Rector's Ramblings November 4, 2020
Our faith is most useful on difficult days. Our Constitution is most helpful during difficult times. Funny how that works. Today is a difficult day during difficult times, as it turns out. Not in an extreme way, but in the sense that the tension in our nation on this day after Election Day is as thick as it has been in some time. And that’s saying something. Tension has been building for some time. If we thought Election Day would break the tension, we haven’t been paying attention. Election Day was never going to relieve the tension, but it was always going to be an inflection point, for both the winning and losing sides of any particular contest; Election Day, or whenever the results are known, was to be a point at which we would know where to put our new focus and how to shape our behavior moving forward. We just needed to get “past” the election to get there.
That’s where the uncertainty of the outcome is raising anxieties. We want to know who the next President will be, and it was an odd feeling not to know by the time we went to bed on Election night, even after staying up late for the results. This isn’t new, of course. There have been other elections left undecided while votes were counted and recounted. Some absentee/mail-in votes are counted after Election Day every year. When the margins are very small, those types of ballots matter more than they typically do, which means they all need to be counted before electoral votes are assigned. Between the close races and the increased mail-in voting, as a result of the pandemic, we find ourselves in what some pundits were calling a worst-case scenario weeks and months ago: a race so tight that we would have to wait for days for the results. It was even predicted that it would happen precisely as it is unfolding, with who would hold Election Night leads and how they would shift as early votes were counted.
So far there is nothing nefarious afoot. Sure, there are social media rumors, and a few politicians feeding the flames of conspiracy, but most of what I’ve read and heard about our election system suggests it has been and remains fair and secure. Some states were able to prepare us for the fact that it would take some time for their results to be final. On the whole, our processes for elections and the ways we fulfill them tend to work really well, so long as we let the mechanism do its job. After some warnings and wonderings about just what could go wrong on Election Day, I think we were all relieved that it was very smooth, and frankly, normal. We needed normal. We could actually use a bit more normal, although this slow count certainly doesn’t fit that description.
So what are we to do? Wait patiently, of course. We must also trust in the things that hold us together personally and those things that hold us together as a nation. Both our faith and our national identity call us to unity, even, and perhaps especially, in times like these. I was recently thinking about our national motto, before it became “In God we trust.” You know the original one: “E. Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one. Both sentiments are beneficial for us today and for the foreseeable future, as it turns out. We must trust in God, and also remember that our very national DNA is that of disparate peoples banding together for shared success.
Actually, if we dig down to the root of our original motto, my Philosophy major side gets to come out and play for a moment. I’ve read before that the original source for E. Pluribus Unum is likely an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who wrote something similar that was later translated into Latin. It’s kind of ironic for a guy who didn’t particularly like democracy, from what we can tell. But he did understand how the tension created by opposites can also be unifying. His description was to think of it like the string of a bow or a harp string. It’s the tension from the opposing forces that makes the music and fires the arrow. In that sense, the concept that out of many comes one, is not too far off the mark, so to speak. It’s the song of our history, and frankly, the melody of the future. If we’ll just sing it together.
Maybe all this tension we feel while we wait for results can become a good thing. I suppose it has to be a good thing, or at least we have to work to make it a good thing. This country has never really been defined by how we handled boring everyday prosperity, but instead by how we have met challenges and threats. Whether those threats were internal or external, the stress and tension of our challenges is where our national character really starts to sing. For the love of the God in whom we trust, we need to rediscover that song.
How? By all the ways I’ve been writing and preaching about lately. We can’t take unity for granted; we have to work at it. We have to lead with love, which requires humility and grace. We need to rediscover both/and thinking instead of either/or. We have to find the common ground that exists, even though we’ve been programmed to think it doesn’t. We have to actually trust God, yes, but also one another, and the systems that are in place to deal with the challenges we face. Those systems may not be perfect, but they’re better than a lot of other options. They are also designed for the complicated situations that arise from time to time.
I don’t know what is going to happen in the next few days with this election and its outcome. I don’t know what the varied reactions will be. What I do know is that God will reign no matter what we do in this world. I also know our highest calling doesn’t change with any election. In fact, I’ll edit what I said earlier. We don’t need to get past this election to find our inflection point before we change our behavior. We can and probably should start to change today, even before the results are in. It’s who we are: In God we trust and E. Pluribus Unum, after all.
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good: for the sake of Him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.