A Letter from Rev. Chandler Stokes

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Letter from Rev. Chandler Stokes


I know that many of you are grieving deeply today: hurt, angry, devastated, anguished, and fearful. You are fearful of the future for people of color, for all women, for immigrants, for the LGBTQ community, for anyone not white, straight, male—which in many cases means you are fearful for yourselves and for your children. You are fearful of the rising temperature of the social rhetoric, as well as political and economic fallout.

I’ve received a number of emails and texts today with titles like: “grieving/shock/horror” and “dark days” and “cavalcade of emotions: ashamed, embarrassed, depressed, angry, helpless, duped…” and “any spiritual advice for this day?” I’m sure that you have been or will be asked that last question too.

A mom asked me this morning, “How do I send my kids out into a world where there is apparently so much support for misogyny, racism, and hate?”

As I think about what to say, I am thinking first of my always loving and enthusiastic friend in California who teaches elementary school. She said that, for the first time, she was not sure she was up for being “on” all day today. She loves teaching. She loves her 23 little students. But her heart is broken, and she’s feeling a burden.

Trying to cheer herself up, she wrote that she would try to remain “hopeful, respectful, and positive.” That is important, but our response must be more.

Remember that we hold to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful. Our response includes putting our arms around our friends and standing ever closer to those for whom we fear. But it must always be more. It must be a profound hope, anchored beyond the horizons we can see.

I remember one year when an election went very badly in my mother’s eyes, and she said, “Well, the church’s job just got harder.” I’m sure that is true in this case.

Our job is harder, but it is not substantially different.

Mom's view was very much like one member who wrote to me this morning: “We at WPC have work to do, don’t we?” But he wrote more:

So this is the forest fire that is going to bring forth new growth. Thanks for your prophetic words in your sermon a few weeks ago. We at WPC have work to do, don’t we? So proud to have my daughter confirmed on Sunday during this turbulent time.

I confess that whatever prophetic insight was in my words on October 30, it was more in their perspective than in their prescience. But he is so right. We have work to do.

That father is rightly proud to have his daughter confirmed this coming Sunday. And she and all the others who will be confirmed, or are among the 23 in my friend’s class, or any of the children of Westminster—formed in faith and hope…

These children are seeds being released in the fire of our turbulent time. They will produce “all kinds of plants and trees growing that no one has seen before. …that no one has seen before… We may have no idea it was possible—and overnight we will have plants that are waist-high.”

One of our colleagues on his way to work at Westminster today affirmed: “Ora et labora.” Pray and work. Yes. Pray and work. I am clear about one thing: Our work surely is harder now, but it is not different.

A Westminster parent said, “I typed out the benediction, printed three copies, and gave it to them for their pockets. I didn't know what else to do.” That’s what to do. That—and see that that law is written on our hearts.

Our work is not different. You have always known what to do:

Go into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold on to all that is good. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted. Support the weak. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit that makes all that possible.

Write it on a piece of paper. Put it in your pocket. Write it on your heart.

Last night, Stephen Colbert pointed out statistics on the huge number of Republicans who feared a Democratic victory and the huge number of Democrats who feared a Republican victory. We are afraid of each other.

And one thing I noticed this morning is that I know exactly how people are experiencing the one side of this, but I have little idea how people are experiencing the other. I live too much inside an echo chamber. We live in echo chambers, reinforcing our views in isolation, rather than deepening them in conversation. That is a problem that will take courage to address.

The mainstream church was always a place where people of different political stripes could sit and worship and converse together. That last was important. And maybe it is more important than ever.

Our response must include our staying close to those for whom we fear and being in conversation with those whom we ourselves fear.

We believe in a grace too powerful to name. We trust in a love that we are not required to deserve. We believe in a God of miraculous growth. And we hold fast with a hope not hopeless but unhopeful. God be with you today.

And remember with Reinhold Niebuhr:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
 Nothing that is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

Grace and peace,