Tomorrow is a big day. For some of us it is a time of rejoicing, for others a time of sadness. For all of us it is a time of change. After 8 years of consistent leadership we are going into the unknown. It was a risk, eight years ago, to elect a young, relatively unknown black, President; a risk that paid off for many but not all. It is a risk again this year to have elected a President with no previous experience in government. It will be a risk that pays off for many but not all.
But our society is not entirely dependent upon the President. We live in a democracy founded on civil society. It is the society that we create together which matters. Here in San Luis Obispo county we are fortunate in having a community which is engaged in its life together. We have many non-profit organizations working to make it a better place for the less fortunate, we have farmers markets where we meet one another as well as the growers, we have many active faith communities, and we have a lively arts and music scene. This is not a place where there is a lack of civic engagement.
But sometimes there is a lack of civil engagement. It is easier for us to refuse to talk about the issues that divide us both locally and nationally than to engage in conversation with each other.
As humans, we gravitate towards those who we think are like us and we shy away from those who are different. When things don’t go well we tend to blame people who we think are different. This is a tendency that has been exploited by politicians for centuries. And in the last few years it has been worse than ever.
Instead of a civil society where we can freely express opinions, find places of agreement and explore differences, we are encouraged to belittle and scorn those whose opinions are different from ours. This is as true within the Christian church as it is in broader society, and I imagine that other religions have similar problems.
This time of change in our nation is a time to change personally. It is a time to re-engage with civil society. It is a time to stop allowing ourselves to be divided or to sink into apathy thinking that there’s nothing we can do.
It’s a powerful coincidence that the inaugurations of our Presidents take place in the same week that we commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and nearby the place where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Forty-three years after he gave this speech, the full scope of Dr. King’s dream for this country has yet to be realized. Fifty-six years ago, Dr. King spoke at a Lutheran Youth Gathering. He spoke of the need for “agape” — God-like love in face of rejection — and asked the youth to be “proudly maladjusted” toward a society which permits injustice.
As people of faith we have an especially important role as the “divinely maladjusted.” We are the guardians of hope. Our hope is the hope of new life coming out of death. Our calling is to create communities of hope – places where we can inspire one another by remembering the promise of God’s Spirit. Places where we engage in practices of hope – hospitality, deep connection and holding the place of peace. But such communities of hope are no use if they become insular and separate from the rest of the world.
So in this time of change, let us determine to engage divinely maladjusted ways which bring hope.
Let us actively seek opportunities to have conversations with people who seem different or people who we are not naturally drawn to. Let us find ways to begin to talk about the things we were told never to talk about – sex, death, religion and politics.
Stephanie Spellers, one of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, realized that she never got to talk to people who weren’t in the church. So she looked for two roommates and purposely chose people who identified as atheists. Other people I know have joined civic organizations like Kiwanis or Rotary to find an avenue to connect across difference. However we do it, now is the time to get ourselves out of our regular well-adjusted ruts in order to make new friendships, find new conversations and make new networks.
Now is also the time to engage as active citizens. With a change in administration comes a change in policies. It is up to us to let our voices be heard. A democracy only works if the people choose to engage. If you have never signed an online petition now is the time to start. But petitions have limited usefulness so if you sign petitions, now is the time to start picking up the phone, or sending a fax to your representatives. And if you regularly do that, now is the time to write letters to the Editor, and to visit your representatives in their offices or when they hold office hours locally.
The California Council of Churches is calling us to take a faithful five minutes. Every day contact one of your representatives. Pick up the phone and tell them what you think. It doesn’t matter if you say the same thing every day. You can do it in five minutes.
But above all, let us pray. Let us pray every day that God’s wisdom and grace will lead the President as the full mantle of leadership rests on his shoulders during his term of office. Let us pray that better angels will guide his words and choices and leadership for the sake of all who look to our President to be a voice of reason, wisdom and hope. Let us pray that he will be a leader who sees the worth and dignity of all of the people he has been called to serve.
Because we, the divinely maladjusted, want a society in which everyone is treated fairly, where all beings can flourish. We need a planet that can sustain human life. These are things that we must continue to work for, even when we feel shy or awkward, and it’s easier to just go on doing things the same old way.
We heard part of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells us what it means to be his followers. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. It is time for us to be the salt and be the light by following in Jesus’ footsteps, engaging in non-violent action that helps to bring peace and social justice, not just for the wealthy few but for every being.
In this time of change let us each faithfully discern how the Spirit of God is prompting us to be divinely maladjusted so that together we can engage in creating the beloved community, the community of hope.