dole·fully: (adverb) in a manner expressing sorrow; mournfully
hope·fully: (adverb) in a manner expressing hope; optimistically, expectantly
One week and a day from now, you and I will awake to a new reality. Honestly, not a great deal will have changed. One of our fellow citizens will have simply taken a new and temporary appellation: “President-Elect.” Nonetheless, a door will have been opened—this door, not that one—and all of us will feel the draught of wind, strange new scents on the air, a difference in temperature. We might believe that we can peer across the transom and describe what it will be like, but none of us can see around the doorjamb or too far into the distance.
This final installment of the Naaman’s Voters Guide for 2016 applies regardless of who wins on November 8th. The “How” question that has underpinned the Guide—i.e. “Lowell, how should I vote in 2016?”—is not so much concerned with outcomes, as it is with process. Even so, now the time has come to jettison the “How” question for a “Who” question, but a “Who” question that can’t be answered by Clinton, Trump, Pence, Johnson, Stein, McMillan, Sanders, Kasich, Cruz, Carson, Rubio, or any other object of our heart’s electoral desire.
I understand that there are Hillary Clinton true believers just as there are Trump true believers. They celebrated at their respective conventions and are more concerned with their candidate’s victory than their opponent’s defeat. May I pull back the rest of us however—as something of a unified whole, I believe—to July or August when we looked at our list of options (some form of the “ballot” presented above) and thought, “How did it come to this? I never imagined I would have to face this set of choices.” We were astounded. We were frustrated. We were depressed. We were annoyed at the true believers on both sides who fulsomely delighted at getting the very election they had hoped for.
But because we are an optimistic people, because we are patriotic, we got busy. We were going to figure this thing out. We were going to play as skillfully as possible the hand that had been dealt to us. Remember all the permutations we tried? --Sanders or Biden could step in at the last minute. Trump could vow to step down after the Oath of Office and Pence take over. Johnson could be the conservative’s choice. McMillan could win Utah, and then Alabama, and then throw the Electoral College to the House of Representatives. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore tried to goad Republican Ben Sasse into an independent candidacy.
Most of our “solutions” in the end became philosophical. We couldn’t prevent Trump or Hillary from becoming president, so instead we voted “against” the other candidate. Or we voted for the candidate, but said that we were voting for the Supreme Court or the party platform instead. We wrote in candidates which had no chance of winning or even being counted, but voting for them had symbolic significance for us somehow. Some have declared that they are skipping the presidential ballot altogether. Their philosophy is “to vote for the lesser of two evils is still to vote for evil; I refuse to implicate myself.”
We’ve expended a lot of energy. We were determined to fix the unfixable. It was a harsh reality, and we were determined to deny it. This is the United States of America, for crying out loud! Two candidates with the lowest favorability ratings of all time?! Two candidates heading into office with scandal sheets worthy of pre-impeachment?! Three presidential debates that made more sense as Saturday Night Live skits?! This couldn’t be happening to us.
In 1972, Lutheran theologian Walter Brueggemann published the book The Prophetic Imagination, a now classic treatment of the Old Testament prophets, with particular attention given to Jeremiah and Isaiah. He didn’t believe that the OT prophets had a large predictive function. It was pretty clear what was about to happen: God was exacting his judgment and the Israelites were heading off into exile. This was the harsh reality. Neither did the prophets necessarily engage in full-time “turn or burn” and “repent and be saved” preaching on the street corners. This is surprising to those of us who grew up dabbling in the Major and Minor Prophets. Sure, God wanted the nation of Israel to “turn,” but there was at least 70 years of unavoidable burning in their immediate future. Sure, God perpetually calls us to repentance, but our salvation—whether in the Messiah’s first coming or his second—is on the far side of much tribulation. Brueggemann argued that the Old Testament prophets exercised a “prophetic imagination,” and that we as a Church are called to the same ministry in our time. The prophets helped Israel come to a humble acceptance of a harsh reality and then press on to hope in a God who never violates his covenants.
The prophetic imagination has two actions. The first action begins with the admission that, in the face of a harsh reality, human beings naturally gravitate to denial. We don’t want to admit that our new situation is real or that it is unfixable. We don’t want to admit that it hurts. The Israelites told each other, “Peace. Peace. Don’t worry. We are God’s chosen nation. We have the temple. We have the Law. Nothing can happen to us.” They didn’t learn their lesson from the capture of the Ark of the Covenant (I Samuel 4 and 5). The Lord God Most High is not obligated by a talisman, even if he had a part in constructing it, whether it is covered in gold, or painted red, white, and blue.
The problem with denial is that it is corrosive and it becomes progressively more violent. It lashes out in pain. Think of how many of our own words—directed toward Trump or his supporters, directed toward Hillary or her supporters—that we wish we, or our community, had not said. Let me give an example, not particularly startling but highly personal. I was only genuinely hurt once by someone else during this campaign. A friend and I had been tracking each other somewhat closely during the primaries, conventions, and general campaign. She is one of the more honest of the Honest Republicans, one of the more gospel-driven of the Evangelical friends that I have referred to in these pages. Finally, she asked, “Ok, Lowell, who are you going to write-in?” I told her. I was voting for a woman (who wasn’t Hillary). I was voting for a former senator (who wasn’t Hillary.) I was voting for a former cabinet secretary (who wasn’t Hillary.) I was voting for a former but losing presidential primary candidate (who wasn’t Hillary, circa 2008.) My write-in is a Republican. She’s still alive. She has not been disqualified under any provision of the Constitution. Elizabeth Dole however is 80 years old and has professed no interest in re-entering politics, either now or in 2020. She did not register a write-in candidacy with the Kansas Secretary of State, and so my vote for her won’t even be counted. But it counts to me. It allowed me to vote for a woman in the same election that (likely) seats our first ever female president. (Go, my dear daughters Adelaide and Bronwynn, go in the spirit of the suffragettes and stand on their capable shoulders!) It allowed me to vote so as to reaffirm “career politicians” who were first and foremost “public servants.” Even during her years in private service, Elizabeth Dole was president of the Red Cross (1991-1999) and now runs her own foundation which cares for the caregivers of wounded warriors. I’ll also mention that, while in the Senate, she was a member of the bi-partisan Gang of 20, famous for some of the first legislation to spur the development of alternative energy sources, fuel efficiency, and carbon sequestration. And oh yes, she happens to be the spouse of Bob Dole who, despite his Watergate and Vietnam flaws or his 2016 RNC appearance, was known for a moderate and pragmatic “working across the aisle.”
My friend replied in an e-mail: “Lowell, you are telling people reading your voter’s guide to vote quickly, but you told me that you are ‘savoring’ the process of choosing your own write-in. This comes across like a game: Elizabeth Dole? Who else might there be? Minnie Mouse? Why not? There will no doubt be write-ins like that.”
In that same e-mail, she asked for an appointment to meet with me and talk things through. (Like I said, she is honest and gospel-immersed.) Heading into our coffee conversation, here is my hypothesis regarding her uncharacteristic response to me. I am one of her final disappointments in a disappointing election year. She wanted me to at least contribute to a fix for the unfixable, a solution for the unsolvable, a resolution for the irreconcilable. She wanted me to pull it off in the last seconds. Some guide for voters I turned out to be! Elizabeth Dole isn’t Minnie Mouse; I am.
Or maybe my friend isn’t thinking any of things—that’s why I’ll ask her about it. Right now, I think I could have been a better friend for my friend if I had done more to help her grieve and mourn. That’s what Brueggemann takes away from the Old Testament prophets. Truth, he says, confronts denial, but is rarely successful in doing anything about it. Grief, however, dissipates denial. The prophets helped Israel verbalize their grief. They helped them tell their own story, often in poetic or symbolic language. They helped Israel shed the necessary tears to clear their eyes about what their situation had become. In mourning we find freedom to accept the reality in all its harshness, laying down our frustration and anger and moving forward.
In some ways, that’s what writing-in Liddy Dole has become for me: an act of poetic writing which promotes the prophetic imagination. She helps me grieve a Republican party that has grown ugly beyond recognition. She helps me grieve what we excuse about the treatment of women. She helps me grieve what my white male American evangelical Christian leaders are willing to accommodate because they hate Hillary Clinton so much, because they fear losing all proximity to political power, because their commitment to Life is so deathly narrow, because loyalty to a political party seems to supersede all claims of Christ’s Lordship. When Elizabeth Dole was Secretary of Transportation in the Reagan administration, she became concerned about her ambition. "I just realized that I wanted to reorder things," she said. "I wanted that spiritual side to be the center of my life again." She turned to a small devotional published in 1880 by Rev. Henry Drummond entitled The Greatest Thing in the World, a meditation of I Corinthians 13. "We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is Faith," Drummond writes, or as we might substitute Christian Truth, Conviction, and Zeal. "That great word has been the keynote for centuries of the popular religion; and we have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong." Elizabeth Dole explained it to her own audiences during her 2002 senatorial campaign in North Carolina: "I always wondered what Paul meant because I thought faith was the greatest thing in the world. Faith is just a means to love, and God is love." I grieve so little love.
When we wake up on November 9, we are going to face a new reality, and for a significant number of us, there is going to be a harshness about that reality regardless of who wins. We are already getting a taste of the impending, and violent, denial. For example, when the polls turned against Trump, he began to talk about election rigging, both in the fraudulent casting of votes and in the dishonest counting of them. During the third debate, he held at arms length the promise of a peaceable transferal of power, a hallmark of our democracy. Last week, former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh tweeted, “"On November 8th, I'm voting for Trump. On November 9th, if Trump loses, I'm grabbing my musket. You in?" The next day Walsh went on the air to explain that he isn’t talking about violent revolution, but he certainly wants to buttress a sense of illegitimacy about a Hillary presidency: you can’t constitutionally have a [known] felon in the Oval Office any more than you can allow a Kenyan-born Muslim. Ted Cruz is also indulging denial when he indicated this past week that Congress might indefinitely block Supreme Court appointments.
If the outcome of the 2016 election is a harsh reality for you, then the Old Testament prophets encourage you to please choose grief over denial. Let mourning seep out any anger or rage you may be tempted to let fester. On the other side of mourning, they testify to us, is hope. This is the second action of the Prophetic Imagination. A Prophetic Imagination confronts despair with hope. According to Brueggemann, it is a radical hope, radical because it still does not unveil the solution we’ve been clamoring after. False hope is just another form of denial. True hope in the face of despair accepts that there is no “How” answer to resolve our dilemma. There is however a radical “Who” statement. We place our hope in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ who is, in the words of Brueggemann, “a real character and and an effective agent in the world.” I have often heard people say, “I’m sorry, but Jesus Christ is not on the ballot. We’ve got to vote for the lesser of two evils.” No? But what if, as pertains the ballot of 2016, Jesus is before it and behind it, above it and beneath it, in it and outside it, on it’s right hand and it’s left.
On November 9th 2016, I intend to wake up, make coffee, sit down in the chair next to where I keep my Bible, tell God that I wish the outcome of this election had been different, and then pray a version of the prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate:
I arise today through
God's strength to pilot me, God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to see before me,
God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me, God's host to secure me –
against snares of devils,
against temptations and vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me
ill, afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd...
Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.
The Ledger (1/18/03) "Now a Senator, Elizabeth Dole Renewed Her Faith Through a Devotional Classic"
.pdf copy of Henry Drummond, "The Greatest Thing in the World" (1880).