By Rev. Clay Oglesbee
As I write this, it is Election Day eve. We don’t know yet who wins the elections or who loses. We are still frustrated, accusatory, and combative. I confess I have followed this election year to a point where it has become a form of obsession. This year, people have either defiantly put up yard signs to show their colors, or avoided it, fearing what others might think or do. I have a friend, a psychotherapist, who remarked the other day on the number of people reported nationally to be struggling with anxiety and depression related to, or intensified by, this extended and intense campaigning. He counsels persons who are really struggling for personal well-being in this chronic climate of political antagonism and see-sawing competitive edges among the candidates and the polls. It has been a hard, hard passage for many of us.
The thing I keep trying to remember: We are still neighbors after all these fears.
On the days after the election, assuming the sky doesn’t fall, and zombies don’t take over, and Blitzkreig storm-troopers don’t march in, and Armageddon doesn’t erupt, and the eschaton doesn’t arrive, we will all still be raking the last of the leaves. We will be baking cookies, cleaning out the gutters, checking off the list of things to do, sipping coffee, making meals, selling snow-shovels, and caring for our families and our friends. We will still be making plans for Thanksgiving. Things won’t be as good as we wish, nor as bad as we fear, same as ever.
We will still be neighbors—if we act that way.
We will still contribute to the food shelf because families need those “bags of life.” We will still tutor kids, and give blood at the Red Cross, and support the United Way, and attend a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple—or none of the above. We will still pick up trash, and open doors for one another. Life will go on. This is a welcome idea and an invitation, this thought that there will be other, ordinary days that follow Election Day.
The founder of the Methodist denominations, Rev. John Wesley, gave counsel on voting to some of his followers in England back in the late 1700s. His advice was sane, peaceable, and neighborly. It bears repeating for the day of an election, but more importantly, for the days that follow: Vote for the person you judge most worthy. Speak no evil of the person you vote against. And take care that your spirits are not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
If we agree with Reinhold Niebuhr that “democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems,” then the urgency of winning elections diminishes, and the absolutist claims of our political parties are placed in reasonable perspective. What finally matters is our shared effort, our arc and approximation of public governance that we intend to benefit all citizens, now and for the future.
In the meantime, we are still neighbors.
Rev. Clay Oglesbee is the lead pastor at First United Methodist Church in Red Wing.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church