Election Blues and Faithful remnants

“The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off a strong nation.”  Micah 4:7

Is it possible to be very pessimistic about the future of American democracy and simultaneously confident in the future of its ideals drawn from the best of Judeo-Christian values?  It is on the horns of that dilemma I find myself as I near the end of my 75th orbit around the sun.  The euphoria I felt a year ago when Donald Trump was soundly defeated in his bid to be re-elected dictator of the U.S. has given way to despair as I watch the democratic party described by Will Rogers when he said, “I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a democrat.”  Now that inter-party warfare threatens to doom the Biden presidency and in the process throw open the doors of the US Capitol so the failed coup attempt of January 6 can be successfully completed at the polls in 2022 and 2024.

I have voted faithfully in every election since 1968, but this year I am so discouraged by the way the bitter politicization in our country has infected even local elections for school boards, city councils, and township trustees that I am tempted to throw up my hands and not even vote. Politicians have always exaggerated and lied about reality to get votes, but this year 90,000 Americans have died unnecessarily because political lies have become more deadly than the Delta variant of COVID-19.

As the news plays on my radio or TV I hear Amos warning against the sins of Israel. I see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because she would not listen to his words of salvation and peace. I see shock on the faces of those who have bought the lie of American exceptionalism as they try to wipe the mark of the beast off their faces on the day of Armageddon.

But deeper than my despair I also know that the reign of God is not dependent on sinful mortals. I feel in my dry bones the salvation history revealed throughout the Scriptures that there has always been a faithful remnant preserved from any tragedy that rises from the ashes of earthly kingdoms to carry on the eternal torch of God’s holy shalom.

There are 82 references to “remnant” in the Hebrew Scriptures.  These references are not about left-over pieces of fabric, but about those who are left out and powerless according to worldly ways.  Through flood, slavery, exile and even execution of the Messiah the solid rock of truth has survived as the foundation of life itself. The earthly power of Pharaohs, Jezebel, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Pilate, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and all the others named and unnamed in our history books is as flimsy as the fakery of the Wizard of Oz.

The creator of our universe will still prevail with or without us, even if we succeed in our blind foolishness and destroy the earth itself. Dr. King was right that the arc of the moral universe is long, so long that we cannot see the end. It is as unattainable for mere humans as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. So just now we despair because that arc of morality seems twisted and malformed in our finite ability to envision the mystery of the future. But I still dare to believe that it bends toward justice, maybe not in the dwindling short term of my lifetime, but in God’s eternal kairos.

From the perspective of 3/4 of a century of life on this planet this much I know, maybe not in my feeble brain but “deep in my heart,” the great old protest song “We Shall Overcome” is true. That “someday” of justice may not be on any human calendar, but it will come in God’s good time; and on that hope I must hang my hat, especially in such trying days as these.

From Lament to Repent

My church is using “Lament” as the theme for worship this Lenten season. I wrote the following piece as one of the daily devotions for this Lent.

Most of the times I lament it is because of something painful or unjust (at least in my mind) that has happened to me or someone I care about.  But recently I had an experience that reminded me that sometimes laments can also lead to confession of something wrong I’ve done or a good thing I failed to do. 

I am part of a group from our church that is studying a book called “Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation” by Latasha Morrison.  We’ve just read and discussed the first chapter so far, but Morrison has already challenged me with some provocative and uncomfortable questions at the end of Chapter 1.  For example, “Have you studied the history of non-White cultures in America and how those cultures came to be here?  If so, what books and articles have you read and what videos and documentaries have you watched about the history of those cultures prior to their forced migration?”  I am embarrassed to admit that my answers to those questions were very short.

That experience reminded me of one of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Scriptures (II Samuel 12) where the prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin in taking Bathsheba from her husband Uriah in a most diabolical manner.  Nathan approaches David with a parable about a rich man who takes his poor neighbor’s sheep instead of killing one of his own large flocks for a big dinner party.  David of course recognizes the injustice and says, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”   And Nathan simply says to David, “You are the man!”

I like that story because I’ve always seen it as someone else getting his or her comeuppance, but this time the shoe was on the other foot. Through reading this book I heard God clearly saying to me “Steve, you are the man!”  It took my laments over the systemic racism that has infected our American history for 400 years and how I have blamed others for that horrible injustice and held a mirror up to my own guilt.   So now I can lament my own failure to do more to address this critical mistreatment of God’s beloved children of color. 

The hope in that process is summed up this way in “Be the Bridge:”  “I have seen awareness lead people out of denial and ignorance, into lamentation, and ultimately into racial solidarity.”