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After Election Day: Breathing Easier

The election is over, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the crazy intensity has passed. Our republic survived. And looking back over the last year, maybe we can start to look for lessons learned, not so much about the candidates or their personal flaws and gifts but about the process of being in community and the underlying spiritual values to which we commit.

First, our elections are a way of affirming that we are connected. Even though more and more of us live with a sense of isolation where we don’t know our neighbors well, where we huddle inside a media bubble we created through our own tastes, elections are a reminder that we belong to communities, where local issues impact larger ones. So if the anger and incivility of this election was distressing to you, maybe it is time to scale back your consumption of the most partisan sources who will still be reaching out to you for contributions of money and attention. Maybe you could unsubscribe to some of those sources. Or put down your device and take a walk around your neighborhood. Stop and talk to the people you see. Go to your public library branch and look for a lecture or a book group or a volunteer opportunity. Sign up to plant trees or tutor a young person. In her book, Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, University of Chicago professor Danielle Allen presents research on how communities maintain or repair civic values. She finds that the communities that do a better job are not necessarily the communities with less racial or economic disparity, but are the ones where there seems to be more confidence in the social fabric. Prof. Allen finds that the social fabric is maintained by a basic willingness to talk with others, simple civic engagement which begins with a willingness to engage one another with respect and curiosity. So finding some simple ways to engage neighbors can have profound value.

Second, elections are a reminder that what you do has consequences for others. Did you look at the ballot and realize that maybe you had spent so much energy worrying about the presidential or senate races that you neglected to think through local issues or ballot initiatives? Well, now is a good time to use your energy to become informed about local issues. What does the zoning board do? They have open meetings, so consider going to one, and think about how land use and water use issues might be important in your community. Or maybe your concern is more about schools. There are plenty of ways to get involved, from school board meetings to local school volunteer opportunities.

Finally, remember that the spiritual perspective is not separate from the political world, but does use a larger frame to remind us that there are realities beyond our current concerns. The prophet Micah spoke in a divided nation and reminded people that what we are ultimately called to do is, “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8). Doing justice involves the political goals we were seeking in the election: a better social contract where we make strides toward economic development, racial justice, and environmental protection. Loving kindness involves our relationship with others, the realm of connections with family, friends, and neighbors where we build a web of caring and connection. Walking with God involves our lives of prayer, worship, and spiritual development. Jesus drew on this source of wisdom when he called us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).  If we root our sense of political will in this vision, we will be helping to share God’s shalom, and perhaps that will help us feel more peaceful and less anxious as we face the results of this election and the ones to come.

mtidwell photoMelissa Tidwell has written about spirituality, music, metaphor, and zombies. She is the former editor of Alive Now magazine, and the author of Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on Incarnation. She contributed to the Companions in Christ small group formation series and has also written for Weavings magazine. In 2013, Melissa returned to seminary to finish a degree begun 20 years before, and is now seeking a pastoral call in the Presbyterian Church. She is a resident campus assistant at Scarritt Bennett Center where she contributes to chapel services