Of course, as soon as I say that I’m going to update my blog regularly, my life shifts to make that very thing almost impossible. So, apologies for that. But now…now, I’ll be better! (here’s hoping)
For the past two months, I’ve been working as a volunteer staff member at a guesthouse and conference center in Yamanakako, Japan. I attended bible school there years ago, and the place has always been dear to my heart. When the opportunity to give some time to help out arose, I was eager to go. But I vastly overestimated the amount of free time I’d have, as well as the amount of energy I’d have when I reached said free time. I’ll write more about that time in an upcoming post.
My return to the United States coincided with the fallout of the presidential election, which is about as much culture shock as I could stand. As I sat at the departure gate at the international airport, I constantly refreshed the updates about the states reporting votes and watched the country turn into a patchwork quilt. Just a short time before my flight left, the winning presidential candidate was announced. Japanese reporters bowed into a few conversations to ask Americans what they thought about the election. In halting English, one man asked my sister and me, “Are you happy Trump won?”
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. I wished my Japanese had been better to explain to him what a complicated issue it is—a tangled mess of expectations, media spin, posturing, a deeply divided political situation, rapid changes in American life and the international stage during the last presidency, and, possibly worst of all, a conversation that continues to be ignored. Namely, the one about the foundational differences between conservatism and liberalism and the ways their underlying principles genuinely inform a person’s perspective on the role of government and its relationship to the people who live under it. No, not the broadly stroked “left” and “right,” not the faceless masses of the “liberals” or “conservatives,” and not even the Democrats and Republicans, groups so dehumanized that we might be tempted to think that they were not made up of people at all. I’m talking about you, your family, and your neighbors. People who live in your city, who work with you, who go to school with you. We need to talk.
Don’t worry—I’m not going to add my voice to the chaos that erupted after the election results were announced. There has been more than enough speculation, victory crowing, terror, anger, and hysteria (on both sides). When I wondered about what I might say in response, I decided to sidestep the apocalyptic predicting and desperate in-grouping that is so rampant lately. Instead, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about something that we can all agree is of utmost importance: the here and now. What should we do now? How then shall we live?
At the risk of sounding naive, I would argue that we simply continue to live. As of this moment, none of our rights have been taken away. Our freedoms have not been restricted. We are not suddenly lesser people, nor are we abruptly living in a country of monsters. What is naive, however, is to think that our government is the arbiter of our morality, our worth, and our actions. Very rarely, if ever, do we have the pleasure of a ruler who shares all of our perspectives on the economy, international relations, faith, issues of gender equality, and on and on. We very rarely, if ever, have the pleasure of being represented by someone who meets the moral standard that we hold ourselves to, who would act as we would, who cares about the matters close to us, and who understands our same concept of justice, love, and truth. In the world of politics, appearance is all, to the candidate’s detriment or success. Substance and intent are almost always hidden, because those are complicated and difficult to explain in sound bites. If we could only vote for a person who was our ideal human being, we would never vote at all. And if we believe that a nation of millions will be destroyed because of one man, then our understanding of our government and ourselves is no more than a child’s.
After the election, there was an outcry of despair. Parents wondering how they’ll raise children in a country that approves racism and teaches hate. Mothers losing hope of how to teach their daughters worth and their sons respect. Authors crying out about fading truth and free expression. People fearing they’ll have to turn on their neighbors, that they’ll never be able to walk on the streets safely again. But I would argue that these fears are based in a belief that our government determines our character. If our behavior and beliefs are dictated by a government rather than our own hearts, then we are lost. The purpose of the government constructed by the Founding Fathers would be utterly broken and forgotten beneath dust cloths, and our own natural free will as human beings would be carelessly tossed beside it.
A government is incapable of making us better people. It cannot teach us what is right and wrong. It cannot heal us. It should reflect the best character of its people, yes, and pass laws that reflect our beliefs concerning right and wrong. But it cannot make us good. This is not a failing, simply a fact of its nature. It is a system built to address certain matters that we, as individuals, cannot. It is not built to replace parents, teachers, mentors, leaders of faith, our own consciousness. When we look to the government to teach us who we are, we are looking in the wrong place.
So to these parents, I say continue to raise your children to give love and respect to everyone they meet. Teach them with your example by refusing to hate people that are different from you, even those who may have voted for someone else or root for a different football team. Mothers and fathers, tell your daughters that the future is still bright for them and that they should never feel like lesser creatures. There will always be people to tell them differently—your voice should be louder than theirs. Teach your sons to be fine men who can give love and respect because they fully understand the love and respect they’ve received. Authors, continue to write and seek places to share your thoughts. Don’t turn your words into cutting weapons when they should be invitations. And everyone, meet your neighbor. Know them and try to understand them. If you cannot understand them, still love them.
Don’t be fooled—I am under no misapprehension that this is simple or easy. Many of us have already seen fallout from the election results—beatings, racist outbursts, riots. On one level, it is an overwhelming emotional response. This election cycle was atrociously loaded on that account, so it isn’t surprising in some ways that it is ending with such an explosive spinout. On another level, however, it shows what we might look like as a society if we rely only on people in positions in authority to make us people of character rather than doing that work on ourselves. If the character of our president is the only thing that keeps us from fighting each other, how weak must we be?
I say all of this to you in the hope that it will be encouraging, rather than discouraging. The work that lies ahead of us has not suddenly dropped into our laps. This is not a war that has suddenly broken out in our homeland. The work is the same as it always has been. To be the best parents we can, to become people of strong character, to seek truth always, to uphold the value of human life, to protect the weak. The war against our weaker, viler nature continues, just as it has since history began. I pray that God will guide and watch over us all as we work through this chapter. I pray that this time will encourage discussion, connection, and honesty, rather than fear, withdrawal, and defensiveness.
So allow me to finish with an addition to what I said at the beginning of this post. It’s true. We need to talk. But please, be willing to listen, too. Conversations only exist when the people involved recognize that there is another person present.