This Is Not a Political Statement: thoughts on friendship, Jesus, and things we may not consider
November 7, 2008 § 1 Comment
I must admit that I offer this with a certain measure of trepidation (and please pardon the lengthiness of this post). This election season has been most volatile – perhaps of any in my lifetime. History has been made and issues have collided. Before casting my vote I was confronted with the reality of its historical significance and of issues that drive me as a Christ-follower. And because of this the temptation has been to see this election in terms of whether or not my candidate won or lost. So to be completely honest, my more natural human senses scream, ‘You’re a preacher – stay away from this!’ But my heart says, ‘You only have one opportunity.’
The purpose for these words is to speak to something I think we rarely consider. We rarely consider any larger picture that doesn’t immediately relate to our own lives.
This past week a friend died – one of those hero ‘types’ – a man’s man who unswervingly followed Jesus. He was raised in a different generation than mine and for most of his life he saw the world from that older perspective. Conservative leanings marked his worldview, as it has my parents. He was part of that generation that saw stability in a certain light, personally, economically and globally. But then, several years ago Cal met Jesus and everything changed (even where some views remained the same). He began to see the world from the perspective of the Gospel and the scriptures challenged hard, fast, and more defined ‘rules’ of life as they really are rather than by how he thought they were, or wanted them to be. In that light he became one of the more valuable and impactful people in the church.
But how does Cal’s passing fit in with the election of America’s first Black President?
In answering the question I have to take you into the home of some dear friends – an African-American couple – in their sixties. Years ago Katherine and I had the privilege of eating some of the best soul food you can imagine: sweet potato pie, barbecue ribs, collard greens, corn bread, souse, and yes, even chittlins. It was a feast I’ll never forget. That evening Jim and Edwina told us their story – of her sister, arrested in Selma during the Civil Rights Movement, and of riding with her on the Freedom Bus – of his combat experience in Viet Nam and the reality of being treated differently because of the color of his skin.
Through years of ministry and faith I have learned that we are good at quantifying values within our own contexts while minimizing those of others. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that we tend to see our issues as serious and others’ as possibly, but not necessarily as serious.
Two sets of friends – both immeasurably transformed by the Gospel – each having experienced their own layers of pain – one in the stain of a nation’s sin over generations, the other in a moment when sin’s final shout enters into a life, and then takes it. In each context a larger view grants perspective. Jim and Edwina celebrate that something unspoken but unspeakably wrong has ended in tangible terms for millions who wondered if justice and equality would ever translate tangibly at every level in America (Amos 5:24). In the shock and sorrow of loss Sherry celebrates that something unseen but unspeakably beautiful has begun in eternity for Cal who loved Jesus and now ‘sees Him as He is’ (1 John 3:3).
The world we know will always be an unfinished one. Sorrow, injustice, politics and death will remain steadfastly part of our experience – until Jesus comes. There is a bigger, better, more beautiful narrative at work for those who follow Christ. In the mean time, there are those we love. And sometimes who they are to us, and the paths they have walked are larger and more important than what we may think in our own contexts. So we rest in the One we look to – Jesus, who said, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Last night I spoke with Sherry, and she articulated what I already knew to be true – that Cal loved serving Jesus, and that she already misses her husband. We remembered that along with a whole laundry list of secret deeds, Cal led a team that prepared the church for the Lord’s Supper each month, and of together how she and Cal would serve Communion to our Staff at Christmas time – something we cherished.
Today I am glad to have taken the bread and cup from his hand.
Tuesday evening I called our friends at 11:45 pm, and predictably they were celebrating (I say ‘predictably,’ but was relieved that they were awake!). Both Jim and Edwina had personally witnessed and experienced too much pain to hope that their sorrows for the nation would ever be relieved – but they rested in the Gospel and the promise of a new day in heaven. So you can imagine their elation, and why through tears Edwina would exclaim, ‘I never thought this would happen in my lifetime.’
Today, regardless of our individual votes, I’m glad it did.
One Postscript: While I will respect them, I won’t post any comments intended to politicize this post – thanks.