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A Pastoral Letter on this election day eve

November 2, 2020

Dear Church,

On the eve of Election Day 2020, I trust that you are doing as well as possible and finding moments of grace in the midst of a deeply troubling time. Like many of you, throughout the past four years, I too have experienced the spiral of emotions that have been so easily triggered by a headline, a legislative action, an act of violence, or a tweet.

This season has been exhausting — emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.

Many of you have asked me some version of the question, “What do I do to survive during this time?” and I will be very honest with you. As I sit down to write this pastoral letter for the umpteenth time, I still do not know. I wish had THE words, THE spiritual discipline, THE political action, or THE prayer to lift to God that would make whole our scattered selves, but I do not.

This does not mean that you are on your own.

I choose to believe that what you need to “survive” these next few days, you already possess. I have only been your pastor for 18 months, but in that short time, I know that you will be okay. I choose to believe this, not only because of our social location, but because you all have shown that you have the resilience, faithfulness, thoughtfulness, humility, and tenacity to handle the greatest of adversities. It has not been easy, but you have proven this throughout your history as a congregation. You have experienced deep conflict, relationships have been strained, and difficult decisions have had to be made, but First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto has persisted through good times and bad and this place is made up of you.

That said, I wouldn’t really be a preacher if I didn’t offer my hopes for us during this time, so let me share a few ways that I am going to make it through 🙂

Notice hope. I guess I am supposed to say this, but I do believe that it is true. The struggles that surround us and the fear and anxiety that is building up inside of us cannot simply be wished or prayed away. We can, however, buffer the effects by taking the time to notice and give thanks for goodness around us. Be it the joy that comes from a simple meal, an unexpected gesture of kindness by a stranger, or a grand scene that God paints across the sky, hope is all around us — we only need to stop, pause, notice, and embrace it.

Embrace righteous indignation. Yes, hope, but also grieve, lament, or rage on.We are capable of holding more than one emotion at a time. What were are seeing in today’s political discourse: the blatant dehumanizing of the other, an assault on the democratic process, and the very real threat of violence no matter the results, deserves our anger and righteous indignation. I hope that this rage, rather than manifesting into violence, will fuel our courage and conviction to continue to fight for justice well beyond election night. The struggles of our nation will not be solved on Tuesday, so we must be prepared for the long haul. There will be work to be done, no matter the outcome, so let’s not let that fire consume us today, rather let it be our fuel as we fight for our future.

Acknowledgment privilege. On more than one occasion, I have heard folks say that there is more at stake in this election than ever before. While a case could be made for this assessment, for many in our country EVERY election has had high stakes — many of us have simply not been impacted in the same way. I am not dismissing the importance of this election, but we must be careful that, in our fervor and in our fight, we do not make invisible the struggles that have been experienced by so many for so much longer than this particular political cycle. In our current fight, lets us lament and remember that every election has held high-stakes for indigenous, Black, immigrant, LGBTQIA+, differently-abled, and so many others who have been marginalized and dismissed for generations.

Fight for human dignity. Sometimes it feels great to name call, castigate, and curse out our enemies. And yes there are times when a good old-fashioned profanity-laced rant is cathartic and just what that TV needs to hear. That said, at the end of the day, at the depths of our souls, we cannot deny the humanity of even our greatest enemies. To strip away the humanity of our enemy is a tactic fueled by idolatry and hubris. I am not saying that people should not be held accountable for their actions, only that we cannot play God and give ourselves the power to determine who shall or shall not be deemed worthy of their humanity. Each time we strip away the humanity of another, we lose a bit of our own; but each time we acknowledge that even our greatest enemies are created beings, we embody the grace that our Creator has already extended to us.

Trust God. One of the reasons that I do not simply walk away from this entire endeavor is that I trust God. I cannot tell you exactly why beyond a deep sense of connection to the divine creator, but I do. I do not always understand God, in fact, I often misunderstand God, but at the end of even the worse days, I trust God. I trust that God is somehow working in and amidst each and every situation and person. God is not pulling levers and pushing buttons to control our every move, but God is present, giving us glimpses, hints, whispers, and shouts of the realities that are already being revealed before us. For this reason, I fight not to fall into a posture of scarcity for what God is not telling me or showing me or giving me, but grasp tightly to the idea that God’s abundance has already been revealed, if I could just muster up the imagination and faith to reach out and claim it. So yes, these days are just awful on so many levels, but even in the midst of the dumpster fire that is our political discourse, God is not only showing us ways to extinguish the fire, but is already revealing ways to cleanse, plant, tend, and harvest justice out of the charred remains of such an unjust season — this I choose to believe.

As this week begins, if you need some help finding your breath, I invite you to join us for Breathe: The Election Edition. Taking place on Zoom this Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights from 8:30-9:00pm PST, Breathe is a 30 minute time for Scripture, Reflection, and Prayer as we work our way through the Psalms. If you are swirling a bit, this may help to calm your soul at the end of the day. And if you are looking for election week actions, Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice has prepared a list of actions and events during election week.

That all I have for you. Take what feeds your soul and discard the rest, but I hope you find something in the words above that will help you exhale just a little bit more today than you were able to yesterday. We will be okay.

Grateful to be on this journey with you —
Bruce Reyes-Chow, Your Pastor