I’m writing this days before the U.S. presidential election, when things still aren’t clear as to who will be elected. These words, then, are not directed to one side or another.
Many are celebrating the election results. But many are lamenting. Many are excited. But many are angry.
Many are simply glad it’s over.
But, to steal a line from The West Wing, what’s next? How do we move forward after a campaign season that was filled with division and hatred, anger and accusations? If the person you voted for wasn’t elected, how do you wake into a reality you were hoping you wouldn’t experience?
I think we start with the basic idea that Jesus talked about: we love our neighbours.
And who is my neighbour?
If we take seriously the story Jesus told when someone asked him this question, our neighbours include not just the friendly family that lives next door and picks up our mail when we’re away, but also those who vote differently than we do.
Our neighbours are those who held protest signs at the rally we supported.
Our neighbours include refugees, illegal immigrants, and homeless mothers.
Our neighbours also include liars and haters and people we will never see eye to eye with.
Loving our neighbours doesn’t ask us to agree, or to call something good that we believe is evil. It doesn’t ask us to condone hatred or violence or oppression.
But it does ask that we try to erase the line between “us” and “them.” It asks that we see others as just as worthy of love, dignity, and respect as we are.
The government can implement policies and laws that we might not agree with. That we might, in fact, be morally opposed to. But it can’t stop us from loving our neighbour. It can’t stop us from changing the culture in our own neighbourhoods.
So, how can we love our neighbours?
First, we can watch the way we talk about them. We try to teach our kids that words are powerful. How do we talk about political figures and their followers with whom we disagree? Calling them “idiots” and other choice words only models to our kids that it’s okay to call people you don’t like ugly names. Remember that those “idiots” are our neighbours.
It’s easy to call someone else a degrading name. It’s harder to name our frustration and disagreements in a way that still respects the other person.
Second, we can build relationships through hospitable conversations. We seem to have lost the ability to engage in healthy dialogue where we genuinely seek to understand the other person’s point of view. So many conversations about issues boil down to us trying to convince the other person that we are right. I will be the first to confess that I struggle with this one.
But what if we were to seek out someone who thinks differently than we do on an issue we hold dear, and, rather than trying to change their minds, simply ask questions and listen?
What if, when we disagree with someone on social media, we refuse to resort to name calling or belittling and, instead, insist on showing each other respect? How can we love our neighbours well if we never take the time to get to know them and understand where they are coming from?
Third, we can love our neighbours by being proactive to create change. What issue are you passionate about? How can it be an opportunity to love your neighbour?
Do something to change your city. Discover the needs around you. Volunteer. Get involved.
If you are pro-life, then do something to make the world better for babies who are born into hard situations. Find out what moms and kids in poverty need in order to thrive. Mentor a pregnant teenager.
If your heart breaks over the plight of immigrants, get to know some, if you haven't already. Listen to their stories. Hear their struggles and their joys. And then find creative ways to meet their needs.
Educate others about the issues that matter to you.
And then try to make systemic changes. Let your government (at the local, state, and national levels) hear your voice. Write letters. Sign petitions. Don't stop pushing for change.
Maybe I sound too idealistic. Of course loving our neighbours won't solve everything. But it's a start. I've grown weary of watching people spew anger and hatred towards those with whom they disagree. The stories we’ve heard over the past few months are enough to dishearten anyone. But I believe we were made for better. So. Let’s be better. Let’s rise above. Let’s be our best selves, even if no one else cares to join us. Let's refuse to let hatred and discrimination win.
Keep on seeking the good.
(And all of this still applies if the person you voted for did get elected).