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Reflections from President Labberton during Election Week

November 6


What will this Friday hold? On the national level, we are being offered one narrative of election fraud and another narrative of careful counting with low, apparently shifting, margins. This may result in the declaration today of a narrow presidential election outcome—immediately tied up in courts and in long-term national contention. The election may soon be over, but it will not be finished.  

Our minds have been buzz-sawed, our emotions exhausted, our relationships tested, and our perceptions rocked. This election week may live in us for the rest of our lives. Few of us will forget it. We have shared a drama—even a trauma—however we voted and whatever the results. Yet, it is right that we are not just weary but also troubled by divergent and contested narratives sure to extend into our shared future. The Church in America, heavily implicated in these conflicting stories, has some serious and urgent work to do on our own corporate life. 

Right now, our beloved nation, and our beloved Church, needs rest. Even though our work is not done, we must remember our Sabbath vocation as followers of Jesus to “work while it is yet day,” and also, every week, to lay down any suggestion that we are the Answer. We are witnesses of Evangel news: the story of God’s redeeming love and justice in Jesus Christ for all. We must speak and act as witnesses to this God who is not done in us or in the world. We rest while acknowledging millions of our siblings in Christ, and so many more, do not get even a momentary rest from racial injustice, from prejudice, or from poverty. Rest may be our privilege, and should belong to all. Taking that rest does not mean turning away from such realities, but is evidence of our trust that bearing their weight is in more able hands.

The Church in America needs to live from its true center—the Evangel: God’s gift of Jesus to a world in crisis. We need to be with others hearing and trusting this Evangel. And so we rest in the confidence that the events of this week are not now, and never were, the hope of the nation. We rest, so we may return to work with freedom from all such delusions so that we may love and serve the One who is that hope, and who wants us to be witnesses to that reality. Again, that work is not done. 

Meanwhile, if you can, how will you rest this weekend? How can you listen to and quiet your mind and body? How will you seek God’s presence? How will you make time to be gently and safely with a few others? How could you assist someone who especially needs to find rest this weekend?

On the other side of this moment the work of Jesus’s followers will be the same: love God and love our neighbor with all we are in light of the One who alone reigns. 

May the peace of Christ be with us,

Mark Labberton

November 5


And so we wait—still.  Whatever is now clearer than yesterday, we are still awaiting results. Elections can and should involve sufficient time to assure ballot counts are fair and accurate. We are leaning tentatively into outcomes that may be energizing, while others leave us feeling disoriented, even soul-sapped. These may not be ultimate matters, but they are serious ones.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

This breath-prayer inhabits me daily.  Dozens and dozens of times each day, it names the grace and hope I, or we, need most.  Also, quiet reflection—deep breathing, maybe journaling, music I savor or beauty I relish can still my soul. The whispered recitation of biblical texts evokes other times of remembering in the dark what I have learned in the light.

The divisions of our nation are no surprise.  The fact that many of our structures are broken and unjust—and have been for a very long time—is not news to us.  But what we now face is more extreme, and confoundingly intertwined with the name of Jesus.  

From the disorienting trauma of these days, O God, deliver us by your mercy and justice!  Save us from ourselves. Save us from the perplexities and fears we feel towards others, especially towards brothers and sisters in Christ.  Save us from the vile egotism that is so strongly, chokingly rooted in our nation.  Break us of our addiction to self and to tribe. Blow your fresh wind, Holy Spirit. Set us free to live by your love with empathy and justice towards all.

In our anxious waiting, O God, meet and renew us for our tomorrow’s. 

Mark Labberton

November 4


Today we wait. This is nothing new. Yes, in the midst of an unprecedented time of waiting, we wait some more. The compounding effect feels raw and overwhelming. But we know about waiting.

 

The Bible is full of waiting. Uncontrollable, long, mysterious waiting. It is seldom easy and almost never passive. Faith is not a sedative in the difficult act of waiting, but rather a purposeful act of attention and embodiment that reinforces our commitment to God’s purposes that prepares us to act. We wait in  faith, alert to hear from, trust in, and live out our reliance on the God who does not and will not let us go. We wait in hope, not in a spirit of denial or avoidance, but in humility and preparedness. We wait because we ache for a deeper and better story—for those Jesus calls our neighbors, as well as for ourselves.

Yet, let it be said that not all waiting is equal, let alone the same. For people in my social location, waiting is sometimes just another word for delay, much of the time things turning out as I had hoped. But for millions in our nation, waiting is another word for no. No, things are not going to happen as you wished, and no, you have not been truly seen and heard. So it is not just no for today, but no—just wait. It is cruelty wrapped up in normativity.

Let us then love one another in our waiting—those like and unlike us—moving towards one another not still further away. Today is a time for humble, perhaps painful personal and national self-reflection. “Let those who have ears hear” and wait.


Mark Labberton



November 3

At last. Finally. The culminating, if not final, day of the 2020 election has arrived. Unprecedented early voting has in itself made this a historic election, not least because of the pandemic. In addition, the sense of urgency, fear, anger, desperation has been endlessly stoked. I do believe this is the most consequential election I have participated in until now. I woke today with both hope and uncertainty. What we are called to do today, and every day, is to act on our consciences with humility and courage.


We know  God “raises up and lowers kings [and queens],” and that the future is in God’s hands. I trust that. In the U.S. context, this means assuming that God uses ordinary processes to bring about the chance for all eligible voters to cast their ballot regarding the people—and the issues—that establish the governance of our nation. Our freedom to vote, itself at stake in this election, bears all the marks of our humanity:  hopeful, self-interested, honest, deceitful, well-intended, subversive, tribal, divided, clear, misdirected, united. Any results from an election will show these same signs.  

That is not a reason for cynicism, let alone abandonment of our freedom to vote. Rather, it is a reminder to do our best to vote for candidates and measures we believe are the best of these things and not the worst, who will stoke the better parts of our human nature, who will protect and defend the rights of all. 

Ideal is never on the ballot: we are not voting for the kingdom of God. We are voting for ordinary people and propositions who will govern us in our cities, states, and nation for the next period of time. However, this election is exceptionally important. What we can do is to use our vote in an effort to “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6.8). It will matter. In courage and hope, vote and do not be afraid. 

Mark Labberton

November 2

I will be offering a brief personal reflection each day during this final week of voting and election results. The dramatic build-up on the local, state, and national levels could hardly be more intense, divided, or fraught. Few election years have displayed the expressions of raw power from every side any more vividly than this election cycle. We ourselves are among the voices, advocates, protestors, organizers, and voters to engage. Many congregations and organizations are feeling the internal wrestling and divisions that we see in the national and regional landscapes. So much is shaken and unresolved. So much need persists, yet not nearly enough transformation.  

We can walk into this week trusting that America is not God and God is not America. Instead, we put our trust, including our pain and anxiety, in the arms of a just, loving, sacrificial God of justice and shalom.

We can walk into this week knowing that fear is not the final word. However our elections turn out, whatever fears we hold or hold us, and whatever the outcome, they are not the definition or boundary of reality. My teeth may chatter, my blood may boil, my feet may dance or stumble—but God is near and is not done.

May we walk by faith and not by sight,

Mark Labberton, Clifford L. Penner Presidential Chair