Recently I went to a school board meeting in Anacortes, WA with my spouse. Next to us was a man wearing his mask under his chin. He seemed to be baiting someone to tell him to leave. Another man, obviously a body builder, sat in the front with his arms crossed, no mask, glaring at all the school board members and the student representatives. By all appearances he seemed to be trying to intimidate the school board members.
There was no violence or overt threats that night. Thankfully! Many of us have seen videos of school board members, city council people, nurses and hospital staff, public health officials being threatened, bullied and even attacked.
Make no mistake: we are in an anxious era in which our democracy is in danger.
How are we going to respond?
I can feel in myself the desire to withdraw, to stay home, and to despair. That seems the safer stance given all the bullying that is happening. And that is how democracies die.
Hope and optimism are very different. Optimism says that things are getting better on their own. We are riding a stream of progress and our little boats will just float on to better times without any rowing on our part. Hope says that a more just and peaceful future is possible if we row together with all our heart, whether the current is with us or not.
This is a time for hope and not optimism.
What would hopeful rowing look like today?
- Our city councils, school boards, county commission meetings need us. You don’t have to go to them all. Just pick one and go consistently. Smile and say hello to people there. Say “thank you” to the staff and leaders of these meetings. Offer a statement once in a while supporting the process of democracy. Remind them of our aspirational values:
- We the people
- In order to form a more perfect union
- With liberty and justice for all
- When you see a chance to greet people on the streets or in a store, do so. Say something positive to them.
- Encourage leaders of your community of wisdom to engage with leaders of other communities.
- When you engage with someone in your family who may be wrapped up in anxiety and disinformation, just be kindly clear about your own values.
I was at a family reunion recently. I was the only one wearing a mask. One of the children asked me, “Why are you wearing a mask.” I answered, “Because I have an 82 year old at home and it’s not all about me.”
Our democracy is in danger these days. But we all can play a our part by practicing an engaging hope. We can do this even when we don’t feel it fully.
Acting to make things better when we are uncertain, when there is some measure of risk, is the very definition of faith and love. We must not become so focused on the signs of the times that we forget our power to be signs of hope, rowing toward justice and peace in the midst of a choppy current.
Speaking at the school board meeting I thanked the school board and the staff for serving in such anxious times and holding fast to a vision of democracy. I thanked them for their work to live out “justice for all” by working for greater inclusion and diversity in the school. I said that I had learned, in my 30 years as a Lutheran pastor, that the core value of God in the Abrahamic tradition was to bless and provide the conditions of thriving life for all the nations, families, tribes, cultures and religions of the world.
Several of us spoke. You could feel the energy in the room change. People began to relax a bit. Even the anxious ones with their arms crossed seemed to feel less certain of their stance.
It is time to row with hope, my siblings, and practice an engaging hope in a world thirsting for it.