The frenetic and often controversial activity of the new administration dominates the news, and it is often the main topic of conversation in families, with friends, at our places of work. Certainly, the President is at the center of attention in our country right now, and for some that brings worry and fear.
In this time of anxiety, I invite the Church to stay Christ–centered. I said after the election that the mission of the Church remains the same as it was before the election – to follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. That is what we are called to do and to be no matter who the president is.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us “You are the light of the world.” You ARE the light of the world. Not “someday you will be the light of the world.” Not “you ought to be the light of the world.” You ARE the light of the world. What would the light of the world look like in this time and in this place? How can we stay Christ-centered now?
More and more, I’m learning from Buddhists who say theirs is not a religion but a practice. Christianity, too, is a practice; it is a way of living. In this blog, I hope to offer some practical ways to stay Christ-centered in this era.
- Increase time spent in prayer and reduce time watching the news, whether it is MSNBC or Fox. Stay in touch with what is going on in our world. But how much do we really gain watching four hours of news instead of one or two? Thomas Merton warned us that constant activity is a form of violence. Take time, now more than ever to live from the soul. Buddhist Jack Kornfield writes,
“Whatever your point of view, take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart. Then go out and look at the sky. Remember vastness… Remember the Noble Truths, no matter the politics of the season: Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go. Love, generosity, and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.”
- Make friends with someone on “the other side” of the political aisle, or keep a friend who has differing political views. People are more than the sum of their political opinions. I’ll always remember in 2003 in a sermon I strongly denounced the imminent invasion of Iraq. One of my parishioners, a former member of the Nixon administration, told me how wrong he thought I was. A few days later he became ill and was hospitalized. I went there and prayed with him. We talked and he said, “Doug, we will never let a war get between us, will we?” And we never did. In our time when our nation is so divided, show how friendship can go beyond opinion.
- Whenever there is an interfaith service in your region, go out of your way in your time-poor life to go to it. And not just once. And if there are no interfaith services near you, start one. As the world feels like it is coming apart, we need to come together.
- I invite church leaders in our Episcopal diocese to consider saying “The Baptismal Covenant” at every Sunday liturgy in place of the Creed. The Creed gets covered in the first three questions and then we are asked five questions about our commitment to a Christ-centered life. We need an affirmative answer to all five questions, and especially now, we need the last two:
“Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” With God’s help, we can do that.
I was asked a series of questions in the liturgy when I was ordained a bishop.
I keep all those questions before me daily, but the one that challenges me the most is,
“Will you be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper?”
The answer to all the questions is “I will…” but always followed by a different clause. Sometimes, it is, “I will, for the love of God.” Or, “I will, by the grace given me.” For me, the answer to that question has become, “I will, for the sake of Christ Jesus.”
For the sake of Christ Jesus. A Christ-centered life means standing with the poor, the stranger (immigrants, refugees) and those who have no helper (those without health insurance, the environment). There are others that fit into my parentheses. Those who are discriminated against: women, people of color, indigenous people, LGBT people, Muslims. Those who have lost jobs due to automation, down-sizing and technological advancements. Those who cannot get jobs because they are experiencing homelessness or because they were once incarcerated. Those who are addicted who wind up in jail instead of rehab.
I was the one who answered the question, but as a faith leader I was answering for all of us. Calling elected officials, participating in the political process, engaging the American right to peacefully protest in order to stand with “those who have no helper”- we do this for the sake of Christ Jesus.
At the House of Bishops gathering last September, we reflected on the political turmoil in our beloved country and created a document in which we said, “The Church is made for times like these.” In a troubled time, the Church is made to call people to be our best selves, to live from our God-filled souls, to imagine God’s will which is to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
With all that is getting our attention right now, we are all invited to Christ-centered lives. Let’s practice Christianity in the midst of an uncertain world. Let’s follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. In the words of that great African-American spiritual, let’s keep our “eyes on the prize,” our hands “on the Gospel plow,” and “hold on.”