Fast-forward with me to Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day.
No matter who moves into the White House that day, people of faith in this country will have work to do in ministries of reconciliation.
I'm writing from Washington D.C., meeting and praying with others at the 200-year-old St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. The church is a 30-minute walk to the Capitol, where St. John's Rector Luis León prayed at President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration that God would bless us, "that with a spirit of gratitude and humility we may become a blessing among the nations of this world."
León, a native of Cuba who was sent by his parents to the U.S. in 1961 as a 12-year-old refugee, also had been asked to pray at George W. Bush's second-term inauguration in 2005.
These days, we find ourselves in the midst of a vitriolic political campaign in which rude and vulgar behavior is often rewarded. But out of this roiling cauldron a new governmental administration must emerge in less than a year.
I was taught as a child not to discuss religion or politics at the dinner table — much less religion and politics. But here I go in print, where angels fear to tread.
Last December, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham (a graduate of the McCallie School and Sewanee: University of the South who got his vocational start at the Chattanooga Times) said of former President George H.W. Bush: "This is the last American president who truly tried to create an atmosphere of consensus and compromise to do big things."
Is it likely that the next president will likewise try to create such an atmosphere? That remains to be seen. In any case, it would be an uphill climb.
What I do know is that people of faith can become just as polarized as politicians. Faithful Christians can self-identify themselves as conservative, as can faithful Jews and Muslims. Truth is, some faithful Christians, Jews and Muslims can also be seen as reformers, progressives and liberals. Then there are the radical, fanatical fringes that have abandoned the central tenets of each of these Abrahamic faiths and can no longer be called legitimate adherents of these religions.
We, as Christians, among other people of faith, will have our work cut out for us after Election Day and Inauguration Day. Do we want to be healed, to be made well?
Brian Baker, the dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, Calif., preaching on Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, said that it takes two things to turn a crowd into a mob: fear and a target. Some Christians say that, almost 2,000 years ago, fear on the part of some of the self-righteous religious authorities of the day, in an unholy and uneasy, tense and strange alliance with the occupying Roman political and military forces, turned the crowd in Jerusalem into a mob shouting "Crucify him." Jesus was the target, the scapegoat.
It seems to me that much anger and brutality of spirit in our land these days issues from fear. Fear of the changing culture. Fear of immigrants. Fear of loss of status, power, station and position. Fear of being left behind as "The 1 Percent" prosper beyond measure.
In my youth, I could not ignore the struggle of the civil rights movement. As a white Southerner, I witnessed the tension within the Episcopal Church amid the obvious fears that our church schools and camps could close if integration were to be introduced. There also was fear on the part of white Southerners and others if "Negroes" gained their constitutional right and power to vote. The church moved forward; we wanted to be healed, to be made well.
In leading this church nationally and beyond, our first African-American Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is now calling us to a new mission and ministry as evangelists and healers. Much of it is the work of reconciliation in our Lord's name in this land. Bishop Curry is calling us to leadership in addressing racism, among other evils, and to be people who live out the Gospel, proactively praying and working to reconcile all God's people in this country and beyond.
And so, as a follower of Jesus, I ask: Shall we drink from the water of life and use the leaves of the trees for the healing of the nations? Do we want to be made well? Do we want to experience God's saving health and seek to become a blessing among the nations?
I'm working from Psalm 67 and, with this text from the last chapter of the last book of our Bible, the Book of the Revelation to John (22:2) as expressed in the words of the hymn:
"For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
For a just and equal sharing
Of the things the earth affords.
To a life of love in action
Help us rise and pledge our word."
Help us rise, indeed — rise above religious and political discord and rancor and pledge our word to pray and work for the healing of this nation — and its place, our place, in the healing of all nations.
The Rev. Donald Allston Fishburne is an Episcopal minister and a consultant to many denominational congregations in stewardship, ecumenical social justice ministries, mission trips and pilgrimages.