There are points in which the world seems to be at peace. Seeing the Christmas lights being put up in Cambridge and walking back home down Silver St the other day was one such point.
There are other points in which the world seems to be bitterly and resolutely under siege. The saga that is the American presidential election happening in just a few short days’ time seems to be making a big contribution in this area.
What I’ve witnessed in this election campaign is a a never-ending feedback loop of paranoia, hate and fear. Rhetoric that appeals to lowest common denominators. A discourse that encourages and spawns what is divisive – a political platform being given to prejudice, grievance and ignorance.
I hope I’m not the only one struggling to comprehend how it is that a nation which wields exceptional military, economic and political influence may just be about to elect as President a man with absolutely no experience of public office. That the nation built by immigrants has a presidential candidate declaring building a 2,000 mile wall across the Mexican border a policy. That the nation which incorporated religious tolerance into its constitution and bill of rights has a presidential candidate advocating deliberate discrimination against Muslims.
What is most sinister to me about this situation is the extent to which the standpoint it represents isn’t extraordinary – the extent to which it is part of the American mainstream. It feeds into a year that, across the Atlantic and back in Europe, has consisted of apathy, complacency and even downright hatred towards millions of people who find themselves the victims of circumstance. A year of increasing national insularity as the refugee crisis continues, and it is, of course, the year of Brexit. In less than a month, on December 4th, we may see the first far-right politician elected head of state in Europe since World War II in the re-run of the Austrian presidential election (in the May election, Norman Hofer of the nationalist and anti-immigration Freedom Party received 49.7% of the vote).
Whichever way these elections go, the platforms of the far-right will not dissipate. After all, election results mostly do not determine political climate, but reflect it. And, worse, any gains in percentage points can act to legitimatise negative sentiments, whilst any losses can act to push people to further extremes in the wake of defeat. What are we to do when what should be a just and positive democratic process gets dominated by the unjust and the negative?
I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about where this apparent uncertainty leaves us, what we do when progress is seemingly reversed. And more generally, what do we do when the rug is pulled out from under us? Whether that is a change at a global political level or personally. Whatever we set out to achieve in life can undo itself in the blink of an eye. Plans can come crashing down with a single diagnosis. What appears certain is never quite safe from misfortune and we are often powerless to fight against it.
It is at times like these that I am immensely grateful that my life is underpinned by the goodness and grace of the gospel. It is the unchanging hope which sets my feet on solid ground when the rug is pulled out from under me. In this context I know that faith can seem something like ‘wishful thinking’. But know that to live in faith is not to choose an easy option, nor to abandon rationality. To live in faith is to examine the historical events of the resurrection and find them true. To live in faith is to then be continually challenged – in the face of suffering and uncertainty and disbelief. To live in faith is to have to make a decision because you know it to be right and not because it’s what you want to do. To live in faith is to have the responsibility of taking action against injustice.
To live in faith is also to read about arguments against miracles as part of your degree, and to find them funny because you have witnessed miracles first-hand, and mere premises and conclusions don’t really compare. To live in faith is to live with open hands, letting circumstances happen as they do and always knowing the joy and peace that comes from the Holy Spirit alone.
To live in faith is to be unfazed* by what I will wake up to on 9th November because my hope is not circumstantial.
*A good friend of mine challenged me on the use of this word and I agree with what he said. Unfazed is not to mean that we don’t grieve what happens. Rather, it is to be invested to the extent of grieving fully, whilst still holding onto the hope that we have in Christ. In the gospel we have a model of things being made new – brokenness turned to wholeness, grief turned into joy, and despair turned into hope. And it is this that I can depend on when I awake tomorrow morning.