Reflections by Jerry Webber

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post-Election: A Pastoral Letter

I am the pastor of a Contemplative Community in Houston, Texas. It is a diverse community of seekers, who are intentionally engaging a life-stance rooted in the Christian mystical/contemplative tradition. For months, the Presidential campaign had sent ripples through the community, making conversations awkward and straining relationships. The election itself only served to bring those tensions closer to the surface. As a clay-footed pastor of this beautiful and imperfect community, I wanted to speak into our life together in a healing way. I wrote this pastoral letter to my "flock" about 24 hours after the election results were in. I include the letter here as I sent it to my congregation.

I have struggled over the last 24 hours to know what to say to you as your pastor. Some, I realize celebrate Tuesday’s election as a victory. For others, it is simply relief to finally be done with it. Others have found themselves numb. Many have expressed grief and anger (“sad” and “mad” are both primary emotions, but very different, though sometimes hard to distinguish). The uncertainty felt by some has morphed into fear in others.

In short, I’ve seen no “typical” or generic response to the election. We each feel what we feel. Our emotions are not right or wrong . . . we don’t need someone to fix us or to quote a Bible verse to make us feel better . . . we don’t need to gloat that we were right and others were wrong . . . we don’t need to feel vindicated if identified with the majority nor defeated if identified with the minority.

The aftermath of the election was sure to be this way, regardless of who became the President-elect. Either way, his/her supporters were going to be at odds with her/his supporters. The strain felt among families and friendships, in workplaces and congregations for months leading up to Nov. 8 has now become an awkward tension as we collectively ask, “What’s next?”

Institutions and structures change, shift, fall, are rebuilt . . . that includes nations, political structures, companies, and even the Church. It is one – of many – reasons Jesus said not to place faith in the institutions, in leaders, in political parties, or even in the Church. He foresaw, for example, the fall of the Temple as a religious and national institution within Israel. His words were heard as blasphemy, especially when he said that he would build another Temple, this time in the human heart. But Jesus was forever taking these outer events and symbols, and pressing them inward toward the heart. He asked interior questions about outer events and happenings in the world.

Therefore, wherever you are with the events of the last few days, I invite you to tend the garden that has been given to you. Trying to solve the world will lead to frustration, despair, and ultimately more anger. You can’t fix the world singlehandedly – as even President-elect Trump will learn in the coming days. But you can tend the garden that is yours. That garden, first and foremost, includes your own soul. That garden also includes your relationships, those within your sphere of influence. Tending your garden is not about fixing someone else’s garden, not about locating all the problems “out there” in others, or in the system, but rather about turning the soil of your own life. It’s about working your side of the street.

How am I trying to do that in this season? First, I begin with myself, my own stance, my own feelings. I do soul-work in a deeply honest way. It shifts from finger-pointing at others to a personal glance.

So I take inventory of how it is with me.
• “What does it feel like to be Jerry today?”
• “And what has been touched in Jerry that has produced these feelings? What values have been threatened? What core values have been touched, so that I either celebrate or lament?”
• “What does it feel like to be Jerry feeling this feeling?”

I ask this of myself, not to become more inward focused, not for the sake of introspection, and not in order to judge myself as a failure, but in order to be familiar with myself and my own landscape. I want to be aware – or conscious – of my own interior, in order to see what is at work within me. This is a part of the illumining work of God’s Spirit.

I want to let this work take its time in me, because I realize that most often, my first reaction (the first glance or first gaze) is self-protecting, self-serving, and not grounded in love. Usually the first glance is defensive, judgmental, and categorizing. When I press myself to stay with the interior work, I can often get to that second glance or gaze, which most always includes threads of mercy and the capacity to see self and others more generously.

Second, I want to become aware of my mind’s chatter . . . whether it is the chatter of election elation, or the chatter of election analysis, or the chatter of fear and despair.

[The internet and social media can be a great gift, but they can also feed the worst impulses within us. Consider a fast from news feeds and social media for 24 hours or so. In my experience, these sources only feed and perpetuate my mind’s chatter, increasing the number of “monkeys” jumping around from swing to swing within my head. It’s almost impossible for me to cease my mind’s chatter when I’m constantly feeding the monkeys more food.]

Some form of contemplative prayer – Centering Prayer or Christian meditation – that invites you to disengage from thoughts and feelings may be especially helpful, so that at least for a few minutes, you can let go of the chatter and the cycling of your analytic mind.

Third, consider carrying a breath prayer along for this season of your life . . . a phrase that you can breathe or whisper as you move through your day, especially when you find yourself overwhelmed by the situation. Whisper the prayer as you work, as you walk, as you drive, as you eat, as you wait on hold. Let the simple prayer itself hold you.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
“The earth is yours, and all that is in it.” (Ps. 24:1)
“You are the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)
“In your light I see light.” (Ps. 36:9)

Finally, I affirm that we are a diverse spiritual community made up of persons from across the political, racial, socio-economic, educational, sexual orientation spectrum. We do not represent a single political vantage point. A glance across the Chapel on any given Sunday morning, and I see a multitude of life-situations and perspectives, each with meaning for that particular person. Our task together is love and mercy. It is the growing edge for all of us, especially in our life together and in our witness to the world. We each find different ways to embody the life of Christ to the world. None of us do that in the same ways. We are united by the common quest to deepen our lives into the heart of God for the transformation of the world . . . not by common perspectives or beliefs or ideologies.

We may not always sense it at a surface level, but we are one in the One who has called and named us.

I am glad – and sometimes overwhelmed – to be your pastor in a time such as this.

In love and peace,

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