When I started this blog post a month ago, Donald Trump just tested positive for COVID-19. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing and the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett a week later were recent news. The WHO estimated COVID-19 had infected 10% of the world's population. The US and Missouri (where I reside) were well into the current surge in community-spread. Hours of grand-jury deliberations concerning the horrific shooting of Breonna Taylor were released. Fires were burning in California. In short, the politics of death, (ir)reverence for life, and self-interest were flowing shamelessly through my newsfeed. In a world that already feels anxious and uncertain, it felt particularly chaotic a month ago.
Now, the presidential election is around the corner. I anticipate at least another week of chaos and instability. I hope I'm wrong. But, I don't believe I am alone.
I think many feel anxious about next week regardless of party or candidate because the world feels chaotic and out of control right now. Between the pandemic, our politics, economic insecurity, and the injustice many experience, voting provides a moment of empowerment. It's a chance to feel in control when things are out of control.
Since ancient times, politicians, prophets, and ordinary people have used "God's will" to explain and give meaning to chaos. "God's will" is a way to explain the world. Even in the 21st century, religious and non-religious people speculate whether world events (elections and wars), natural events (like pandemics and tsunamis), or tragedies are divinely influenced or caused. Karma, or some system of cosmic reward and punishment, instills a sense of reason in the world. Even secular minds search for a reason and pattern in things.
Finding God or some transcendent principle (like The Force) at work or unfolding around us is psychologically and practically important. The idea that the world unfolds as chaos is more than disconcerting. The world can feel and become meaningless. Finding reason, meaning, or God at work in the chaos threatening us nourishes the human spirit. It's a spiritual practice that allows human beings to create reason, purpose, hope, and goodness where there may not be. Sometimes such hope is extremely small, but it is enough to defy despair, surrender, even death.
Undoubtedly, many are going into this presidential election with intense fears and hopes. I believe the presidential election has grown even more symbolic over decades of polarization because it remains one of the few moments in US political life when an ordinary person can feel empowered over what happens in Washington, regardless of financial resources. As findancial influences flood our politics and processes, one-person-one-vote democracy is crowded out. While many choose not to vote, many do because it's a moment when democracy is felt.
I go into this next week worried and prayerful. As the next few weeks unfold, I offer the following pieces of wisdom from scripture and theology. I take them with me. 1. Sometimes, everything comes crashing down. It just does. There may be reasons or not. Either way, you are not in control of them. Moses never saw the promised land. Job never got an explanation. For Israel, the Temple fell. For the disciples, Jesus was killed. Even after preaching the Beatitudes (Blessed are....) Jesus reminds the crowd the rain falls on the just and unjust (Matthew 5). Sometimes, life doesn't make sense. Power wins. Tragedy happens. No one or your enemies seem in control. The world becomes unintelligible. This is not a time to give-in or lose faith. Just the opposite. It's a time for wilderness faith. Practice trust. 2. The poor, excluded, and oppressed don't have a government or party that really works for them, and never really have. That's why the prophets spoke against the king. If I am used to having the government represent my interests, that's a privilege. Don't forget it. The widow, orphan, and stranger had no real security, power or political standing. In a time when life came from the land, they had no land. Through the prophets, God named them and advocated for their welfare. The powers-at-be did not represent their interest. Create solidarity and do likewise.
3. Hope has no party. Hope is human. Among all that is human, hope is sacred, divine, and spiritual. Hope is a sui generis source for reason and purpose in the world. It has been this through ancient and modern times. Hope is ultimately not the property of any party, politician, or platform. Hope lies in God. "God" is the name for what is transcendent, what is possible, and hope's fulfillment.
Let us hope not just for ourselves, but for the world.