Remember when I told you about driving across the rural Midwest, through what seemed to be a tunnel constructed of towering Trump/Pence signs? Remember how I told you how much it terrified me to be there? How I had to pee so badly, but I was afraid to get out and go into a convenience store to use their bathroom? It turns out the story wasn’t quite over. In fact, as I drove down that rural route, I was smack dab in the middle of something. I just didn’t know it, yet.
About a week before that terrifying drive, I was minding my own business, sitting in church. I think maybe it was during the time in our service where we pass around the microphone and let people share their prayer requests. I can’t be sure.
Let me just pause here. Because I’m about to talk about “hearing” or “sensing” or “understanding” that God was “saying” something to me. All of those words fall flat, I know. In fact, “God” doesn’t even really seem right. “God” feels like a placeholder for the real thing. The real being. So, I just want to acknowledge that. And I want to recognize that I have to use some kind of words to convey an idea, and I know these words don’t quite capture the Truth. As great as language is, it’s incomplete, isn’t it?
So, there I was, sitting in church, minding my own business when I suddenly had the sense God was telling me to vote for Donald Trump. And here’s where I need to say that I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about this (or any) election the way we seem to think he does. It’s not that God doesn’t care. I just don’t think he sees it the way we do. So, when I say God was telling me to vote for Donald Trump, it wasn’t as if God was saying there was a “right” choice and a “wrong” choice for president.
It’s never that simple with God.
Wait. That’s not true. Once we’re clear about where God is leading us, most of us feel sort of like, “Oh! Absolutely! That makes total and complete sense!” Of course, before we get to the place where we can see where God is trying to get us to go, it feels all complicated and messy and foreboding.
God’s not as complicated as we make him. He’s more complicated, while simultaneously being less complicated. The best way I can sum it up is to say that God is both/and. We’re the ones who are either/or, and that’s a big part of why we think God is so complicated — because we’re using the wrong filter. I’ve found that anytime I’m feeling like I’ve got to choose either/or when it comes to loving people and being for them, I’ve probably left God out of the scenario.
I don’t need to tell you I was not happy with the possibility that God might want me to vote for Donald Trump. There’s no need for me to go into all of the whys here. Suffice to say, I had made up my mind and my mind did not include me voting for Donald Trump, in any way, shape, or form. However, there have been times I’ve done the opposite of what I sensed God was asking me to do, and that has never worked out well. So, I told God he was going to have to prove it. I might even have said to him, “Prove it.” The rest of the day was uneventful. No signs. No more interruptions from God. I went back to my regular life.
Then came that drive I’ve told you about. It rattled me. And, I was rattled that I was rattled. The Trump/Pence billboards and my reaction to the billboards really got under my skin. I was freaked out by the signs, and I was freaked out by the fact that I was freaked out. I reached my destination — a women’s retreat at a beautiful venue with absolutely perfect weather. The building where I was staying had a deck that overlooked a pond and, after I’d gone through all of the greetings and settling in stuff, I slipped out onto that balcony and leaned on the railing with my chin on my hands. “WHY am I so rattled?” I asked God.
The wind was blowing steadily and the surface of the water in the pond rippled constantly. Overhead, the leaves rustled in the breeze and, once again, I sensed that God was asking me to vote for Donald Trump. “Are you serious?” I asked it out loud. Inside, my heart felt locked against my ribs, afraid to beat for fear I’d have to follow through. “I’m telling you, God, if that’s what you want from me, you’re going to have show me.” And, just like that, the surface of pond became smooth as glass and the leaves in the trees stopped their rustling. “Good grief,” I thought to myself.
“I don’t want to,” I said to God. “I will if you tell me I have to. But I don’t want to.” (I was too scared to say, Make me.)
So, you know how you go to a retreat like the one with the pond and you get a gift bag and in that bag is a bible verse or a prayer or a poem or something? And you know how the organizer of the event tells you the prayer team has been praying for you, long before your arrival? And you know how they tell you your gift bag and its contents are random and they had no idea who would get which bag and its corresponding bible verse or prayer or poem? Well, I opened my random gift bag and read its random prayer, which said:
God will help you turn away from negative thinking and judgment. He will let you not follow old voices, old hurts. Let those go & believe forgiveness is the path of righteousness.
I kid you not. I stuck the prayer in my bible and went on about my business. But first, I said to God, “Seriously?”
Not Just For, but With
When I left the retreat center, the navigation system on my car took me home a different way. I didn’t have to drive through that tunnel of Trump/Pence billboards, and so I totally forgot about even considering casting my vote for them. I was back to my original plan.
Then, a few days later, and just a few days before the election, I was driving home from the gym, listening to the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording when I suddenly sensed, yet again, that I was being asked to vote for Trump. “FINE!” I shouted, out loud, releasing the steering wheel for a second or two. “ALRIGHT THEN! I’LL DO IT!”
And just like that, I knew I didn’t have to vote for Trump after all.
What God was working out in me was a willingness to be for the people who were going to vote for Trump. Not because of who they were going to vote for. But rather, because of who they are: people, made in the image of God, and immeasurably loved by God. I needed to not only be for them. I needed to be with them. I don’t need to agree with them to be with them; to be for them. I don’t have to agree with them to love them. God is working us toward one another, and we’re all going to need sacrificial love — not agreement — for that.
(little g) god, or God?
Now, I recognize these are words. I am writing these words after the fact, and I acknowledge their inadequacy. I did not vote for Donald Trump. That day, after I shouted my reluctant obedience at God, above the Hamilton soundtrack I had blasting in my car, I felt completely released from having to vote a certain way. In fact, I am confident God cared not one iota about who I voted for. What God was after was my heart. Not my vote. But it cost me something. And that’s the part which is really difficult to communicate here. Because what God wanted me to do was to stand for — and with — people who might not do the same for me. I don’t believe Donald Trump is God’s choice for president, anymore than I believe anyone else is his choice. I really don’t think God is as invested in our election results as we like to think he is. We’re worshiping at the feet of the wrong god if he’s so small as to be constrained by who is or isn’t president of some particular country.
We’re not here to be right. We are here to love the people right here in front of us. All of the people. When our systems (or their results) pit us against one another, or make us choose one person or persons over others, those systems are revealing their inadequacy and the brokenness of the people who constructed them. The Kingdom of God is open to everyone. Jesus died with his arms wide open, and with words of forgiveness on his lips. The Holy Spirit broke through language barriers with tongues of fire, and continues to lead us closer and closer to one another despite our stubborn resistance. We’ve been trying to make the Gospel conform to the image of our broken, dysfunctional, either/or, power-hungry systems. But God keeps gently reminding us that we’re looking through a clouded glass and we cannot see clearly on our own.
Can you be for the person on the other side? And, more than that, can you stand with her? That’s what God was asking of me. At first, I wasn’t ready. And, I’ll admit, because of my regular person-ness, I still have to work at it. Hard.
So. That’s my story. Well. It’s not the whole story. My intent was to keep all of this to myself. And then, I sensed God telling me to tell it. That’s the whole story. There you have it. In the past, I’ve tried not doing what I thought God wanted me to do, and that hasn’t ever gone very well.