election anxiety

“Keeping it Together” with Hauerwas, Curry and Bolz-Weber on Election Anxiety

Jeffrey Walton on November 4, 2020

Washington, D.C. was surprisingly quiet as I pedaled into the office this morning, despite election anxiety. Rushed boarding up of storefronts and police barriers erected in anticipation of post-election violence seemed, for the moment at least, unnecessary.

As a planned city, Washington has the benefit of great swaths of green space and tree canopy. Cycling along a leafy route in the shadow of stately monuments, it was an occasion to process how we Christians can steward ourselves and our modest spheres of influence amidst the current moment. Most of us are not in positions of influence in national politics, but we are instructed in scripture to pray for those in authority.

This is also an opportunity to “keep it real.” Yesterday a friend shared an Election Day prayer authored by theologian Stanley Hauerwas of United Methodist-affiliated Duke Divinity School:

“Sovereign Lord, foolish we are, believing that we can rule ourselves by selecting this or that person to rule over us. We are at it again. Help us not to think it more significant than it is, but also give us and those we elect enough wisdom to acknowledge our follies. Help us laugh at ourselves, for without humor our politics cannot be humane. We desire to dominate and thus are dominated. Free us, dear Lord, for otherwise we perish. Amen.”

This will be a rare occasion for me to positively quote a neo-Anabaptist thinker (IRD in contrast has a strong Christian realist inclination).

Yesterday I also tuned in to hear Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry chat with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America author and speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber. The controversial Bolz-Weber, who serves as a “public theologian” after stepping down as a local pastor of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints, invited a series of figures to join her for short “keeping it together” chats on Instagram throughout the day.

Bolz-Weber has been candid about struggles with anxiety and stress specifically related to elections. She professes a need for “spiritual Xanax” — something to keep her from watching news coverage all day, to help her stay focused and remember what’s important.

To be consumed by politics suggests an improper ordering of priorities. But it’s not appropriate for me to fatalistically dismiss anxieties nor curtly suggest that she and others “get over it.” Scripture in 1 Peter 5:7 asks us to “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

“Dear God, if anxiety produced a sound it would be deafening right now,” Bolz-Weber wrote in a prayer the preceding Sunday. “Open my ears to the sounds I need most: the wild geese overhead, Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (1972); the sound of my friend on the other end of the phone; the sugar-high laughter of children who need us to dial down the doom. If fear could be seen, it would be obscuring everything else right now. Open my eyes to the sights that I need most: my puppy underfoot with a toy in her mouth, ready to play; the brightening of my neighbor’s eyes under their mask when I pass them in the stairwell; that sidewalk covered in an oak tree’s fallen leaves like nature’s confetti. If sorrow could be tasted, the bitterness would overcome me. Open my mouth to the sweetness I need: words of kindness; deep, unhurried kisses; and absolutely as much Ben and Jerry’s as I deem necessary. Help me remember that you are in the other side of Tuesday, no matter what. Amen.”

Unsurprisingly, the progressive Bolz-Weber and I don’t hold much in common, aside from our shared reliance upon delicious liberal ice cream (which happens to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the very capitalist Unilever conglomerate). But she is willing to be vulnerable, and unlike some on the Religious Left she wrestles with the reality of evil and of personal sin in particular.

Curry spoke with Bolz-Weber about hope on Election Day and how some may be “wrought with anxiety” but older people in the African-American community know “The dominant powers are not ultimate powers.”

Again, Curry and I have substantive differences, and his “love love love” message can fall short. But here I appreciate Curry’s explanation that when he lacks hope and strength within himself, he can look to others and their experiences with the Lord. There’s something to be said for our corporate relationship with Jesus, being carried along by the saints across time and distance.

Here there was a good point made by Bolz-Weber that “The only reason people know Pontius Pilate’s name now is as a footnote to Jesus Christ.”

Pilate was the most powerful earthly authority in Jesus’ midst. Yet today, Jesus lasting influence is more apparent. It’s something to remember as we both engage in our civic responsibilities and keep them in the proper context.

  1. Comment by Nina on November 4, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    I have almost nothing in common with Bolz-Weber, but she does write some beautiful and heartfelt prayers. And while I disagree with just about everything she writes, I do appreciate her willingness to be vulnerable and can see why she resonates with so many. I grieve that she leads so many so far astray. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Comment by Hard to Accept, but ther eis hope on November 5, 2020 at 11:25 am

    since we do not have a King yet, though we are close to having an oligarchy trying to rule the country, so-called ‘leaders’ and academics like these two people are have a great responsibility to deal in truth.

    Sadly they do not, and while I am so glad for some of the things they write, much of it seems hollow. It’s nice to hear that stuff at election time, but after months and years of furious assaults against the honesty, integrity, and faith of people who disagree with them it is hard to take their words at face value.

    There is another question that needs asked; when someone branded a conservative or evangelical does something wrong all who share their political beliefs are called names and told they must recant their evil belief. Will these scholars ever recant for the support they give to non-Christians whose beliefs and actions are illegal or immoral? If they do then their words would have much more meaning.

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