Summer has arrived in Maine, finally. As the weather heats up, the overall tone and mood seem to be heating up as well. On the national and local stage, the news is difficult, even crushing—for those who are not fans of the current President (or those who fashion themselves in the President’s style, like some Maine-based politicians). From families being torn apart at the border—and the language that accompanies this practice—to the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, to another terrible shooting, the summer isn’t starting off very well.
I’ve been asked by several non-church-going friends about how I’m “dealing with what’s going on” at work at the church I serve. How am I preaching about the President and his terrible policies? How am I talking about the horrible things that seem to be constantly falling out of the President’s mouth? How am I highlighting how little the President seems to understand such concepts as loving neighbor, and showing kindness, these being the best known Christian practices to liberal leaning non-religious types?
When I respond, initially, to these questions with silence or a slight shrug, indicating that I don’t really talk much about such things (at least not directly), I’ve been met a few times with active derision. Clearly, I’m not doing my job.
I usually try to defend myself, but I don’t get very far. There’s just disappointment, along with a wee bit of anger.
If I’m given an opportunity, I try to explain that my congregation doesn’t have many Trump supporters, if any at all, so I don’t feel the need to offer an alternative view, or “corrective,” in those instances when Christian principles are in the mix. Plus, I’m quite sure that the members of my congregation are already not very happy with what’s going on in the world, and in the United States. To the extent that people express what they are looking for in worship, it can be summed up in one word: respite.
I serve a well-educated, well-informed congregation, with several people who are politically active. I also serve a congregation that embodies something rare these days in that it contains a broad spectrum of political perspectives. We have quite a few Democrats (progressive as well as conservative Democrats), we have Republicans (while some may be relatively content with at least a few current policies and developments, I don’t think there’s anyone who is an active Trump supporter), and several people who are decidedly Independent.
Except for one or two people who occasionally ask for more clearly political material in worship, most people seem to be looking for relief from the barrage of bad, ugly and almost unconscionable news. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the back-and-forth political barbs that have become outright hostile and mocking are just too much. Most of the people at Old South are looking for a bit of a reprieve.
I don’t believe that they are looking for an escape, exactly. They simply want something different, an opportunity during the week that might offer a balm for their weary souls.
And, that’s what I try to do. Although I will throw in an indirect remark, and certainly lift up justice, love and kindness whenever I have the opportunity, I endeavor to create a space for a little peace and quiet, a place for reflection, a chance to remember the big picture, and to reconnect and renew in our individual and collective relationship with our Creator.
In news coverage, there are plenty of politicians and clergy of various perspectives who seem very comfortable in claiming that God is on their “side.” I am not one of those people. I believe that it is critical, for the sake of others as well as our own selves, to consider deeply and carefully, what it means for us to love our neighbors as ourselves—especially as a dictate that came very clearly from the mouth of Jesus. But, I also believe that it is essential that good people of faith appreciate the notion that to worship God is to know that we are not God. And, therefore, we do not know everything there is to know about the mind and desires of the Creator.
It’s not easy to walk this tightrope. While I would love to rail against the President, and those in league with him, every Sunday morning—for there is plenty to rail against in the gulf that exists between Christian theology and practice and what the President and his administration say and do (even while quoting the New Testament), I simply don’t think that it’s the right thing to do. Sunday morning worship ought not be another place where we get our political ducks all lined up in a row. Sunday morning worship ought to be worship—for praise and prayer; for singing and silence; for renewal of hope in a chaotic and violent world; and a place to connect with what it means to be God’s people, appreciating that we can only barely glimpse the enormity and wonder of what that is.
I may disappoint my non-church-going friends, but in the heat and ugliness of the world in which we live, I choose to refrain from trying to line my congregation up with one particular side. Instead, I endeavor to provide a bit of rest and perspective for the weary traveler, so that we can be the people we are called to be, sharing love and hope, even in—especially in—these difficult and challenging times.