From Exile to Hope: November 3, 2022

From Exile to Hope: November 3, 2022

November 02, 2022


By: Rev. Cindy Hickman

Next Tuesday, Nov. 8, is Election Day. Please vote. This is the last edition of “Abiding” before the election, and I feel compelled to encourage you to vote. We have a lot to vote about: the economy, Ukraine, Russia, threats to democracy, racism, women’s bodies and health, climate change, mental health, public education, gun ownership and gun violence. We are even voting about access to voting and voter rights.  No one of us has all the answers, but in a democracy, we believe collectively we can find our way forward.

I assume that you have registered to vote, know what the issues are, and you have thoughtfully chosen your candidates. If you have any questions about voting, can help. 

I want to write about voting, but I have been asking myself why. I think there are two reasons.

The first reason: I am experiencing political trauma, and perhaps you are too. That’s a step beyond political drama.  We are used to that, dramatic debates, controversies around issues, politicians misbehaving. Human beings are dramatic creatures. No, something more than drama is happening. It feels like trauma. Our politicians are really our neighbors, and in campaign ad after campaign ad we see them demonizing one another. When the ads appear on the television screen, I reach for the “mute” button on the remote and you probably do too, but it’s already too late. I have witnessed the character assassinations. It feels like trauma, not the lived trauma of PTSD, just political trauma, a low buzz of degrading human behavior on display. 

The second reason:  I am person who tries to follow the model of Christ. I, maybe naively, believe that leadership ought to look something like the commandments Jesus gave us to love God and love neighbor. Abiding in Hope is about our faith.

Does voting have anything to do with our faith?

I searched the bible for the word “vote.”  It appears only once in the New Revised Standard Version, the Common English Bible, and the New International Bible. In Acts 26, Paul describes his previous occupation as a bounty hunter of Christians and how he voted to condemn them to death. Not a great endorsement for voting.
No one voted for their leader in scripture. Leadership was a family legacy or an appointment by a higher power like the Pharoah or the Emperor of Rome and occasionally (thankfully) God. 

The bible offers example after example of bad leaders: hard hearted Pharoah, self-centered Ahab, cruel Herod, and Pilate who ducked responsibility and washed his hands when courage was demanded of him.  Again and again, the “official” leaders fail the people, and the people are voiceless victims.  

The real leaders, those with vision, faith, and the well-being of those they would lead in mind, rise up among the people. Often, they are people we would never see as leaders. They are not loud or popular. They generally do not want to lead and yet their depth of character will not allow them to shirk their duties. They are incredibly human, leading with great conviction at times and failing miserably at other moments. They cry out when leadership becomes a heavy burden. Moses, Abraham, Esther, Paul.  Through their leadership, the lives of others improve. 

What are the qualities of leadership?  Service. Honesty. Integrity. Compassion. Putting the needs of others before one’s self. The ability to listen. To build consensus. Endurance. Humility. These are incredibly important qualities, but they seem quaint in our modern political arena.    

These are anxious times and I wonder if we are really looking for a hero, someone who will ease our fears and face our threats for us. Someone who will assure us that we are right and that all is well even if it isn’t.  A leader leads the people through the challenges of life. A hero protects people from life. A hero saves the day which feels good for a few moments. A leader changes history which doesn’t offer the same quick celebration but arcs slowly toward grace. Sometimes we need a hero, but more often we need leadership.

Maybe we carry an unreasonable expectation that our leaders will ensure our happiness. The issues we face are complex. We, the people, have varied opinions about how they should be addressed and yet, somehow, we believe our elected officials should address the issues in a way that suits us personally. Leaders who can’t do that efficiently and effectively will find themselves the subject of television ads decrying their failures. In a democracy, leaders are accountable, but accountability often tips to scapegoating.  It is easy to cast blame on our leaders when the world does not look or perform as we believe it ought to. At our house at one time, we had a family joke that blamed everything on the Director of Homeland Security. Lose the car keys? Blame the Director of Homeland Security. Burn a batch of cookies? Blame the Director of Homeland Security.

There is no denying that leadership is important, and leaders do bear responsibility, to a certain extent, but in a democracy our leaders become leaders because we vote for them, and voters have responsibilities too. 

The word “vote” comes from a Latin word meaning “vow,” “promise,” or “pledge.” To vote is not simply say “yes” to the leadership of a particular person. It also means vowing to support that person and the ideals both the voter and the elected share.  

Racism, climate change, the pandemic, inflation, gun violence? Difficult, complex issues. I suppose a hero would swoop in, offer a quick superficial fix to ease our anxiety, and then stand confidently hands on hips, cape waving in the breeze. A real leader needs to work harder to create real, long-term solutions. A real leader brings people together. A real leader helps us all see reality, even when we might not want to see it. When solutions can’t be found, we have to find ways of adapting to the realities before us. We, the voters, must be part of the effort. Electing the governor, or a senator, or legislators is not a hand off and it does not absolve us from personal responsibility.  

The act of voting brings us into the fray, into the work of creating a more perfect union.  

A few years ago, I was working the yard when my neighbor called to me from across the street.  It was election season, and he had an extra yard sign. He wondered if I would like to put it in my yard. I looked at the name on the sign. No, not in my yard, not my candidate, I thought. I said to my neighbor “I play on the other team.” He thought for a minute and nodded and put the sign back in his truck. A few months later, when a tree went down in my yard, my neighbor crossed the street carrying a rake and lopping shears. He spent the day beside us cleaning up the branches. 

I suppose when we voted a few months later, we cancelled out each other’s vote.  

Votes matter for sure, but what was more important was the act of voting. He and I both went to the polls. We carried out this shared act of voting.  Regardless of who won, we would be back in a few years, voting again. And if a tree went down in his yard, I would walk across the street with my rake and lopping shears. It somehow makes me think of the communion table. Have I ever stood at the communion table beside someone I disagreed with? Yes. But what we share together is bigger than what divides us. I know neighboring is not a sacrament. Maybe it should be. 

Joshua led the 12 tribes of Israel into the promise land in a pretty horrifying book of war and destruction. In the end the tribes looked to Joshua for leadership. He deflected that role by compelling the tribes to choose who they would serve. In a way, he was inviting them to vote. Joshua cast his vote: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) Joshua lived out his days surrounded by human complexity and human leadership, but he made his choice as to what would guide him.

On Tuesday, I want to cast my votes in a Joshua like-way. I am not selecting a hero. I have no expectations that the troubles of our world will be instantly fixed. I am not looking for a scapegoat, someone to blame if they aren’t.  I want my votes to be a reflection of Christ’s commandment to love God and neighbor.

And then on Wednesday and all the days that follow, I hope to live my vote as a pledge and promise to love God and neighbor and use my energies to enable others to do the same.