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Threading the current moment…

January 20th, 2017 by Stephen Bauman

For more than twelve years, I provided commentary on WCBS NewsRadio on topics under the banner of “Simple Truths: on Values, Civility and Our Common Good,” eventually collected into a book by the same name. Christ Church felt this was a useful incursion into the public square concerning things that mattered most emerging from our mission— not advertising, but commentary about human flourishing.

As I wrote in the preface, “As one man—husband, father, friend, citizen, child of God—I want to live with greater attention to the things that up-build my individual life, relationships, and healthy community. Yet, this often seems a lonely enterprise, and I find that I am easily distracted. After all, I am making my way in the very same cultural context as everyone else; we share the struggle for identifying and then maintaining the values that promote the common good. And this isn’t easy, even for those who attempt to practice and advance a particular religious tradition. I know only too well how religious practice can be overwhelmed by cultural tidal forces.”

Given current conditions in our nation, this focus now seems prescient, anticipating an accelerating breakdown of shared values and definitions of the common good. The 2016 presidential election results revealed the biggest gap between the popular vote and the electoral vote since 1876. Award-winning journalist, E.J. Dionne, notes that, “We are having a very difficult time as a country empathizing with each other. One thing that we might take out of this campaign: empathy needs to be complete. There can’t be groups toward which we feel obligated to feel empathetic and groups toward which we don’t feel obligated to feel empathetic.” 56 percent of Democrats didn’t have a close friend or family member who voted for Donald Trump and 52 percent of Republicans didn’t have a close friend or family member who voted for Hillary Clinton.

We’re increasingly talking to ourselves inside an echo chamber. Yes, to a great degree this is an outcome of encroaching technology. And, as the comparative maps of blue and red reveal, we seem to be separating geographically as well—an odd coupling of increasing individual atomization with tribalist tendencies.

Here’s how I’m threading the current moment. I marvel at and celebrate our nation’s capacity for a peaceful, democratic leadership transition. I pray our new president and administration will fashion a government for all the people, that from the fractious chaos of this season, stability will emerge protecting and advancing the common good. And I will seek to be in conversation with those whose politics differ from mine, admitting limits to my knowledge and wisdom, and seeking to love my neighbor.

But I am also committed to staying true to enduring Gospel values emphasizing God’s love for all persons, especially those at the margins, the ones Jesus regularly embraced. Jesus was not a partisan, but he died a political death. In turn, his followers remain committed to the same values that address the needs of the least, the last and the lost, and in the public square, they confront the powers that favor one group over another. They promote the safety and dignity of all persons regardless of race or creed or other external conditions. In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5ff) they take heed of Jesus’ “judgment of the nations” (Matt 25:31ff) that pivots on our care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and the imprisoned. This caring shows up in our generosity of dollars, time and energy, as well as our commitment to dismantle systemic roadblocks to human flourishing for everyone.

These have always been the hallmarks of faith as modeled and mentored by Jesus who told his close friends to “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).  Shortly after this instruction, he was arrested by the state. His subsequent death raised this command high for all to see, looming over the centuries to our present moment. It remains our highest calling and the source of our enduring hope…

So, God bless the United States of America.  And God bless Christ Church as we continue to seek to love God above all things, and our neighbors as ourselves.

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.