Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Examen

We are not the first to live in a time of upheaval.

We will not likely be the last.

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, lived in the Basque region of Spain during a time of great conflict and disagreement.

Meet Muslims in Jerusalem with swords and spears or with resolute prayer and kindness?

Reform the church from within or reclaim true faith by division?

In times of great change and structural unraveling, the way forward is often hidden. Holding too firmly to the past can be a form of rebellion. Surging too quickly toward the new can jeopardize all we hold most dear.

The Ignatian “prayer of examen” invites reflection and humility: an awareness of how easily we mistake our own thoughts for God’s direction, how easily trapped we are by our own unexamined habits or unacknowledged agendas.

The prayer of examen offers a chance to step back, review, rethink. In examen we ask God to illuminate our willful blindness, to speak his truth to our hearts, even as our ears and minds are full of other voices. 

We’ve been living through the most destructive campaign season in at least the last half-century, with swirling rumors, echo-chamber accusations, wild statements about God’s plan or preference, a growing inability to listen to any view or fact that doesn’t line up neatly with our own.

Votes do matter. 

Decisions have consequences.

It’s important we do our research, check sample ballots, consider motives, experience, character, positions.

I've mapped out in an earlier post some ideas for how to do that. 

Short version: check your sample ballot in Vote411, take a look at candidate websites (with links from Vote411) then look up candidates on Ballotpedia to see what else you can learn.

But before and after there’s an essential step: the prayer of examen.  It's an invitation to God to open our eyes, change our hearts, redirect our thinking,

Step one: Slow down, be still, and take time to acknowledge God’s presence.

“Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist says. The Hebrew word for “be still” – rapha - means “be weak,” “let go,” “release.”  It’s easy to be anxious, angry, doubtful, to hold on to resentments, outrage, frustration. God invites us to let that go, to draw close to him as a troubled child draws near a loving parent, trusting our anxieties and fears into kind, strong, caring hands.
We bring before You, O God:
The troubles and perils of people and nations,
The sighings of the sick,
The sorrows of the bereaved,
The necessities of strangers,
The helplessness of the weak,
The despondency of the weary,
The failing powers of any age.
May each of us draw as near to You
As You are near to each of us.
            (Anselm of Canterbury, ca 1100)
Step two: Give thanks. Take rest in gratitude.

It’s easy to spiral into a swirl of anxiety, anger, agitation. Gratitude reminds of the greater truth: we living in blessing. God’s grace surrounds us.

As I look back on the election season, I give thanks that we're free to speak, write, gather. I give thanks for the chance to vote, the rights I enjoy through no accomplishment of my own. I give thanks for the many at every level of government, the many in advocacy groups, the many citizen volunteers who offer time, energy, creative engagement to make our democracy work. 
Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, though we often destroy them.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
(Thanksgivings for National Life: For the Nation, Book of Common Prayer)
Step 3: Ask for wisdom, insight, and truth.

I realized at sixteen that I could convince myself of anything I wanted. I could rationalize any decision, argue hotly for any opinion. As I’ve posted elsewhere, we are easily held captive by our own assumptions, our own "confirmation bias."
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledged: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (I Corinthians 13).

In moments of quiet reflection I'm reminded how deep my self-deception can go, how easily I can overlook my own failings while leaping to identify the shortcomings of others.

It takes time, courage, humility and grace, to see where we’ve been in the wrong, to be willing to change where change is needed.  We can miss the truth when it’s standing right in front of us. The more spiritually wise we think we are, the harder it can be to hear voices that don’t agree with our own.

Jesus promised "When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth," (John 16:13) but that truth is only available as we acknowledge our inadequacy, our willfulness, our pride, our self-delusion.

King David himself asked God to dig deep and show him what he couldn’t see himself: 
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139
Step 4: Review.

Looking back through actions, attitudes, motives and emotions is hard, painful work, demanding honesty, patience, and humility.

It's a great practice for every day, but even more helpful in this political season: 
 Where did I speak without listening?
 Where did I judge without compassion?
 Where was I motivated by anger, anxiety, pride, impatience?
 Where did I disengage out of fear, discouragement, laziness, lack of love?
 What did I repeat, not sure that it was true?
 What did I believe, not bothering to think it through?
 When did I side with mockers?
 What habits held me captive?
 Who did I harm?
 Who did I help?
 Where did I sense God inviting me to something different, but ignored the invitation?
 Where did I see a way I could serve another, but chose to serve myself instead?
 Where did I participate in disrespect of leaders, disrespect of others?
 Where was compassion visible?
 Where was wisdom lacking?
 Is there something I’ve been refusing to hear? Some change I’ve been willfully  resisting?
The goal isn't to pile on guilt, or to drown in self-accusation.

The goal is to see more clearly and to grow in understanding of ourselves, the world and the way of love.

Step Five: Reconcile and resolve.

For me, confession is a freeing move toward change, an acknowledgement of failure and a willingness to leave my blindness behind and start in a new direction. I like the Episcopal practice of kneeling in confession. It's an outward expression of humility, reflecting an inward desire to move away from pride.

In my faith tradition we say confession every Sunday, but sometimes it helps to move through it more slowly, letting the words sink in, acknowledging their truth, considering what correction would look like.  
Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ.
We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
and our exploitation of other people,
Our anger at our own frustration,
and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,
and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
Our negligence in prayer and worship,
and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
For all false judgments,
for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors,
and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
For our waste and pollution of your creation,
and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord. (Book of Common Prayer)
True repentance, and real reconciliation, lead to resolve: a determination to go forward in a new way. We need wisdom to see what that way might look like. The old way is easy, modeled for us by loud and angry voices, lived out in familiar reactions to old wounds, ancient wrongs.

The new way is much harder. I find myself turning again to Isaiah 58, and the call to a deeper, more genuine form of faithfulness.  
Old Man Praying, Edvard Munch, 1902 Norway
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
My resolve is to live deep into the kind of fast God calls for, and to join with others of God’s people in loosening the chains of injustice, sharing food with the hungry, providing shelter for the wanderer.

I pray even my vote will be part of that work.

This is the last in a continuing series about faith and politics: What's Your Platform? 
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
How Long Will the Land Lie Parched? August 21, 2016 
Walls, Welcome, Mercy, Law August 28, 2016
Workers and Their Wages, Sep 3, 2016 
Educating Ourselves On Education, Sep 10, 2016 
Let's Talk, Sep 17, 2016
The Language of the Unheard, Sep 24, 2016
Maintain Justice, October 9, 2016
Defending the Indefensible, October 16, 2016 
Plan Your Vote: Platforms, Parties, People, October 23, 2016
The Politics of Hate - or Love, October 30, 2016