A Pre-Election Reflection
Grassroots Preparation for the Next Presidential Election
Reflecting on my life in our post-pandemic and pre-election world is a bit like looking into a funhouse mirror. I don’t really see myself. I see a distorted image that looks uncomfortably like the drunk I saw the other day.
It was one of those sunny days so wonderfully frequent in this part of the United States. I was driving through some mild Los Angeles traffic with my windows open. To my right were people renting swan boats on the glistening waters of Echo Park Lake. To my left were neighbors sitting on their balconies taking in the sun. The sidewalks on both sides of the street featured solo joggers, people using public exercise equipment, and groups of two and three people enjoying deep conversation together.
But the beauty of that afternoon was interrupted by a dirty and disheveled drunk pacing back and forth and loudly denouncing the ugliness of his world. People continued on their way but gave him wide latitude recognizing that some chemical reaction between his pain and his addiction kept him from seeing the light that was shining so brightly for the rest of us to see.
My funhouse reflection shares far too many attributes with that man in the park. As I look in the mirror today I see a wild-eyed avatar pacing back and forth and telling me that my comparative affluence and education are not a reason for gratitude but are the very source of my guilt. “And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. There are liars all around you. They may look like they are working out on a sunny day, but in their hearts, they are preparing for battle. And see those small groups of people on the sidewalk? They’re planning to take control of your life. Be worried! Be suspicious! Get ready to fight! This is the only way to save yourself from the disaster ahead.”
I’ve heard enough. I turn away from the mirror and reflexively look at the news on my cell phone. But the drunk’s grimy fingerprints are reflected on that screen as well. The headlines report stories about different people from different places but they are all the same morality tale: “Don’t trust people who see things differently than you do. They are the ones who are causing all of your problems.” Quickly I switch over to a social media app but the disheveled man is there as well. His attitude is reinforced in post after post: “People who don’t think like we do are responsible for the sour state of our souls.”
I put my cell phone away to look for a better distraction. Then I remember a visit to a large Alcoholics Anonymous meeting years ago. The group of 100+ people introduced themselves, one by one, with their first names and an acknowledgment of their addiction. “I’m Betty and I’m an alcoholic. I’m Brad and I’m an alcoholic. I’m Trey and I’m an alcoholic. My attendance at that meeting was unusual and made some people feel uncomfortable. When it was my turn I tried to break the ice with levity. “I’m Randy and I’m a pastor.” Some people understood my dry attempt at humor and laughed. Others did not. Looking back on that gathering today it strikes me that our country needs just such a meeting now.
AA makes clear what we all know deep down. Our situation, as we continue on this roller coaster ride to the next Presidential election, is precarious. Our frequent rants about the apocalyptic conspiracies of the other half of the country are ultimately self-defeating. Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that this crazed reflection in a funhouse mirror doesn’t have to be our future.
The next time we sit down amidst our strained family relations we could acknowledge that we ourselves are afraid of opinions different from our own and see where the discussion goes. When we see that neighbor who doesn’t vote like we do we could ask about their hopes and dreams for the future, not to label them according to parties, policies, or candidates, but to really listen to what they long for in their own hearts. If we can have these kinds of discussions with our friends and neighbors and search together for ways to move forward, then regardless of the outcome of the election, we’ll be able to look in the mirror and like what we see.
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