Last week, after the presidential election was decided, Stacy posted on Instagram and Facebook an old picture of Joe Biden with a simple comment: “Congratulations, Joe Biden. We hope you lead our country with grace and courage.”
I suppose we should not have been surprised to lose a few followers, some of whom chose to leave the Down South House & Home world with some rather snide remarks.
Personally, I found Stacy’s message to be a simple one that most folks would get behind. Biden had won the election, and she expressed a simple hope that he would lead our country with grace and courage, qualities we would all hope to find in our president.
But those few reactions told me again how divided our country has become over the last few years. Too many of us now look at the United States and see it as “us vs. them.” We are too quick to write each other off, to decide that we cannot even associate with our neighbors — or even members of our own families — if we don’t see eye-to-eye politically.
So much has been written about how we got to this state that there is nothing I could add to it. And I find myself much more concerned these days about how we can all get beyond the division.
Growing up in the mountains of North Georgia, I heard talk of politics, but I never once believed that it could divide neighbor from neighbor. The values that we shared in our community were all about taking care of each other. If a neighbor came on hard times, we rallied, and who was in the White House didn’t have anything to do with that.
The old hymn says precious memories linger, and the memory of the community I grew up in lingers so strongly in my heart. And as I see the conflict that divides our nation, that memory becomes a deep longing, a strong desire to see the community values I grew up with arise all over this country.
Now, some of you might say, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy. That’ll never happen again.” I’ve been guilty of cynicism at times in my life, but I just can’t go that far. My own articles of faith won’t let me go there.
From where do I draw my faith? Two places: the founding fathers of our nation and from my own understanding of what God expects of us while we live on this earth.
Let’s start with the founding fathers and this line from the preamble of their Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Let’s examine those words carefully. They began by recognizing certain “truths” that they believed to be “self-evident,” meaning that any reasonable person would agree with them. Second, they write that all of us are created equal. That means we’re all put into this world the same, that no one — regardless of family history or beliefs — is better than anyone else. Third, they asserted all of us have certain God-given and unchangeable rights — specifically, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Now, I think anyone who reads those words closely would have a hard time disagreeing with any of them. What they say — to me, anyway — is that all of us are equals here in America, that we all have the same rights, and those words just can’t be made to square up with the us-vs.-them mentality so many people choose to live by today.
Which brings me to my second article of faith: what God expects of us. In the Book of Matthew, we see the Pharisees testing Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answers, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now, I’ve never been much of a Bible-thumper, and many who know me might be surprised to find me quoting Christ in my writing. But I’ve quoted thousands of people in what I’ve written over the years, so why not this guy? Especially when I believe these words go straight to the heart of the dilemma our nation finds itself in.
Only two commandments, Jesus asserts, are the most important: to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
I can’t really speak to the first of these, because I believe that how anyone loves, understands, and comes to terms with any kind of higher power is a purely individual endeavor. On that one, each of us is alone. But on the second one, we’re all together, and we’ve fallen awfully short of loving our neighbors as ourselves over the past few years. We’ve let politics — that crassest of games — blind us to what is fundamental to our humanity.
And I find plenty of commonality in the words laid down by our founding fathers and those words in the Bible. What it all boils down to is the ability to see all of our brothers and sisters on this planet as equals, each as worthy of our help, our love, and our grace as the other.
That’s why I cannot — and will never — allow myself to succumb to a view of the world that allows us to see each other only in conflict, only in our differences.
My wife expressed a simple wish that our new president will lead us with grace and courage. I hope that he will. In fact, what I wish for all of you is the ability to do whatever you do with grace and courage. The wish is universal. It extends to all y’all.