Traveling through New England and the Midwest the past months, I enjoyed watching the leaves transform from green to glorious shades of red, orange, and yellow.
But fall has moved swiftly toward winter and most trees are barren now, save the hardiest branches. There is a harsh chill in the air, too, and it's not simply the change in weather. Fear, anxiety, and vitriol have continued to grow in insidious, demoralizing ways. And since the shocking results of the presidential election, we've seen a surge of unchecked hate speech, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in the public sphere. It looks like we have a long, cold winter ahead of us.
Politics is cyclical, like the seasons. Leaders come and go. Abundance inevitably gives way to leanness and vice versa. But the stakes in this transition are dire and we simply cannot slip into complacency or hopelessness. Instead, this period of change invites us (perhaps painfully) to radically reassess our priorities and values, individually and corporately. Are we the shining beacon we claim to be? Will we stand in solidarity with those who now face the brunt of oppressive, tone-deaf leadership, who are barraged by hateful speech and action? Will we scrape below the polite, whitewashed language of national media and, regardless of political affiliation, name the vile sins of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and greed that fuel our unjust and broken political system?
This time of national crisis requires us to stay awake, to call out and challenge rhetoric that erodes our democratic commitment to human dignity, or laws that undermine freedom for all. And as strained as dialogue might seem, this season requires that we deepen our relationships with each other in the midst of seemingly intractable social, economic, and religious differences. We need to be better neighbors on a local and global scale, acknowledging the interconnectedness of every life on our planet. To quote W.H. Auden, 'We must love one another or die.'
Living through trauma and transition is exhausting work, whether it's in the White House, our family, or faith community. How can we maintain the energy we need to be fully present, to play a positive and constructive role in the face of challenges and tension we face?
1. Tend to your spiritual well being. When water becomes scarce, trees put down deeper roots. Patterns of worship, study, and service keep us connected to the Source of love and goodness. Intentional practices of prayer and contemplation help us 'find a quiet center' that brings wisdom and perspective needed to navigate uncharted terrain.
2. Create spaces to practice non-judgmental observation, listening, and reflection within our families, faith communities, and neighborhoods. By curbing the tendency to interrupt or interject our opinions and feedback, we honor the voices of others and the contexts from which they speak. As trust grows through respectful, mutual listening, so does a foundation for constructive dialogue. Disagreement or conflict do not need to end a conversation but invite us to deeper learning, empathy, and communication.
3. Rather than distract ourselves with the endless chatter of social media and news, or exhaust ourselves through unfocused action, we remain attentive to places where our voices, hands, and resources have tangible impact. Focus on a consistent, daily action that grounds you in the present moment. Find creative ways to leverage your influence, privilege, or finances for the common good. Organize others to lift up or amplify the voices of the marginalized, or stand with communities facing injustice and oppression. For a great list of first steps, here's an excellent blog post by my colleague Emily Scott.
4. Saint Theresa of Calcutta said, 'Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love....The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.' While we live in a culture that hyper-prioritizes power, privilege, and size, the human heart is where true transformative power lies. When our actions and speech are infused with Divine love, given generously and unconditionally, we subvert the dominant value system. As we look into others' eyes, naming them as beloved children of God regardless of immigration status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation, the walls of fear and distrust that divide us begin to fall.
Hold tenaciously to hope in the midst of these challenging times, friends, trusting the Holy One 'will guide the future surely as the past.' But, above all, do not be silent or stay still in face of oppression. Empowered people of faith must be present to our changing political life in ways that engender mutual dialogue, peace, healing, and transformation. In the words of a favorite Advent carol, raise your voices in 'hymns of lovingkindness,' and anthems that 'shatter all hatred and blindness.' We need them now more than ever!