!). The only times I cry are at the funerals of friends who passed way too young, twice in high school and once a couple of years after college. In all 3 cases, my friends passed away tragically (drug overdose, drunk driver, and leukemia).
I don’t remember the song lyrics, but it wasn’t one I knew before. I was sitting and meditating on the words when I remember my emotions bubbling up. It started slowly, like hot water boiling in a tea kettle. After another minute or so, I could feel tears running down my face.
Normally, when I start to feel sad, I do whatever I can to not cry. I’m embarrassed, I want to hide my emotions, or even run and hide (even when I’m at home alone). But this time, I let the tears flow. And not just that… I wanted to remember why I was crying, even to savor the moment. Because I felt unworthy of God’s love, of being in His presence, even after abandoning the faith and community for over a decade. I felt thankful and fortunate for being in the place I’m in, physically healthy, in a new job, with a wonderful wife.
How does this story relate to presidential election? Through the debates and interviews and media leaks and press releases, a flood of anger has spewed from the American public. We are fuming at our TVs, computer monitors and smartphones, so upset by the candidates’ behavior. We are exasperated by those who do not agree with our point of view, even to the point of ending friendships with those with different political agendas. We are fighting with each other, both in the virtual space and even physically in the streets.
But I’m tired of being angry. I’m sick of wasting so much emotional energy dealing with the obvious differences. My head hurts trying to make sense of the lies and hypocrisy and political maneuvering.
What are we missing in our nation? Compassion. We forget that with so many people’s political leanings are often rooted in pain. We may not realize that so many people in this nation are suffering, beyond what the media is feeding us. Urban minorities are under the oppression of racial profiling; rural Caucasians are being threatened by the new economy; immigrant refugees are fleeing crises in their native lands; the LGBTQ community are striving for equal rights. We think these “other” people are wrong for believing what they believe, for wanting to vote for their candidate. But unless we are walking in their shoes, we should respect their viewpoints and their perspectives. We have no right to judge other people on their life experiences and though processes. Instead, we should have compassion for their pain and suffering, for their trials and tribulations.
We should even extend our compassion to our political leaders. Clinton is a power-hungry politician, who has made a career of making behind the scenes deals domestically and internationally. Trump is a ruthless businessman, selling his name and his brand without reservation in order to spread his financial empire. Both candidates are extremely flawed and have diverse agendas. But we are flawed, too, and our personal agendas are not always altruistic. If we are to be furious at these two leaders, then it would be insincere not be self-loathing.
We are called to be compassionate, not just to our friends and those like us, but to all our neighbors, even to our enemies. We should not dehumanize people who think or act or vote differently than us. As Americans, we should respect the right to free thought and speech, and as human beings, we should treat each other with kindness and mercy. If we continue to fail in this, this nation will fracture further. No matter which way you vote, the people who disagree with you will not go away. This election is just the start of a possible national division. I hope you choose which way to lean.