A fog formed over the western shore of Lake Michigan on Saturday halting all marine activity. Shortly after, there was thunder high up and off in the distance towards the southwestern sky. The thunder was something I had never heard before. It was incessant, roiling continuously for a full forty minutes. It felt as if I was sitting nearby a giant roller-coaster with a never ending stream of cars rumbling past.
I recently finished a book entitled Discernment by Henri Nouwen, a spiritual teacher and one of my favorite authors. In the book Nouwen tells us that we can discern the voice of God in any encounter if we have an open heart and an open mind. It is not as if what we encounter in the environment actually speaks to us. Rather, it is that we allow what we experience in the environment (or read or hear in conversations or see in the sign of the times) to provide us an opportunity to listen deeply to the stirrings of our own soul.
The fog and the continuous thunder stirred up ominous feelings within me. Once I sat with these feelings for a while, it became clear to me that they had to do with the divisions in our country. I am fearful that what we will see and hear over the next several months leading up to the November election is an ever mounting barrage of hate, violence and the further demeaning of whole races and classes of people.
How we engage in the conversation during the election season is just as important as our vote. Clearly, on both sides of the political spectrum there are people entrenched in their opposition to the other candidate. And some – on both sides - feel that their opposition is supported by God.
This leads to the question: is God playing a role in this election? An even more personal question is: what is God asking of me in these times?
I don’t believe that God conspires to create good and bad events outside of our human experience to manipulate time and history. What I do believe is that God guides each of us. And how history unfolds is dependent upon how well we listen for and receive God’s message and then how courageously we act on that call.
As a people of God we are compelled to seek the truth in this election. We need to listen deeply to every side of the debate; to search out the facts beyond our friends’ Facebook posts, and then search our own hearts for what seems right to us and is in sync with our values. In doing so, we must remember this: we are all imperfect; we are all sinful; we have all fallen. And yet – we are all God’s beloved. Both of the candidates are God’s beloved. All of their staff and supporters are God’s beloved. There are no demon people in this campaign. What we have are two candidates who are being beckoned forth by God and who struggle to hear his voice. God is calling both of them just as he is calling all of us. And what does God ask of us? We are told “This is what the Lord requires: To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
During this election season, I pledge to do two things. 1) I will seek to see the essence of God within each candidate and within their supporters; and 2) I will politely but clearly call out hate, bigotry, division and violence when it occurs.
Martin Luther King once said that “ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.” I want a president who will turn compassion into policy and work for the common good of all people. I have done my own research and I have searched my own heart on this matter. I am confident and comfortable with my decision. For me, the fog has lifted. I hope you find the same sense of clarity from your discernment on this critical decision.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.