Spirituality and Politics

By Rev. Jacquelyn Sneed

Jacquelyn Sneed.jpg

Published November 10, 2016

This Presidential election, and its result, has made me fearful. Elected to the highest office in the land, is a man who I feel is bigoted, intellectually lazy, spiritually deficient and addicted to violence. He reminds me of the schoolyard bullies that I used to face, although his behavior threatens individuals, nations, and international alliances. I believe that the sole purpose of his candidacy was to elevate his “brand,” so that his company can secure lucrative contracts abroad. It saddens me to think that someone would use our country so cynically for his own personal gain.

Now that he has been elected, I am deeply concerned for our country.

In a situation such as this, it is tempting to speak in terms of “good” and “bad” or more aggressively in terms of “good” and “evil.” This may make me feel good but as I dwell in my judgements it is important to remember that the president-to-be and his supporters are making judgements about “good” and “evil.” To them my endorsement of inclusion, rational decision making and nonviolent ideals make me the enemy.

Recently, the Berkeley, Emeryville, Alameda, Albany, Richmond (BEAR) Satellite group of ChI alumni, students and staff had a discussion on the spiritual issues raised by this year’s highly contentions election. One of the key questions, and I paraphrase, was “how do we address the concerns raised by this election as a spiritual person and as an activist?”

While exploring this question. I realized that as a human being burdened by the dualities of human life, the best duality to ponder at this time is “love” vs “fear.” It is a duality that can ultimately unite the spiritual self and the activist.

Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, of the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Marin County and Attitudinal Healing International, has words that are life-giving in times such as these. In his book “Love is Letting Go of Fear,” Jampolsky writes: “…fear and love can never be experienced at the same time. It is always our choice as to which of these emotions we want. By choosing love more consistently than fear, we can change the nature and quality of our relationships.”

These are wise words yet they can be difficult to apply. What exactly is love? We are familiar with human love, the love for spouses, significant others, parents, children and friends. We know about, even if we may have not experienced it, the unconditional love demonstrated by the great saints and sages. How can we love people who hold views that are wounding and dehumanizing to us? How do we love those who consider us the “Other?”

I live in a community that is diverse politically. I encounter Greens, Libertarians, Democrats and Republicans in the city in which I live and there are supporters of the president-elect. I used to routinely clash with a supporter whenever either of us would bring up politics. One day while in the midst of an exchange, it dawned upon me that she may feel that I am attacking her when I bring up political issues. While her answers seemed to be “scorched earth” in nature, perhaps she experienced me to be annoying and confrontational in our political discussions. Perhaps she sensed that I had judged her and in a way, I had. My assumption was that she and the other supporters were for the current president-elect because they did not understand the complexities of political life and his inability to deal with them. In seeking to enlighten her, I was a poor listener. I listened so that I could craft my next argument.

I now know that I had missed an opportunity. Had I listened to her deeply and from the heart, I would have felt her fears and desires and I could have responded to her with empathy and compassion. Instead, I called for a truce. I asked that we not discuss politics and she agreed. I think that this was a manifestation of love on the part of both of us. I cannot change her and she cannot change me. What is left is acceptance of her, if not her ideals, and that is a form of love.

In case I feel that I must always respond to perceived intolerance and bigotry in others, in his book, Jampolsky reminds me that “forgiveness does not mean condoning or agreeing with a horrendous act. It is a decision to no longer attack one’s self.”

For me, that has meant that I have had to notice that part of me that desires confrontation with the people who embrace the ideals of our president-elect. Can I accept the fact that within me there resides a warrior who enjoys verbal combat? Can I love and acknowledge this combatant? Can I be with her without projecting her on to others and going on the attack? If the answer is yes, then I can achieve self-love: the ability to love myself, warts and all, an essential step in my evolution. This does, however, leave me with the question of how best to interact with those who see safety and security in disharmony and exclusion.

If I project my ideals of inclusion and peace, I can honor my core ideals without attacking others. Present Obama offered a great example of this during the campaign when he was heckled by a fan of the now president-elect. During a rally for his candidate, President Obama offered sage advice about honoring one’s ideals when he advised the young man to “organize your own rallies…if you are confident about the other guy just go to his rallies. I feel confident about my candidate that’s why I’m at this rally…you don’t have to spend time over here…go knock on some doors for your guy…that’s a better way for you to spend your time.”

Obama offered the young man redemption of sorts as when he told the young man and the crowd that “unless your just being paid to be here (and heckle me)…in which case, hey, everybody’s got to make a living.”

There are times, however, when we must address ideas that are unjust and destructive. During these times, it is important to embrace love, justice and reconciliation and to hold fast to these qualities when we interact with those who are in the grip of fear and when we languish in our own fears. It is important to tackle the beliefs and not the people who hold them by actions and speech which exude compassion and love. This is what we can do to cleanse and purify our hearts in these troubling times like and be true spiritual activists.

Please note: This piece was inspired by the October 8th discussion on “The Spiritual Dimension of Politics” of The ChI Interfaith Community’s BEAR satellite group. To view a recording of the event, see the video, “Sharing the Layers” on The Chaplaincy Institute’s Facebook page.

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