A Different Way of Being

As an American living abroad, I am asked constantly about the upcoming presidential election.  People are curious about the electoral college, about what makes a swing state swing, about why red and blue are the conservative and liberal party colors (they’re reversed in the UK).
 
Last week one of my parishioners gave me a copy of American Nations by Colin Woodard and suggested that it might provide some insight into my home country’s politics and how they were shaped by the culture and faith of our founders.  The book’s main premise is that, contrary to what most believe, America has never had a unified, cohesive identity.  Colin suggests hat the strong differences in our politics and culture today can be traced to the differences among colonial settlers who came from the Netherlands, Spain, France, and the UK.  Each of these groups, he says, came to North America with its own worldview and agenda – shaped by warfare, religious belief, wealth and privilege, or lack thereof.  Rather than looking at modern America as comprising 50 states, Colin presents his readers with an alternative map that divides the country into 11 “nations,” each with its own unique identity and history.  On his map New Vernon falls within “New Netherland.”
 
I enjoyed this book and found it provided a helpful review of American history before returning to my homeland, but I was discouraged by Colin’s lack of a hopeful vision for the future.  He predicts an almost perpetual struggle between the “nations.”
 
Politics around the globe are becoming increasingly divisive.  I’ve seen this in Scotland during both the Independence Referendum of 2014 and the EU Referendum in June.  And as the election season wears on in America, people on both ends of the political spectrum will struggle to understand and communicate with one another.
 
It’s tempting to think that this divisiveness is a new phenomenon, that it is rooted in our 24-hour news cycle, social media, and a number of other factors.  I have been thinking about this over the summer as I organized a series of worship services around Paul’s letters.  As I read them I was surprised that many of the problems he addressed sounded strangely contemporary.
 
For example, take his letter to the church in Ephesus.  Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire.  It gathered people from many countries together and was home to a variety of religious traditions.  The young Christian Church in Ephesus had both Jewish and Gentile members and would have hosted a number of traveling preachers who came to speak in the synagogues.  As in other churches-both ancient and modern – this mix of different cultures and different theologies led to confusion and sometimes even argument.  And these arguments appear to be the reason that Paul wrote this in chapter four of his letter to the Ephesians:
 
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, on Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
 
Paul is pleading for unity in a divided church.  He is reminding them of their oneness in Christ, demanding that they look beyond their identities as Jew or Gentile.  He wants them to see one another as human beings made in the image of God.  Paul’s words to the Ephesians are no less conviction for us, not just as a church but as a community.
 
When we look across the political aisle do we see human beings made in the image of God?  Do we remember that we worship
a God who calls ALL people to one hope, one faith, one baptism?  Do we remember that beyond our allegiance to party and country, we are first and foremost ambassadors of God’s Kingdom?
 
Whatever our party affiliation, whatever the outcome of November’s election, our calling as Christians is to work together, bringing God’s love, peace, and justice into the world.  There are many ways we can do this, and we will each have our own unique gifts and talents to share.  My prayer is that, in this time of debate and division, we might embody a different way of being – one that listens for voices not often heard…one that looks out for those who aren’t being included…and one that is brave enough to treat everyone we encounter as a beloved child of God.