In seasons of tension, in particular those of a political nature, I often disengage. My temptation is to lean into ignorance and back away from pundits, social media, and the verbal jousting among candidates that has become such a mainstay. Somehow, my rationale explains, this will help me to remain hopeful in the midst of political turmoil. Somehow, my sense of duty explains, I can remain just enough informed to cast my vote responsibly. Meanwhile, the landscape evolves and offers new ground. Yet, I continue to hover above the true obligations of citizenship.
As a person of faith, I know that disengagement from truth is contrary to good news. In fact, our sacred narrative reminds us to lean into revelation – even when the road is rocky and tumultuous. Sometimes the Jonah within us is called to go to Nineveh and call out infidelity. Or the Moses within us is nudged to face oppression and stand firm. At other seasons the Ruth within us demands a fierce loyalty in uncertain times. These holy companions and their journeys serve as a blunt reminder to head into authentic dialogue and courageous measures for reconciliation.
Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, professor at Episcopal Divinity School, claims that Christians live with an inescapable tension, one that honors human particularity and at the same time is called to seek wider universality. This assertion recalls our Anglican roots, inviting us to enter into that haunting middle – a space that can be fraught with ambiguity and constituted by a motley crew of rugged pilgrims.
But I am not always up for that journey and defer to isolation. Self-segregation will inevitably stagnate growth and maturity. But it also will shield us from oppression and cyclical injustice. And perhaps keep us from witnessing to God’s call for freedom and equality.
When examining my tendency to disengage, a former President of these United States comes to mind. Over a hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the University of Paris regarding his take on citizenship in the republic. He is noted for saying,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Sociologist Brené Brown has since framed this notion of entering the arena in terms of vulnerability. She boldly claims, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
Without a doubt, the political arena is currently full of flaming arrows and agitated spectators. We are surrounded by unhealthy debate and nasty rhetoric. And if you are anything like me, deciding to stay at home may be appealing and more comfortable.
But I am called to fidelity and courage. Along with all people of faith.
I am also aware that we travel as a band of brothers and sisters. And that none of us enter alone. May we lean into one another – both as citizens and believers – and walk with vulnerability into whatever season is around the bend.
The Reverend Brandon B. Peete
In the spirit of leaning in and showing up, please join the Faith Leaders’ Coalition of Greater Houston as they gather on Monday, October 24, at 9:00 a.m. in front of city hall to urge every citizen to vote and witness against strategies of intimidation and voter suppression at the polls.