November 17, 2016—In the days after the election, in the midst of all the analysis and in the midst of many of conversations, I started noticing that some of the conversations involved an analysis of cause. Why did Trump get elected? Why did Clinton not get elected? Why did we get the results that we did?
People were writing about the uneducated, white underclass. People reflected on the xenophobia and the nativism that was stirred up during the election season. I started seeing things like, “misogyny >> racism” and “whitelash for 8 years of President Obama.”
What I started hearing in some of my conversations were many who started choosing a primary cause, the one, big, main reason for why things happened the way they did.
This is not uncommon after an experience of catastrophe. As humans, we try to make meaning. We try to find a reason. We try to make sense of something that is incomprehensible to us. When we find ourselves in situations where we have no control or have lost control, we try to regain some of that control by understanding. If we can find a primary reason, if we can pinpoint the cause, then at least we can do something about it.
In the midst of all of this, I found myself with the responsibility of leading a prayer of confession for our presbytery meeting. The worship committee of the presbytery, thinking about the timing of our meeting just one week after the elections, expected that we might need a time of confession, of naming some truths, after the particularly challenging and brutal election season we had. But how to name those truths? How to lead a corporate confession for a theologically and socially diverse gathering of a faith community? How to speak the words of the entire group and not just one side of an already divided community?
This was something I had already been wrestling with throughout the weeks and months leading up to the election. How do we preach faithfully and challenge our congregations to greater justice while meeting them where they are now, especially for congregations that are diverse in their viewpoints and what their faith convictions are?
Thinking about the desire to find the one, big, main cause, I wondered whether we don’t simplify too much. I wondered whether we don’t simplify out the diversity of voices, the diversity of stories, the diversity of reasons, so that we can feel like we have some control over the situation. I wondered whether we don’t do others and ourselves a disservice by choosing one dominant narrative to make meaning instead of letting the diversity of stories weave a larger, more complex story that creates a space big enough to embrace the diversity of humanity and their lived experiences. I wondered whether that isn’t part of the biblical witness of stories told from different angles that seem to conflict with one another but all together paint a more complex and beautiful picture of God with us and us with one another.
So, I decided to try and write a prayer confession that reflected both diversity and unity, to try and write something that doesn’t sacrifice diversity for unity, that doesn’t silence the voices of those at the margins for a dominant narrative, that complexifies instead of simplifying to embrace as much of the community as possible.
God of Babel and richness of creation,
You have gathered us.
You have gathered us
in the midst of a divided nation
and in the midst of a divided larger church.
You have gathered some of us
from divided churches,
from divided communities,
and from divided families.
And we have brought many things with us.
Some of us have brought fear and anxiety for ourselves and for our nation.
Some of us have brought fear and anxiety for loved ones who struggle.
Some of us have brought fear and anxiety for our neighbors.
All of us have brought our sin.
Some of us confess that we have not listened to the other,
the voices that are not like our own.
Some of us confess that we have not used our voices and our action
and have been complicit in the hurt and pain of others.
Some of us confess that we have not claimed your loved and grace for us
and so diminish the value that you have given us and our voices
and do violence to your created goodness in us.
Some of us confess that your still being sovereign gives us small comfort this day.
Many of us confess the ways we fall
to the seduction of the power, status, privilege, and comforts of this world.
instead of living the upside down logic of your power in Christ Jesus.
All of us confess that we have failed
to live into who you have created and called us to be.
We confess the very human temptation to point fingers at others
instead of doing the hard work of looking at our own sin.
We confess the very human temptation
to want to make our story, meaning, interpretation of the world dominant
instead of listening for the diverse stories, languages, experiences
you have created and given to us.
Lead us away from our temptations.
And save us from doing evil
and being complicit with evil.
Reconcile us to you, to one another, and to ourselves.
We cannot do it on our own.
In Christ’s name, Amen.
Sometimes, we need to complexify in order to encounter the fullness of God and the fullness of God’s community. I wonder how we can do that better in the days ahead.
Jihyun Oh is currently the manager of call process support for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She was previously the interim pastor of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church. She transitioned from being the staff chaplain for the Marcus Stroke & Neuroscience Center and ICU Coordinator at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. She is a 2006 MDiv graduate of Columbia and a current DMin student. She enjoys gathering around the table with friends and family, watching movies with Minions in them, and being a new cello student.
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