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Speak What We Feel

By November 12, 2016 17 Comments

Four weeks ago, I wrote this post.

I have to take it back. The election results proved me wrong.

I’m grieving. Not because I have policy disagreements with the winner. Not because the lady didn’t win. Those things matter, but it’s so much bigger than that. I’m grieving because a person who rode to power on a calculated surge of hatred and bigotry, who dishonors women and brown people and any kind of Other in myriad ways—I’m grieving because only half the country rejected that. The other half rewarded it, or at the very least, thought the bullying and vulgarity and incitement to violence was unimportant enough to ignore.

I know I know. People voted for Trump for many reasons. I know that white working class people (men and women) are in pain, that they are angry, that they feel left behind and misunderstood. I know. But are straight white men entitled to their pain, anger, and fear, while everyone else’s pain, anger, and fear comes second, or is dismissed? That would be a pretty good definition of patriarchy. In fact, that’s not a bad definition of white supremacy.

A full half of America, unconsciously or not, has signaled their continuing investment in it. I just don’t see any excuse for that. No, not even abortion.

It’s been crushing this week to see my students grieve. It was the first election where they could vote. They were envisioning an America where we fully honor women, where we include everyone. It was a beautiful vision; they were ready to grow up into it.

Now they feel slapped in the face. If they hadn’t felt that slap before, they feel it now. Those who have been slapped many times, for being different in one way or another, are just weary to the bone.

They’re afraid. So am I. We have reason—already.

I am not one bit comforted by white people assuring everyone that “Jesus is Lord.” Instead, I am grateful for those who speak words of encouragement, faith, and defiance out of their painful history of receiving the blows of hatred and suspicion. There are words we ought to say, and many people are saying them well. Still, for me right now, it’s hard to receive them.

Steven quoted Lear on Thursday in his beautiful post. I’ll quote Lear, too. Here are Edgar’s final, devastated words in the play:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel and not what we ought to say.

Today, that is all I have to say.

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. My most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress, 2022). Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for the RJ blog as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.


  • Stan Starkenburg says:

    The reasons you put forth for not voting for Trump are valid reasons, but the reasons for not voting for Clinton were much greater for half of the nation. Does that makes us all ignorant women haters and haters of people who are not white? I think thought. I find it sad when inclusivity is preached by the left, as long as it agrees with their “always” correct philosophy on life.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Good help for what I have to say to my congregation tomorrow.

    • I am glad I am not the preacher tomorrow! I am the organist and somehow we are going to need to sing as one–“Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive.” For the second time this week, I am sharing this blog on Facebook.

  • Marc Gesink says:

    It’s been a long campaign, most of us are weary. Must we endure passionate, partisan, political commentary even here?

  • Lee Collins says:

    Deb, you are a voice of reason in a time that needs such words. Thanks.

  • beatricevanwinkle says:

    Thanks Debra.

  • Hi Deb! Remember me from
    years ago at Herman Miller? A good friend turned me on to your wonderfully insightful blog. Now I’m a regular “fan”. This post election one expresses how I feel so well. Thank you and Hi after many years!

  • Lenore says:

    I grieve, too. Thank you, Deb.

  • Theresa says:

    Thank you, Deb, for this pastoral word. Much needed!

  • Meg Jenista says:

    I can’t remember the last time I wrote a sermon on Saturday. Goodness knows I tried earlier in the week but couldn’t do it.
    For me, it is all this that you name AND I serve a congregation in DC. About 1/2 my congregation that is of working age works a government job and the do so out of a deep sense of Christian vocation (one that many of them learned at your institution of higher learning 😉 Inasmuch as this election was also a punch in the face to “big government”, I can assure you my people feel that too. And it feels like a betrayal of promises and shared values in that respect as well.

  • Jes Kast says:

    Thank you, Deb. With you.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Deeply grieving with you. On Monday I stood 20 feet from Hillary. My daughter was at the rally too as was a colleague and his little boy, as was an African-American female pastor I know well and about 5,000 others. We thought we were on the cusp of history. We were. It’s just not the history we wanted or need in this country.

  • Jeanne Rikkers says:

    Ah but your previous post was not wrong. It is too late– what we are seeing is the throes of death. The old world is passing away. There will be suffering and pain, no doubt. And we must fight against the hate and fear. But– this is how the future voted

  • Thank you for this. Captures so much of what I am feeling and grieving along with you.

  • Jessica Bratt Carle says:

    Thank you Deb.

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    We grieve from a position of privilege. We need to stand with those who don’t have that position, and respond out of love.

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