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This past week I took my son and daughter to see Gary Clark Jr., a blues guitarist from Austin Texas. The timing was fitting, it was the day after the election. There I was, in Omaha, NE, listening to the blues. I’m not sure how election night turned out where you live, but where I’m from, and for the people I know, there was literally weeping and gnashing of teeth. We’re obviously in the minority. What’s hard about this time is how close things turned out. There was hope…maybe too much hope? I didn’t stay up to see the results. All along I doubted whether anything would change. Even when things looked promising, I doubted. Call me a cynic, but I went to bed. When I woke up, everything was the same. There would be no change.

The problem with politics in my town is how brutal it gets. There’s no civil discourse; there’s no discourse. It’s all indignation and name calling. What makes it worse is how religious language gets wrapped into it. This language is part of the cultural ideology here, to the point it’s hard to recognize the Jesus of the gospels if you listen for too long. Self proclaimed prophets preaching theonomy from the pulpit, people burning library books, Facebook pages ruthlessly going after people who see things differently, anonymous websites that attack people’s character–this is what the election was like in my town. Then, just like that, it’s over. All that’s left is carnage. Not physical destruction, but sometimes I wonder if that’d be easier. It’s spiritual destruction. Vitriolic hatred that people don’t express publicly in the presence of others, but have no problem posting for all the world to see. The wounds run deep, and yet somehow we still have to live together.

Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” speaks about love and suffering. We suffer because we love. If we didn’t care so deeply there wouldn’t be disappointment or heartache. It’s because we care, it’s because we love, that we suffer. Lately, I’m wondering if hope isn’t strong enough to get people through difficult times. Hope is always pointed to the future, to some time and place when everything is put right. What if that time never comes? Hope doesn’t help us live in the meantime; hope doesn’t address the heartache and suffering people experience right here and now. It’s love… love is what get us up in the morning. Love is what pushes us back out into the world, wounds and all, to try again. For me, it’s love for the Latino kids who play in my backyard, it’s love for my Guatemalan neighbors, for DACA students trying to better their lives, for the real people I meet each day. The anonymous websites can rage all they want, they can post our names and pictures, they can burn books, they can even call us names–all that’s out of my control. There’s nothing I can do to change the outcome of the election, and I can’t erase the hateful, damaging, words that have fueled so much anger. All I can do is love and love deeply. That’s the heart of the gospel anyway–loving God and loving my neighbor.  It’s also the heart of the blues. So this morning I thank God for Son House and Gary Clark Jr., and for suffering that comes because people care.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

8 Comments

  • Aaron Baart says:

    Thanks, Jason. I needed this rallying cry today. As usual, I appreciate your wisdom.

  • Louise Hulst says:

    Jason,

    I never leave a reply, but I ALWAYS agree with you. But today, I felt constrained to call out a loud AMEN.

    With hope and love,

  • Jim Loomis says:

    Thank you for your message, which I know that I need, and have been struggling with for the last 2 years. Yes indeed. We need to love and love deeply. But that is not all we can do. Jesus called out the religious leaders who failed to live up to holy ideals and behavior. And he took action, to his own great peril in doing so. I submit that we can do the same with our secular and governmental leaders, and that we can be far more successful if we do so with the love that you call for. But, my gosh, it’s tough!

  • Jim Schaap says:

    Thanks, Jason. You’re a better man than I am.

  • Karl Westerhof says:

    thank you thank you thank you
    Yes Yes Yes

  • Judy Hauswald says:

    And that’s all we can do … love our neighbors, even the ones who don’t think they can love us. Thanks for your thoughtful words.

  • Diane Koele says:

    “And the greatest of these is Love.”

  • Dave Mulder says:

    Wow, did I ever need this. Thanks much for your thoughtful words, Jason.

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