That sound you hear, the one that has struck terror into your hearts, is not a populist uprising. It is not the resurrection of the antichrist, nor the final tolling of the bell of democracy.
It is the death throes of a paradigm.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously identified five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. For decades Americans have been in denial. Many were in shock when the towers came down, as if we were the first to experience death by terrorism. Those among us who benefited from trickle down and Jim Crow and land ownership have wished that the white picket fence of the American Dream was real. Those among us who thought that the culture wars had been won, who were creating a new American Dream (often just as grasping and greedy as the old one), have been denying others' pain.
As of last week, as a nation, we are no longer in denial. You know the litany by heart: the election was the result of chasms between rich and poor, a disappearing middle class, rural life idealized and destroyed, infrastructures failing the vulnerable, systems intractable and impotent, the apathy of the young. When we can no longer deny reality, we look for someone to blame.
After denial comes anger. It doesn't matter what side of which issue we're on. When things don't work out as we'd like--when paradigms change--we human beings look for scapegoats to escape our own culpability. We defend our little kingdoms with anger and contempt. When a citizenry is angry and contemptuous, any petty sociopathic bully who can incite, excite, and express can be king.
It's always been true. Some of us just aren't old enough to remember. Or have been in denial so long that the times of caesars and pharoahs seems antiquated, ancient societies long buried under silent ash.
That ancient way of tyranny, of terrorizing the weak and the few and the frightened has once against roared. And that sound, that screeching cacophony of abuse and triumphalism, is not echoing in some "third-world" nation, but throughout this one, this nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Even so: That sound, the one that has struck terror into your hearts, is not a populist uprising. It is not the righteous voices of the oppressed and forgotten. That roaring is the death throes of a paradigm.
The advances we have made over the last decades are real. As a rule, we tend to think that women own their own bodies. As a rule, we tend to think that loving commitment makes a family. As a rule, we tend to think that race, religion, creed, gender, class, ability and all the other details that make us different, one from another, are less important than the attributes that render us alike.
We don't live our thinking out very well. We mess up, all the time. We have incredible blind spots. But change is real, and reality bites.
This next season will not be fun for anyone. Oh, sure: those who believe they have been given license to do evil will, for a while, enjoy their day. They will grab women by the breasts or the crotch (both of which has happened to women I know this week). They will scream epithets at those unlike them. They will threaten children and beat up outsiders (and let none of us think that we are permanent insiders in that mob). If you are black, or gay, or Muslim, or a refugee, or Mexican, or disabled, or otherwise part of the global majority, this is not your season.
And, if you are a little older, and are black, or gay, or Muslim, or a refugee, or Mexican, or disabled, or otherwise part of the global majority, you have likely been here before. We have been here, you and I. I have personally been sexually assaulted, beaten up, screamed at, threatened, spat on (at a church conference, no less), called a baby killer, and God knows what else that I've managed to forget or miss. I have also marched on Washington, defended clinics, lain in the streets with ActUp, cared for sick and dying, stood up for people I loathed who were being treated badly, shared the stage with people who would never have sat in my pew. And what I have experienced is nothing compared to what many of us go through daily. Even now. Even before November 8th.
All that to say: we have been here before. We will likely be here again. Which means that today we are grieving, for what we might have hoped was already reality is not fully here.
Today, we grieve. Tomorrow, we get back to work.
What will keep me going is the fact that the one reality I know to be eternal, solid, dependable is this: the battle has already been won. I may live today in a linear world, but in eternity which has already happened and is happening and will continue to happen, Christ lives. Christ loves. Christ is. In the long run--and, frankly, in much of the short run--good triumphs. Love wins.
With that reality in mind, I can once again hit the streets, guard the weak, speak the truth. I can choose to be kind, to be patient, to listen, and to care for those who are hurting. I can choose to live in the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of mercy and justice and beauty because in every moment of tenderness, sweetness, gentleness, selflessness, there it is. There it is.
That sound I hear, the one that signals hope, is not the shrill shriek of a temporary tyrant, but the soft, secure sound of an eternal King:
In me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!