A Most Unwelcome Advent

I wrote the following for my church’s 2016 Advent Meditation Booklet. It appeared in early December.

Romans 15:5-7

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Parent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

On a visit to see a hospice patient at her home, I, her chaplain, was greeted by her paid sitter, a friendly young woman, who escorted me to the patient’s room, where she was watching television. Her hearing isn’t so great, so the TV volume was LOUD. Her sitter said, “You have a visitor.” Then she shouted, “YOU HAVE A VISITOR!” The sitter used the remote to turn the volume down, and the patient looked away from the TV and at me. She smiled and said, “Oh, hi.”

If I may take a liberty or two with what Paul said in Romans 15, and surrounding passages, where he was trying to get Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians to realize they had more in common than they had differences and that they could sit on the same pew without agreeing on everything, I will say that I was feeling that this patient and I had accepted one another as Christ has accepted us (v. 7). I’m a Baptist Christian, she a Catholic. I’m not terminally ill; she is. Male, female. That’s not the level of difference that Paul and the early Christians dealt with, but, still, all my visits with her were satisfying, at least in part because two different kinds of people shared fellowship in the same room. We usually watched the birds at her feeder, talked about this and that, listened to some classical music, then ended with a prayer. We didn’t solve global warming or figure out how to keep email accounts from being hacked, but we enjoyed one another’s company and thanked God for that.

On this day, I was grateful to be in her company again and anticipating another delightful visit. But, after saying, “Oh, hi,” and still smiling, she said to me sweetly, “I’m not interested in you today.”

Well, that, of course, hurt my feelings at first, but such is the reality of a disease that can lead to personality variances. It also means (perhaps again taking a bit of a liberty) that differences we have with other people don’t always go away. They don’t always flare up into tense confrontation, but, especially if they are deep-seated differences that go to the core of who one is, they lurk around and periodically surface. There’s the family gathering that is friendly enough…until someone mentions abortion or gun rights. And so on. Our own church has had serious, painful conflicts with people of good will and hearts on both sides of issues. And in the visit with this hospice patient, something inside her surfaced and said, “Go away.”

The 2016 presidential election was the most contentious that I remember. Hateful words and actions surfaced, arising from deep-seated, long-simmering fears and anxieties. Many Americans are far, far from being “of one mind and one voice.” I had my convictions, and voted them, hoping my side would win, but I hope and pray that I will never forget that all of us are sometimes wounded and vulnerable, frail, in need. All of us.

I actually wrote this before the presidential election took place, and I wrote that last paragraph about the election looking to the future, as in: “I hope my side wins.” (Our sharp editor rewrote it so that it would make sense when it appeared after the election.)

My side didn’t win.

When I wrote this reflection, I assumed—like everyone else who reads The New York Times—that Hillary Clinton would be elected. When I wrote about being aware all of us are sometimes wounded and vulnerable, I was thinking of Trump voters who would be upset that he lost and that people who vote like me should be sensitive to them as they pondered four years with a president they disliked. I was planning to be the magnanimous victor.

Oops.

Instead, I’m one of those looking in from outside the gate, wondering what to do now that values I hold dear are being discarded regularly and cavalierly in our executive branch. I myself don’t feel vulnerable. I’ll be fine. But many others may not. So many fears—for people, the environment, the economy, international relations, democracy. So many lies thrown at us.

Despite this turnabout, in addition to activism in which I will engage, I still pledge to communicate openly and compassionately with Donald Trump voters, try to understand their motivations and acknowledge valid concerns—as long as they’re not insulting, in which case, I have better things to do.*

As a Jesus-inspired peacemaker, I’m compelled to speak truth as I understand it and listen humanely and kindly, regardless of who is the winner and loser.

 

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*Check out the Saturday Night Live skit, “Black Jeopardy,” for a clever look at how we can be surprised with whom we share beliefs:

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