Q: My husband and I have gone out of our way to build a bridge to our evangelical Christian neighbors despite our awareness that they hold dogmatic beliefs that we, as mainstream Lutherans, find discriminatory. We’ve hired their home-schooled teenage children for paying jobs and, as former teachers, have given them free tutoring. We’ve brought over home-cooked meals and provided rides for them during a health crisis. We give them fresh-grown produce from our garden. They have been warm in return at the same time as holding us at arms’ length, particularly when we politely reject invitations to switch allegiances and join their church. But we always managed to find common ground in the humanity of how both our families had been trounced so mightily by the recent recession, killing the American dreams.
But now they have swung the way of taking their anger out over their diminished financial circumstances and dismay over the way the country is going by supporting the hate politics of Donald Trump. This is despite the fact that virtually everything he says goes against all of their expressed Christian beliefs! We do not see any way to even talk to them anymore. HELP! — Anonymous
A: God bless you for your kindness to your neighbors. God bless you for your faith, and most of all, God bless you for sending me exactly the question I was hoping for during the presidential election cycle.
Your dilemma – how to relate to people who are going to vote for a candidate whom you consider to be basically the spawn of the devil – bedevils many Americans in this particular presidential election, most of whom don’t even share their homegrown zucchinis like you do. Let me therefore give you, dear Anonymous, and all my dear readers, some spiritual advice about how to survive this election with your friendships and families intact.
The first thing to remember is that there are Democrats and Republicans in both Heaven and Hell and how they voted is probably not even in the top 50 reasons of why they are there. Good people, thoughtful people, patriotic Americans are found on both sides of the political divide. Demonizing others should be left to true demons, not just politicians whose politics or personalities you detest. If a person is not as bad as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Idi Amin, you probably ought not be talking about them as if they were. Political disagreements are just that. They are not the first act in a blood feud. Let us all just take a deep breath and remember the obvious fact that there is no one political party where all the good people have gone to vote.
This election is, I do admit, different than most others in its ferocity and vituperation, but ultimately it is still like all other elections. The Democrats, as the party in power, are putting forth a narrative that parties in power always put forward, to wit, “Things are not as bad in the country and in the world as you have been led to believe by the other side.” The Republicans, as the party out of power, are putting forth a narrative that parties out of power always put forth, to wit, “Things in the country and in the world are worse than you have been led to believe by the other side.” So in the end, we are voting for a story and differing political stories are not a good enough reason to cut yourself off from your needy neighbors.
So how can we ameliorate the escalating anger over this election? I think we all need to learn the story told about a great Hasidic Rabbi, Nahman of Bratslav, who died 216 years ago.
One day Reb Nachman was walking down the streets of Bratslav with his students following him closely to try to hear any words of wisdom from their teacher. Suddenly he stopped short and pointed to a man who was walking across the street. He asked his disciples, “Who is that walking across the street?” They looked and then answered, “Rebbe, it’s nobody. That’s just Moshele the vassertreiger, Moshele the water drawer.” Rabbi Nachman scolded them saying, “You are not my students! You will never be my students until you can look across the street and no matter who it is you see, you turn to me and you say, ‘Rebbe, that is the image of God walking across the street.’”
Until we are able to see the image of God in both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton we will not be worthy to be the disciples of Reb Nachman. Until we are able to see the image of God in both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton we will not be worthy of being Americans.
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