By Bruce Epperly
Like many progressives, I was disheartened by last night’s election results. The conservative turn in politics threatens to plunge our nation into two years of gridlock at a time when we need creative solutions to our current economic malaise and the plight of America’s shrinking middle class and growing underclass. The small forward movements toward justice in health care and honesty in banking, Wall Street, and business may be stalled by a tidal wave of smaller government proposals at a time when governments need to be imaginative and bold.
But now is not the time for apocalyptic thinking – to foresee the end of the progressive era or the repeal of what we have fought hard to achieve. Despite short-term reversals, progressives – in faith and politics – are by nature optimistic and future-oriented. In spirituality, progressives believe that the future is open and that the divine calls us to look forward rather than backward to find our destiny. With Martin Luther King, progressives affirm that “the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Our faith is that the future belongs to the imaginative and persistent.
The story is told of the night of the falling stars. As they saw the falling stars, the villagers panicked. Running to and fro, they shouted to one another, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling. The world is coming to an end.” In their panic, they knocked on the door of the wise woman and man of the village, crying out, “the sky is falling, the stars are falling.” The wise ones looked at the heavens and then calmly noted, “Yes, the stars are falling, but look at all of the stars that remain in place!”
Now is the time for progressives to look at the stars that remain in place. In family and congregational systems theory, mature leaders aspire to be a “non-anxious presence” in a world of turmoil. While we may feel anxious, we don’t need to be ruled by our anxiety. The times call for big picture thinking, for calm resolution, and the willingness to meet in the middle – whether we call ourselves liberal or conservative. We need to reclaim a sense of peace that enables us to act wisely, looking to long-term achievements rather than to immediate gratification. This is what it means to be mature, to have personal stature, and to plan wisely. This is the prophetic voice: always discontent with the present, but always living in terms of God’s future.
We have big problems to solve right now; we can’t wait till 2012 and the next presidential election. Our calling is to be faithful persons of stature, grounding our politics and faith in embracing otherness as well as advocating for our own visions. This is a matter of spiritual maturity, grounded in a commitment to prayer, imaginative hospitality, and willingness to see the holy in our opponents as well as companions on the political and spiritual journey. It is a matter of moving from self-interest to national-interest and then world loyalty, to taking the long view rather than momentary results. The sky is not falling; the long arc of history moves toward justice and shalom.
Bruce Epperly is a professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary and co-pastor of an open and affirming emerging congregation in Lancaster, PA, Disciples United Community Church. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, a progressive theological and spiritual response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life.