Culture is Upstream from Politics: 50 Responses

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When I was a boy, my grandfather and I spent summers buying cattle throughout Colorado. Mostly of course, he was the buyer, but there were moments when, with a certain twinkle in his eye, he would let me be the bidder, nudging me to know when to move my hand so that the auctioneer knew that we were still bidding. I learned much that matters from him over the years of being a boy, some of which still runs through my life.

For example, in that same time of apprenticeship, grandfather to grandson, he also taught me to care about the common good. Summer after summer, we would drive together through colorful Colorado, from southwest to northeast, talking about the world. He would ask me questions about life, especially the political order, and expected to me know. A reader of two newspapers for most of life, he showed me that it was important to keep up with the ways of the world.

Years later, when I was ready to finish college, my professors gave me the prize for the senior student who cared most about political responsibility, which had a certain irony because I was not a political science major. I had taken courses in politics, but my interest, while passionate, was more for understanding political responsibility within the larger vocation of cultural responsibility. Some friends chose differently, entering into years of public service with political vocations, and I honored them. But my questions were different.

And though I spent many years of my life teaching at the American Studies Program on Capitol Hill, year after year engaging motivated undergraduates with the complexity and challenge of political responsibility, it was always the dynamic of the cultural context of politics that most intrigued me.

It still does.

A week ago I published an essay, “The Culture is Upstream from Politics,” and was glad to see that many were interested, even sending it around to their own communities. We have all been perplexed in our different ways by what happened last week, some of course very glad about the outcome, some very distraught. What does it all mean?

Over the very long election season, with too many words said by too many people, true to my long interests, I kept thinking that the most important book for this year, and for these years, was one written by Neil Postman a generation ago, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. At the heart of his analysis was the question, “Who won? Did Aldous Huxley see most clearly into the future with his Brave New World, or was George Orwell the most seeing seer in his 1984?” A remarkably gifted writer, Postman argued that Huxley won, hands down, and that we were, simply, sadly, amusing ourselves to death.

The best analysis necessarily accounts for complexity, and must do so with nuance; otherwise we dismiss the argument as simplistic, a reading of the times that fails to understand the times. For my money, Postman read the world of the late 20th-century with uncanny prescience, seeing into who we are and why we are with rare insight. Much more could be said.

Last Saturday I decided to ask a question of some friends, near and far, hoping for a paragraph. What do you think of the thesis “the culture is upstream from politics,” in light of the election this past week? Not wanting anyone to harangue, saying one more time why so-and-so was a dastardly candidate, but more, “What does it say about us? Why was this our election? What happened?”

In the hours and days following the vote, some cried out in agony, some cried out in glory. Whether we saw this as a “scylla and charybdis” moment for America, being bashed into the shoals of history, destroying ourselves in the process, or whether it means something else altogether, we have all been asking ourselves, “What does it all mean?” We hope that these responses from men and women of different tribes and traditions will be its own grace for you. They represent big cities and small towns, the left and the right of the American political spectrum, farmers and musicians, older and younger, and some voices from other parts of the world too, each in their own way wrestling with who we are and why we— as they must, as we all must.

— Steven Garber —

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Peter Baker

It is difficult to know how to live out our responsibilities in moments when we are uncertain of our situation, struggling to get a firm handle on “the problem.” And, indeed, as Steve writes, our problems are not first of all political. But this election experience suggests to us that appreciating how culture makes sense of unexpected or undesirable political outcomes is more difficult than ever. In our globalizing and pluralizing society, multiple cultures reside upstream from politics. I’m less confident in where I stand or who I’m standing next to amidst it all. How do I make sense of this, when people “like me” come to very different conclusions about what is good and true, lovely and life-giving, qualifying and disqualifying? How easy to feel betrayed and shamed. How easy then to blame and shame in return. Hidden cultural fault lines, contradictions, and inadequacies confuse and disappoint us deeply when exposed in moments like a presidential election. I find another teaching by Steve helpful on this point, the Hebrew understanding of epistemology or what it means “to know”: knowledge of…means responsibility to…means care for. In this era of Christ and cultures, the future prospects of healthy politics in the U.S. are dependent in part on our ability “to know” the multiple cultures living upstream in ways that are relational, sacrificial, and ultimately rooted in reflecting God’s desire for reconciliation, not our political desire for re-election or retaliation.

Washington DC— Director, The American Studies Program

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Ray Blunt

Culture, healthy culture, can be upstream of politics; so, too, unhealthy and diseased culture. One of the most remarkable things that William Wilberforce ever did was to write a book. His only book, Real Christianity, came at the nadir of his ten year attempt to transform British culture—its manners and morals—and end the slave trade. He sought, seemingly in vain, for the nation to have the eyes to see the plight of the oppressed– dying slaves, exploited women and children, barbarous criminal justice, and wanton exploitation of natural resources. All this to protect the production of the upper classes’ beloved sugar, rum, tobacco, and fine wools and cotton clothing in the murderous West Indies and the inhumane factories of London, Birmingham, and Leeds. Out of the repeated failure of such change came his extended analysis of what ailed Britain—in a word, selfishness. He saw the self-centered leaders of the nation– be they business, government or church– were primarily concerned with their own lifestyles, not the needs of others, and that this internal focus would spell their ultimate doom. Only a return to the heart of true Christianity anchored in humility and servant leadership, he argued, would Britain remain a great nation. Never once did he raise the issue of slavery though it was so close to his heart; never once did he mention the great divisions of class and mercantile interest that were the financial engine of politics. Amazingly it became an international best seller and impacted, among others, a young Abraham Lincoln. Thirty years later, on his deathbed, Wilberforce was told of the certainty of the passage of the bill to abolish slavery in all of England’s empire though not in its erstwhile, now independent, American colony. In his wake he left a generation who finally turned toward the needs of others and raised up leaders like him who followed his example. In our time, selfish elitism seems to be emerging as the core factor in this shocking, unprecedented election as the cries of rural, bypassed, marginalized America echoes the cries of others in Wilberforce’s day. Is it possible that this election marks a response to a cultural change? Yes, I believe it does. The greater question however is whether we have the leaders now ascending who have the hearts of servants and who will persist in doing the work to persuade their fellow countrymen and particularly its many leaders to continue over the long years it takes to make America a place where rancor, individualism, selfishness, and “amusing ourselves to death” give way to compassion.

Alexandria, VA— author, Crossed Lives, Crossed Purposes: Why Thomas Jefferson Failed and William Wilberforce Persisted in the Abolition of Slavery

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Laura Talton Broadway

At 8 o’clock every weekday morning, 16 vibrant four-year-olds barrel into my classroom in a predominately low-income, African American school situated in Northeast DC. Following their enthusiastic greetings and ceaseless questions is the routine of breakfast—usually simple, always conversational. That weekday morning after the historic Tuesday, however, was different. A memorably dreary morning, I watched my little scholars come to school with looks of confusion and, for one little boy, heartbreak. Joining his friends at the breakfast table for milk and a muffin, I suddenly hear his voice announce in fear, “Donald Trump is the bad guy and he won. He won and he is going to take all of our money. He is the bad guy.”Pulling my tiny friend aside, I looked into his dark eyes and saw the sorrows and horrors, the deep fears for his future and the confusion of his identity, of his humanness. Something in the depth of my four-year-old African American student cried out, because he knew that things were not the way they were supposed to be, and he longed for a world as it should be: safe, unified, gracious. “Culture is upstream from politics; our problems are not first of all political, though they have political meaning,” for everyone, everywhere. This presidential election is a profound reflection of who we are—of our sin-filled brokenness—socially, culturally, and politically. And so, what do you do with what you know? Leaning closely to my four-year- old friend, I could barely find the words to soothe his pain, fear, anxieties, and heartbreak. Instead, I reminded him of the kindness and respect and forgiveness we show to each other in our words and our actions every single day within the tiny walls of our classroom. And, even more, I reassured him that the way the world is will not always be, and Love and Unity and Truth and Grace will one day win, for everyone, everywhere.

Washington DC— Teacher, WEDJ Public Charter School for the Performing Arts

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Christine Lee Buchholz

As I soak in the reality of the stunning presidential election results, I feel quite sober. I am beginning to understand the incredible frustrations of the working class who cried out for change. Meanwhile, it is distressing to hear news of two Babson College students who drove across the campus of my alma mater, Wellesley College, after the election, waving a Trump flag and making “racially offensive and gender demeaning” comments. As the child of immigrant parents and mother to two biracial children, I’m asking the Lord for wisdom with respect to my role in helping our nation heal from our socio-economic, racial and gender divisions. For now, I know only to model it in our family by heeding God’s greatest commandments to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and then to love our neighbors well. And, our family will continue in our pursuit of the common good, as we seek justice and mercy in the communities we live and work. 

Falls Church, VA— Mother and human rights activist

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Greg Campbell

In a post-modern and post-Enlightenment era we seem to have lost the ability to truly see, know and hear the “other”. Our focus culturally seems to have become the premise of ”me first”. As Dr. John Townsend says in “The Entitlement Cure”, we give everyone a participation prize and we’ve forgotten the concept that in life there are winners and losers. But in the winning and losing of real life, can we as a culture also retain our identity while  truly learning to “hear” the others we encounter? What are their concerns and why are they important? In an age of immense cultural pluralism, can we both expect to be heard ourselves and grant a hearing to others? The future of our culture may depend on that ability to hear and be heard—truly. If not, we may quickly find ourselves in an America where, in the words of Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, “People spontaneously organize themselves into separate extralegal groups.” From that point we become, it seems, a culture increasingly returning to tribalism rather than a culture that draws strength from its diversity. For me the opportunity to learn, intentionally, from a diverse group of people, both nationally and internationally, will help me to become a better person who desires to be part of a society and culture that can see past its past, learn from it but not obsess over it; that experience helps us do better as a pluralistic society going into the future. My experience has been that all of us have an intimate desire to be known which then requires that I also do what I can to know those with whom I come in contact. Do I know the “why,” and do  I dig deep to grow in understanding? To do this effectively, I must learn to know that as Somalian Refugee Ayaan Ali says, “Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society.”

San Juan Capistrano, CA— Leadership coach, real estate executive, author, The Surprising Power of the Coil

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Uli Chi

A chasm has opened before us –
a wasteland of deafness and distrust.
A chasm whose fault lines are both new
and very old.
Brother separated from brother
and sister.
A common land and soil fractured.
Who will go for us?
Who will go to listen?
to hear the brother
in the other? to hear the other
in our brother? Who has ears to hear?

Seattle, WA— Founder and Chair of Computer Human Interaction, Senior Fellow at the Max DePree Center for Leadership

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Ronnie Crudup

Is there space for me? The 2016 Presidential Election has evoked a passion from people in my community, the African American community of Jackson Mississippi, like I have never seen before. The release of emotions continues to be very intense and quite revealing because I think the intensity is greater than even what I witnessed at the election of President Barack Obama. I think this election has brought to the surface a long suppressed concern on the part of my people group and other groups on all sides of the proverbial tracks. That concern is for “Space”. Is there space for me and my community to grow in and continue in? Can we share and continue to share in the ideals, liberties and opportunities which constitute the American Dream? What I see in this election and in the responses from the various communities involved are America’s growing pains. These pains in my own community are the results of a hope and a taste of the American Pie which now seems to be threatened by the harsh rhetoric of the election winner. But I am optimistic that these American growing pains, no matter how deep and threatening, will be positively resolved in this great country as they have been for other ethnic groups before. The American Dream is a yearning for space, a space to be more now than you were told you could be, and that one day you certainly know you and yours will be, sometimes in spite of the present reality!

Jackson, MS— Senior Pastor of New Horizon Church, Bishop of Fellowship International Churches

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Judi Daniels

I am devastated, heartbroken. Not because of the results of the election (since I was not going to be happy with either choice) but because of the behaviors I am witnessing in its aftermath. At the school from which I retired two years ago after thirty years of striving to educate thinking young people of solid character, the janitorial staff had the task today of cleaning a dozen or more swastikas off the perimeter walls. The day after the election, my friend’s granddaughter, a child of eight, was met with taunts about being sent “back” to Mexico, a land she has never seen. We are witnessing a sobering phenomenon as the rhetoric that accompanied the election becomes directed at individuals, and I must recognize that I did not understand the depth of the pain and fear of a huge segment of our population that seeks to blame the minorities and the marginalized in our society for the deficits in their lives.  So what will I do? I will fly to Los Angeles this weekend and stay with my artistic friends who live and work in an intentional community. We will bring our artistic visions, our words, our songs into a performance space and share with one another.  We will agree, disagree and agree to disagree.  We will be open and accepting of our differences. To the best of my knowledge, not one person there shares my faith or knows my God. But they know me, they trust me, they love me and they accept me—as I do them. And therein lies my vision for forward movement. I will not lose hope, nor love, nor joy. Hope, love and joy are mine to keep or give away. And so I choose to “stand in the ashes of the barn burned down pointing to the moon, one foot in suffering and one foot in hope.” (Lauralee Farrar) We will never legislate kindness or grace or mercy. We must live it instead.

Roseville, CA— Educator

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Abby Deatherage

My perspective on culture begins, of course, from my positioning within it, and during this election I have been both within and curiously removed from it. As a recent college graduate, the culture I know is that of academia and youthful hope in liberal politics; as a teacher at a boarding school in the south of England this year, my view of American culture has been prodded at and questioned by those seeking to understand. I have watched passively from an ocean away, a spectator in front of the news coverage and social media commentaries in the aftermath of this election, and have seen over and over again one common theme: my peers are shocked that the values they assume we all hold are not, in fact, universal; that while at a university, certain ways of thinking are culturally unacceptable, they are clearly alive and flourishing in the United States. To me, the election results signify a culture divide: a gulf that has opened between two ways of thinking so slowly and gradually that it reminds me of the pool scene in It’s A Wonderful Life: as George Bailey and Mary dance obliviously, the gym floor slowly slides open to reveal a pool underneath, and George and Mary dance dangerously close to the edge without realizing. Well, here we are, dancing along the edge, looking at the great gulf between us and wondering where it came from. In fact, when you examine the gulf closer, the fissures between opinions about race, sex and gender, terrorism and safety have been growing for a while. It is in no way as simple a binary as I am painting it here, but the surprise of my many friends in the US and my colleagues here in England has shed some light on the differences we thought did not exist. I am not wise enough to offer many solutions; I have struggled in the past week to know what action is right. But I do know that the divide will not be breached by politics; it must begin neighbor to neighbor, student to teacher, friend to friend, built on the firm foundations of relationship and listening.

Blandford Forum, United Kingdom— Teacher, the Bryanston School

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Todd Deatherage

For those who care about governing philosophies, political theory, and the outworking of ideas through the design and implementation of public policies, this election offered a thin gruel.  But for any seeking to understand the way in which cultural forces work themselves out in a nation’s politics, it was a virtual feast. This election accentuated and advanced a growing and worrisome divide between the “two Americas” Barak Obama so famously professed to reject. We are indeed a divided nation.  We are angry at the failure of our institutions and leaders, and we have self-segregated into real and virtual communities of the like-minded, making it easy to dismiss or ignore those with whom we disagree and, more corrosively, to dehumanize those who are different from us. When we do encounter those on the “other side” we either retreat into silence or shout our strong opinions across the divide, listening to divergent views just closely enough to formulate our most effective rebuttal. And then we stand in critical amazement when our politicians in Washington mirror this behavior. The governing class has failed, our politics are awash in money, and many feel they have no access to justice or power.  Our own appetite for the angry voices of talk radio and the vapid ones of reality television, our rampant individualism, our failure to root out the prejudices which plague us, our demonization of political opponents, and our cavalier willingness to cast aside ancient boundary stones, are each cultural forces making significant contribution to the way we engage politics and with each other. Washington needs fixing, perhaps on that we can all agree.  But much of the fix must come from a project of cultural renewal throughout the land, one marked by a commitment to honoring the image of God in each other, listening to and building relationships across our normal lines, practicing the art of compromise and walking in someone else’s shoes, finding common good activities to pursue together, and telling better stories about who we are.  These kinds of cultural forces could work their way into our political discourse and bring hope and healing to a nation sorely in need. 

Washington DC— President, Telos

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Justin Edgar

This week I had a friend write me about the election. She asked for me to encourage her.  I told her that I didn’t know if I could, but I would try. I said, either way, today was going to be hard. Hillary’s presidency would mean certain things for the world, about the world.  And Trump’s certainly does as well.  Either way, this is the result of the people; we wanted these candidates.  We take responsibility either way.  We chose these candidates, and perhaps it says something about who we are. We are all afraid.  Our world is moving so quickly, expanding so rapidly.  We have hoped for progress, and we look around and progress seems bleak. Fear makes us grasp for power, and this election was about power.  The fear of losing it, the hope for regaining it.  So, many will be sad today.  Charles Taylor said that as individuals, we derive our sense of selfhood from shared values that are, in turn, embodied in public institutions. When those institutions change, those changes reverberate within us: they can seem to endanger the very meanings of our lives. It’s partly for this reason that events in the political world can devastate us so intimately, striking us with the force of a breakup or a death. Today we stand here living in that force.  We should weep with those who weep, and understand those that rejoice.  And in the middle of that try to hope, try not to fear.  Jesus is King.  Has been, will be.  This is the tension of the now & not yet.  We in America live comfortably and that tension doesn’t seem real.  Like the kingdom has come.  But political unrest is the way of the world.  We now know this a little.  But knowing this will hopefully allow us to move in and love.  To persevere.  To hope.

Albuquerque, NM— Pastor, Crossroads Fellowship

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Genevieve Embler

There was never an equation or an outcome of an election that might have returned us to the Garden of Eden. That anyone has reacted to this election, even symbolically, as such is what bewildered me most. And so, perhaps the silver lining is that the story we as Americans tell about ourselves has been busted wide open. Rather than being a “more perfect nation,” as we might have believed, we have been exposed as a nation made up of broken people, just like every other country in the world. While it remains a distinct privilege to live amidst the freedoms that this country provides, this time our weaknesses have been exposed. No one ever likes that. When your sin is bared, your scarlet letter sewn to your chest, it is gut wrenching to turn to the world and own it. But, the business of healing weaknesses has never been that of one man working tirelessly in the shadows. It is the work of many. It is left to us, now, to acknowledge each one of us as broken, and that by turning towards each other in that brokenness, the healing can begin.

Richmond, VA— Impact Producer and mother

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Laura Merzig Fabrycky

In September 2016 I wrote a short essay in which I argued three points:

  1. Politics is not hell. Some of the most hellish places on earth are places utterly devoid of politics, which is best defined as the art of living in community.
  2. Politics can’t save us. It offers not a stitch of salvation to our hungry, restless despairing souls, but it might be able to fill potholes periodically. And, finally,
  3. Politics can be a lesser form of love. That is, a willingness to wade into the nearly intractable difficulties of life to discover commonplace solutions with one’s neighbors can be a form of love that is to be honored. Culturally, we Americans generally disdain politics and heap abuse on those who enter political life. That is profoundly unwise, but understandable. Simultaneously, we freight politics with more than it can do; our woman or man in Washington may, at best, be able to bore through hard boards or make some messy sausage, but no more. They will never salve the ache of our hearts, nor can they rescue us from the disaster that we can make of ourselves. Finally, we are evidently a nation desperately in need of love — recognition, validation, basic care, neighborly contact with one another outside of social media — and respect, where the frayed and severed bonds of affection may be restored.

“A Winnowing Wind”

If the wind must blow, then let it be searing;
a winnowing wind, fueling a forest
fire of such scorching heat that
the jack pines weep their seeds upon our salted earth.

Let us open our windows to that wind,
our hearts to that fire,
and make no repair to obstruct.
“Take what you must from us.”

Burn that unharnessed holiness upon our lips,
a living coal on our blackened tongues.
Let all breath bow before that winnowing
wind, no doorway left unmarred.

Berlin, Germany— Writer and editor, author of Give Me the Word

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Bob Flayhart

I loved Steve’s post and completely agree that Culture is Upstream from politics. Part of the problem among Christ-followers in our day is that too many in the Church feel that Politics is Upstream from Culture!  That is to say, the Religious Right, for all of the posts asserting its demise, is still, apparently, still very alive in the individual hearts of “evangelicals” even if the “organized” Religious Right has faded somewhat. It seems that we’ve yet to truly build into the fabric of the Church that we are to be salt and light where we work, live, and play and that THAT is God’s plan for cultural influence. Rather than seeing the Kingdom as a little leaven that slowly makes it way through the whole lump, many still are looking for a top-down strategy of government changes that will change culture.  If I’m asked WHY this is so, I think it relates mostly to unbelief in the Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness!  Many believers, deeply insecure in their righteousness before God because they are still seeking to build their OWN record of righteousness, want to BE right by being part of the “Winning Team.” This leads to “Culture Wars.” Many believers want to be part of a “Christian Nation” rather than rest in Christ’s Righteousness and not be overly concerned about being a Christin nation; if we truly believe we share in Christ’s Righteousness, we don’t need to be so intense about building our own record by being part of a Moral Majority.  Resting in Christ’s Righteousness, we will be free to love the world in all of its brokenness even while we seek the common good from the grass roots up rather than trying to force morality from an authoritarian top-down model. I think too many Believers are still expecting the New Jerusalem to come NOW through government, rather than living in the tension of the Biblical “already/not yet” of the Kingdom.  Christ-followers, it seems, insecure in their righteousness in Christ, often are more concerned about a “Christian America” than they are about the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven as the Church lives out its common life for the common good. Of course, unbelievers are still seeking their own utopia in this life and are also seeking to build their own record of righteousness…so this creates a divisive cultural environment where everyone is seeking their own way and refuses to treat one another with dignity and truly listen and look for common ground for the common good.

Birmingham, AL— Pastor, Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church

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Darryl Ford

The culture is most certainly upstream from politics. Aristotelian political philosophy suggests the very word Politics means “the things concerning the polis”. This election, like others preceding it, made manifest the ways in which politicians responded to the electorate with the hopes of exploiting its fears and uncertainty. The culture is so far upstream from politics, that politicians can only serve as a thermometer for the culture, and not a thermostat. They don’t actually initiate change as much as they reflect and appropriate their constituents’ desire for change. Polls, demographics, and history all indicate that the culture is deeply divided along class, race, orientation, and geography. Politicians take their cues and exploit or ignore these divisions without any real expectation of actually ameliorating them. Consequently, we – as these DisUnited States – continue the art of living alone together; feeling unseen and unheard by the “Other”. We feel uncared for and unloved by the “Other”. The culture is upstream from politics causing the politicians to incessantly arrive late to a waltz wherein its participants are losing their steps and their partners. We are left alone on this mysterious island echoing the words of Jules Verne: “It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends; and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason”.

Atlanta, GA— Pastor, Icon Community Church

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Josh Fort

The past few days have been very difficult. In the aftermath of our nation’s political decisions, I am left questioning my place in  the social-cultural reality I find myself in. I have come to question my ability to remain proactive and non-partisan in my public discourse when partisan decisions have such grave implications for the lives of my neighbors. Yet, in the wake of this election cycle, I am left questioning who my neighbor is. This past year, I developed an understanding of my neighbor as the one who is oppressed and my enemy as the one who oppresses. This election has reminded me that distinguishing between oppressed and oppressor is more difficult than one might expect in the complicated social-political and interpersonal reality of the 21st century. Patricia Hill Collins, author of Black Feminist Thought (a book I am still consuming and digesting), articulates an understanding of intersectionality in which our identities and status as privileged and disadvantaged persons operate in conjunction with one another in multi-faceted ways. I as a black man face both disadvantages for my identity as one who is a child of the African Diaspora and advantages for being a son of Adam — born with male genitalia in a patriarchal social context. Such attributes do not result in a privilege calculus, but rather come together to give shape to our lived experience. Intersectionality has caused me to ask, increasingly, the question the expert of the law asked in Luke 10:29: “And who is my neighbor?” For, proximity has led me to question in what ways we function as oppressor and oppressed alike. All of this to say that I’m still processing. I’m still wrestling with questions that will shape my view of the world from this point forward. Still working to establish practical philosophies that will undergird future behavior. But, while there’s much I’m still uncertain of, I offer the following thoughts: The idea that culture is upstream from politics strikes me as true. However, we would be remiss if we failed to recognize that politics can be upstream from culture as well. Every political decision we make as a society serves as an opportunity for culture to be reinforced or opposed. Following the results of political decisions, we have the option to make conscious choices concerning the future of our culture from that point forward, beginning the cycle anew. For this reason, we must be ever conscious of not only the political decisions that are made, but how we respond to such decisions in an effort to move forward.

Chicago, IL—  Consultant with Brandtrust, as well as pursues justice through the start up, Zeal Inspirational.

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Eric Forseth

I’ve been reflecting upon Steve Garber’s thoughts of “our problems are not first of all political.” Steve was in essence saying that our problems are primarily ‘culturally’ based. My assessment of the election, our present culture, and where we head from here has to do with a Graceful Living ‘relationship covenant’ that I developed a number of years ago. The call for graceful living is found in I Corinthians where it describes we initially see in a mirror dimly, but as we become more Christ-like, we can see more clearly in the mirror on how to interact with increasing grace. Humility and grace are key pillars of Christian living. Collaboration and teamwork works best when we seek to serve others with humility and graceful interactions. This ‘calling of graceful living’ is the fulfillment of virtuous living. Further guidance on graceful living is found in Ephesians 4:22-5:2 which illustrates the opportunity we have to interact well with others. In this season, our cultural challenge is ‘ungraceful’ interactions. Can we consider moving forward and acknowledge we can seek better understandings, and at the same time, learn how to be more refined in our civility with each other? To re-direct culture, we are called to somehow seek peaceful resolutions amidst this tumultuous political environment.

Sioux Center, IA— Provost, Dordt College, author, Holding Together: Courage for Life’s Pain and Struggles

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screenshot-2016-11-21-08-45-17Mako Fujimura

Dear America: Your tears matter because they tell me that you deeply care for the welfare of our land. Your joys also matter because they tell me that you feel vindicated from being wronged in some ways in the past, and that your voice is finally heard. I want to say today that it’s only when your tears and joys meld together that we will see lasting change. Perhaps many will say that it is a pipe dream. But I hold onto the minute hope that we can see this happen in the microcosm of our lives.

Princeton, NJ— Painter and author, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering

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Stan Gaede

The day after the election, Thomas Friedman confessed that “for the first time, I feel homeless in America.”  Artful with words—and having a rather nuanced journey as a columnist—Friedman’s  confession hit home.  Indeed, regardless of where one landed in this election, there seemed to be a gnawing distance between hopes and outcome; dreams and morning realities.  And yet, perhaps this is a good thing.  After all, we’re not supposed to feel at home in America.  Or anywhere else, for that matter.  Growing up a Mennonite, that wasn’t an alien concept, of course.  But Kuyper (rightfully) adjusted my assessment; noting our creational responsibilities as well our tainted condition.  And yet these responsibilities come from the One who called us, in the first place.  He is our beginning and our end.  We are at home with Him, and Him alone.  And so these moments may be a discouragement, but they are also a correction.  We are homeless in America, after all.  Or anywhere else our journey may take us.  Always grateful for what we have been given.  But always knowledgeable that it is—even at its best—a mere reflection.  The best is yet to come.

Wenham, MA— President, Christian College Consortium

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Richard Gaffin

If culture is upstream from politics, then it is hard not to think that the 2016 campaign reflects the death throes of Christian culture.  The Christian consensus that has informed American public life – even as it masqueraded itself in the language of secularism – has collapsed, and we saw the first essentially post-Christian campaign.  On the Democrat side this was reflected in policy proposals that, in a way not seen even in the 2012 campaign, are explicitly anti-Christian in subordinating religious freedom – the freedom to practice a consistent Christian faith – to other objectives of the state that directly contravene God’s law.  On the Republican side, the candidate’s personal conduct has been the antithesis of almost every fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and, more importantly, his public bearing and rhetoric were that of the autocrat and dictator – contemptuous of the weak and without regard for truth or justice – in direct contrast to the Biblical model for wise rulers.  Many have commented on the wall of growing incomprehension that divides the urban elites from the residents of “fly-over” country, and the shock with which Trump’s election was received certainly affirms that.  But even as this divide is real and all should be concerned to heal it, Christians must recognize that we will increasingly be strangers to both sides of the elite/heartland conflict, and will need to be increasingly courageous in living out our discipleship.  Our communities will need to become more distinctive in their love for one another and for the outsider, offering an alternative to the sexual anarchy and callous acquisitiveness of the surrounding culture. As others have argued, we’ll need to win the aesthetic, not the argument.

Washington DC—Financial Economist

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Bill Hatcher

What is the relationship between politics and culture?  Community cultural values were ever present during my first year of teaching civics (1966) in the central valley of California.  Wanting to discuss with students some of their own history and culture, I chose to use selections from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  I was denied classroom use of that novel because of its being banned by local governing authorities three decades earlier. However, during these years, restrictions on my academic freedom were few.   As a teacher I wanted my students to develop the skill of positive discourse while dealing with the complex issues of the day.  In the subsequent 16 years, I was never “called on the carpet” by any parent or administrator for using this approach; in fact I was encouraged to continue.  Today many cultural issues seem to divide us as a nation and have led to 5-4 decisions of the Supreme Court on topics as varied as marriage, guns, health care and campaign finance reform.  Yet little discussion of these seminal issues occurred during the recent presidential debates.  “Wrath” best describes the dialog between our two candidates.  Facebook became a vehicle of hate and scorn used against good friends and family members to silence the others political views.  As a result, “unfriending” since election day  left many personal relationships mangled.   Even some of our universities were not conduits for civil discourse.  It is “interesting” that the largest Christian university in the world will only “officially recognize” one political party club on its campus. Our future could be frightening.  I only hope that the next four years are not a daily recant of “gotchas” leveled at either Clinton or Trump.  I would also hope that “vengeance trials” and threats of impeachment do not make us more like a banana republic than the republic Franklin described at the end of the Philadelphia Convention.  Our current political polarization does not allow for a rational discussion of cultural values.   To do so in the present political climate is just too risky.  My concern is that in the wake of our recent experience with a lack political intolerance we could be headed toward classrooms settings where more topics will be banned accompanied by a list of curriculum taboos.  In addition, given that environment, many of us would probably be fired for allowing students to freely express their opinions.  Tidbits of divergent student views are often texted home before the end of the very class period in which they occurred prompting an ensuing email to the teacher by the parent demanding that they justify why such a discussion ever took place. So, teacher of culture, what is the safe thing to do?  I guess if keeping ones job is your top priority then have your charges memorize the presidents, list all of the cabinet offices, name all members of the court but never, never, never allow students to discuss the major cultural issues of the day or think for themselves.  If you do, not even tenure will save you.

Bakersfield, California— Retired Superintendent, Kern High School District

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Frank Hill

‘Election Day 2016 is not the first time Americans have surprised the political elite in this country. Nor will it be the last. For the past 16 years really, Americans from all sides and races and beliefs have become disjointed from their own representative democracy as a whole. We have become very good at segmentation politics by race, age, gender but have failed to systematically talk about the ‘Dream of America’ as a whole to all Americans, not just the targeted few we want to vote for ‘our side’. Call it the ‘Triumph of ‘Computer-Driven Data Politics’ for the past 16 years where pollsters and consultants and talking heads and candidates have systematically drilled deep to divide America based on their preferences for cars, burgers, beers and cafe lattes. Until now, when the majority of Americans said: ‘We have had enough of being told by the media and political elites on both sides how stupid we are for the beliefs we hold dear about this country’ In a twisted sense of reverse role-playing, the American public said ‘You’re Fired!’ to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Bush Dynasty, The Clinton Dynasty and the Obama Legacy’ and especially the news media, chattering talking heads and pollsters.

Raleigh, NC— Institute for the Public Trust

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Lawrence Ho

Canadians are a multicultural centre-left leaning lot, especially in urban enclaves like Vancouver and Toronto. As such, we were just as surprised (and to some, horrified) by all that transpired this past Tuesday.  For the past six months, I had joked with my friends in the Great South, that Canada would build a wall and make Americans pay for it.  The rise of Trump must be seen in context of wider global movements.  Anti-establishment sentiment finds parallels in the Occupy movement, President Duterte’s rise in the Philippines, and Brexit.  Canada also witnessed a third-to-first win of the Liberal party and Prime Minister Trudeau who swept to a Majority in October of last year. The results of the 2016 Elections are a sobering reminder of how out of touch we all are.  Pollsters and culture watchers completely underestimated Trump support in vast segments of American society;  mainstream media has not been telling the stories of the despair and disillusionment of “Flyover” states. Instead, Republicans broke through in these hidden places and tapped into their anger and the disempowerment of the “have-nots”.  White women (53%) and Hispanics (29%) also aligned with Trump Ideology. And at the same time, low voter turnout meant that many didn’t bother to exercise their civic duties and unfortunately get what they “didn’t vote for”. And why are we so alarmed and discouraged by Tuesday’s shocking decisions, have we become idolatrous in believing that a particular Party or Ideology could “save us and deliver us to a better future”? Have we placed too much emphasis on Party Politics?  Reminding us that democracy is the worst form of governance, except for all the others. Ultimately, we must be reminded that God is in control.  He installs authorities for purposes we may or may never understand.  (Romans 13:1)  Outgoing President Obama ran on a platform of Hope, but ultimately ended in disappointment, leaving behind a more fractious and contentious America.  Unfortunately, culture wars reinforces this Apocalyptic “Sky is Falling” mentality. Perhaps President Trump has created such a low bar, that we’ll be pleasantly surprised. In any event, the new administration carries a mandate and wields the support of both Houses. If anything can be done to make change, we should give them a chance. We will all be watching.  All the more so, with mid-term elections upcoming, and only two years from the start of the 2020 Election campaigning. As a fellow pilgrim, I hope to stand by those on both sides and pray that they can find common ground for healing and understanding. That’s the only way forward, because of the importance of the role of the United States as Global leader of the Free(r) world. May God’s will be done.

Vancouver, BC— Attorney and consultant

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David Jarrard

As culture is upstream for politics, we should recognize that Donald Trump did not create the divisions in our country his election so clearly revealed. Instead, he’s an expression of it. He’s a voice for it. These fissures were forming long ago. One important response? Let’s go to the headwaters to build the culture we want to wash away the culture we have…one that has given us a political season unlike any in memory. That means listening and uniting. Being a bridge. A peacemaker. Last thought: I believe culture building begins small, like a spring that feeds a creek that feeds a river. It starts small even when our design is large. A first task is to build and feed the small cultures that model the big culture we want. So, we start at home, at work, at church, at school. Way upstream.

Nashville, TN— CEO, Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock

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Dustin Jizmejian

“We are Christian and we are German, therefore we are responsible for Germany.”  These are the words of Sophie Scholl, a German college student during WWII, who was a part of the resistance group named “The White Rose Society.” Much like the White Rose Society, we as Christians have a responsibility to our country no matter who is in the Oval Office. With this responsibility comes choices we make on a daily level as to how we conduct ourselves.  We can choose to be degenerates about our political climate and the state of discourse we have seen, or we can choose to be creators of unity and the help within our community.  The latter is far easier, while the former is far more difficult.  For example, I may not have a voice in the national discussion on immigration, but regardless of my position, there are immigrants in my home town.  I can choose to either ignore them and complain about them, or I can choose to help, care for, and love them.  I may not have a seat at the national table on life issues, but I can care for moms who are scared and pregnant, and help those families who are a part of foster care and/or adopting.  As I approach these next four years, I am encouraged by the final words in an address Helen Dabshire gave to Oxford students towards the end of the war. She said, “Let us live, as fully as we can, the life of the mind and spirit.  If we do that well then we have the means and the power to help, however little each can do individually, still to help in the setting right of the world, now so woefully out of joint.” 

Colorado Springs, CO— Director, Summit Semester

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Henry Kaestner

I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either candidate this week.  I felt a bit ashamed and thought of going the write in route, but didn’t.  I am 47 years old and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve surprised myself either by my actions or my thoughts and feelings, but as the results came in, I felt an inexplicable sense of relief and dare I say it, joy.  I don’t know whether it’s because I think that the victor is a strong leader….one much closer in bearing to a Roosevelt (either one), a Kennedy or a Reagan.  I also think that under this Presidential leadership our culture is much less likely to decline in to a moral malaise.  Don’t get me wrong, this President has done and said some reprehensible things and made me resolved to not vote for him, but upon reflection I credit my inexplicable feelings to a belief that the frog of our culture will jump out of the pot if he goes astray.  I fear that same frog would slowly get cooked if the candidate who lost had won.

Saratoga, CA— Co-founder, Bandwidth.com 

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Katie Kallam

If culture is upstream from politics, I must examine what Donald Trump being elected president means about our culture as a nation. I think it means many things, but the one observation I haven’t been able to escape throughout this long and arduous election is that it reflects a deep lack of empathy in our culture. Empathy is a trait that I do not claim to have perfected and one that I honestly struggle to live out. But this year, I have become increasingly aware of the privileges that I have as a white upper middle class Christian in the United States. I cannot pretend to understand the hardships and struggles of immigrants, people of color, religious minorities, or the LGBTQ community. I have long been either unaware or defensive about my privileges, pretending like they don’t exist, but now I am becoming increasingly aware of the unearned advantages I have and rather than denying their existence am trying to use them to help and to bring awareness to others that need it. Jesus modeled empathy so beautifully in the way that he reached out to the least of society, offering them hope and love and ultimately in taking on human flesh and entering our broken world as a man. My heart has broken following Tuesday’s election as I’ve watched people (many of who claim Christ) disregard the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed – and even vilify them – in favor of their own cultural comforts or party loyalty. Our response should be to seek to learn from those that are different from us. We can disagree, yes, but we must (we must!) seek to understand and love our neighbors. Jesus was not a Republican. Jesus was not a Democrat. He was however a model and example for us of what it means to put aside our own needs for the needs of others, to become uncomfortable in service to others, not just those we agree with or are like us but those we are different from and society disregards or even fears. I think that only when we learn to empathize with others rather than holding onto our single issues or party affiliation or cultural comfort, will we begin to seek the common good and wellbeing of our nation.

Arlington, VA— Native of Birmingham, AL and graduate of the University of Alabama, Development Professional

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Kwang Kim

This summer, I became a U.S. citizen, just in time to vote in the U.S. election for the first time. During the oath ceremony, I remembered that America is not just a country. It’s an idea. Despite the events during this chaotic election cycle, it is a privilege to participate in the civic life of this great country. Much can be said about the sense of anxiety or vindication arising from this past week. One thing that I learned from this election is how little we know about fellow Americans, and how segregated we have become by worldviews. One wishes that the surprising results would help us realize the degree of alienation from each other, but after the initial shock, we seem to be going back to our tribal bunkers.  True to its root word, xenophobia, the fear of the unknown, also seem to extend to the fear of locals. In this environment of toxic demonization of the “other,” bridging agents who are not afraid of mingling with and respectfully listening to painfully different worldviews of our neighbors, are needed more than ever. I was humbled by the election results. Not only because it was surprising, but for missing the magnitude of those Americans who are voiceless and struggling, invisible to be noticed even by opinion leaders of both left and right. This is a sober call for more humility in our assumptions and frames in how we see the world and the future ahead of us, whether bleak or Utopian. At the same time, there are real reasons to be concerned about the state of our world. The alienation from each other is leading into hyper-polarization of politics, which in turn is already predicting a cycle of revenge in four years (or earlier). There is also the signaling in our culture of what we honor, including the personal example holding the nation’s highest office, and the coronation of our culture of entertainment. One of the benefits of the Christian faith is the perspective of a life with windows, to see life beyond this world.

The following excerpt from the essay, “Learning in War Time” by C.S.Lewis, is particularly apt for our times: “…do not let your nerves and emotions lead you into thinking your predicament more abnormal than it really is…A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in war and peace, commit your virtue or happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man (or woman) who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask. The present is the only time in which duty can be done or any grace received.”

Washington DC— Development economist, the World Bank

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Dan Kirkbride

“People’s problems are different in the sparsely populated west where I live.  The engine of natural resources drives the economy so weather and commodity prices dominate the thinking.  Distances are vast so we like it when gas is cheap.  We barely move the needle when it comes to diversity.  Congestion is unheard of.  My county seat only has two traffic lights.  Above all, we pride ourselves on our independent spirit.  We don’t like to be told what to do and too often these days, people feel like we’re being told what to do by authority figures who have absolutely no clue what our everyday lives and challenges are like.  I theorize that many in my state chose their candidate not so much seeking protection or economic gain but in the hopes of simply being left alone.”

Chugwater, WY— Rancher and politician

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Roger Laing

The Gospels tell us that when faced with uncertainty and oppression people of that day looked for one who would fight on their behalf, crush the enemy and inaugurate a long expected new day. Some looked to Jesus as this kind of liberator. Into their very real turbulence he said, “Keep coming to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”. This past week, men and women on both sides of the political spectrum looked to a woman or a man as the solution to their view of America. They believed that their candidate or their party or their Supreme Court was the protector, the liberator, the guarantor of their future. Now some have got answer they wanted. Others are disappointed and America is more divided, vicious and troubled. When John R. Reith, the future First Director of the BBC left home to make his way in the world his father wrote him this note. ‘Throw yourself on the arms of Jesus. They are the only ones who will not fail you”. These are still wise words of advice. Consider the possibility that for America this is a Gospel moment where we as Christians find ways to offer the ongoing invitation of Jesus to come for rest. This is the Gospel. Jesus is Lord and Caesar or the  DNC or the RNC are not.

Calgary, Alberta— RLG International, Chairman of the Board, Regent College

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Sean Lucas

If it is the case that the culture is upstream from politics, then I wonder what that means for the recent election. What threads in our cultural mosaic were reflected in the election of Donald Trump as president? One thing that seems clear is that character and virtue are no longer seen as requisites for political leadership. In nearly every way, Trump presented himself as a man without either character or virtue: sexually reckless; racially prejudice; ethically challenged–a man without a center, utterly pragmatic in almost everywhere. While obviously not every Trump voter was blind to these failings, for many they were viewed as relatively unimportant during the primaries when there were other choices and during the general election when the other choice was a similarly morally-challenged candidate. And yet, how different this disregard of character and virtue was from the nation’s founders, who while often not personally virtuous in every area, believed that personal and public virtue and rectitude was necessary for political leadership? And how different this was from many evangelicals who even twenty-five years ago held that virtue was necessarily for public leadership? And so, if our culture is upstream from politics (or if our politics is downstream from our culture), then perhaps this is the most troubling trend of all: the abandonment of character and virtue as requisites for public leadership. Without these, from where will Wilberforce come? And if he came, who would give him a hearing?

Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS

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Jozef Luptak

Following elections in US from the distance ( Bratislava, Slovakia) and not understanding all the layers of the American society – it is still to me one very painful, most disturbing and emotionally draining event with too many questions and warnings behind it. But firstly I have to say – I really do like America. USA is for me country of possibilities and freedom, and it is mainly represented by so many valuable and dear friends I have there. But the picture and sound of these elections was somehow different. Sometimes I had very strong feeling, that it is hard copy of one of those bad TV series, soap operas or even reality shows as Big Brother, Farm or others…( excuse me, I do not know the names of those actual ones, as I do not have TV for years now). No, I do not know – if I would be citizen of US – if I would vote at all – although I know I would definitely not vote the one candidate which would like to build the wall, and send different people back home, and which is using words with such an “unbearable lightness of meaning”…But – to your surprise – I would have real problem to vote for the other candidate too. I am just not sure, if I could trust her. This is pain, which is leaving you without hope. So where is hope to live in this brutal and arrogantly communicated society? I have lived 19 years inside the iron gate of communism. 27 years I am living incredibly exciting times of constant change of society in front of my eyes. Experiencing 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and fall of the Berlin Wall and the whole Soviet Union empire was for me one of the most life changing experiences. Having Vaclav Havel as a president and key personality was like a gift to us after 40 years of washing our brains by communistic ideology. I am so thankful to my father who stood firmly and did not deny his faith in front of communistic establishment and was sent to prison because of that. Havel ( and many many others ) set the example which is with me for the rest of my life. Where would be our society without them? Society, which is fast way turning into similar reality show as we could see in last US elections. In communistic country – culture and faith – were one of the freedom windows in our lives. Because everything else was lie and not truth. Especially politics. But also newspapers, TV, magazines, schools, work…What we were looking for was hope of truth and love – and that was possible in (mostly forbidden) culture – music, literature, visuals, movies…Is “Culture an Upstream of Politics”? May be there were few moments in history, when culture and politics have met for a moment and it was a feast for society – like that moment in our history when Vaclav Havel was a president of Czechoslovakia. But it was only for a moment. From my perspective culture has always been upstream of politics – and now it is even more so. The moment of a sound, authentic and truthful, communicating true emotion, depth and symbolic parable of the wholeness of life – joy and sadness in one moment, in one tone…It is only wave of air, which is touching our ears and soul, but it is so strong. Sometimes I feel it has no meaning, because it is the power without “power” to change the world. But it can change the individuals, and drop by drop, it might change a community, and may be even society. I feel and think, that in this corrupt society which is falling into so many illusions and narcissistic wishes, art and culture is the one which can bring the real change and open window of our minds into freedom, peace and understanding. After so many years, I still do believe, that “truth and love will overcome lies and hatred” — to many ears and brilliant minds it might be a pathetic quote of Havel, but it stands with us as a hope for future days.”

Bratislava, Slovakia— Cellist

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Noel McCune

I would just quote from Carl narcissistic -” He (Trump) is the very embodiment of the World Spirit…perhaps as never before we in America are about to get the leader we truly deserve, one who most faithfully represents the current state of the society we have made.” I think to re-make society we need more everyday family saints. Just living a Christian family life celebrating birthdays, holidays and life milestones while supporting each other through the hard times of life. Engaging more often in the larger church community, intentionally performing more acts of individual charity, connecting with others personally, seeking the welfare of the city and being still and knowing that He is God will make a difference. And by multiple small things, not to be despised, the culture may be reformed and people refreshed.

Belfast, Northern Ireland— Psychiatrist

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Christine Pulliam Melamed

I was raised a Christian, and taught that we should read the Bible, serve the poor, be against racism, shun sexual immorality, read as much as possible and search diligently for the truth. This election I have felt that these values were discarded for the sake of political power. The report that 80% of evangelical Christians voted for Trump strikes me with fear of the judgment of God, more than fear of anything Trump may do. I certainly didn’t expect 80% to vote for Hillary, but I was astounded that, given the immoral, sexist behavior of Trump, that many Christians would turn a blind eye and try to separate that from the role of most powerful leader in the world. I feel betrayed by Christians for embracing the allure of political power at the expense of Christian character. I’m ashamed they would so selfishly and ignorantly buy into promises of politicians to give them the Supreme Court justice they want and protect their religious liberties, while not seeming to care about sexual immorality that helps create an environment where abortion is needed. I also worried how Christians seemed to care less about the liberties of those of other religions and races. “Hillary is just as bad.” I heard that over and over. But I cannot help wondering if, had she simply changed her political party to Republican, all her flaws would suddenly be made white as snow. It has been hard to sort through the emotions and find a balance between speaking honestly and maintaining a conciliatory attitude in relationships. For many people, the anger towards sin has fueled much animosity, whether against abortion or racism and sexism. I feel baffled and broken by the confusion in the church about this political event we have experienced. I’m sure Satan wants to divide the church – that would be worse than any policies Trump might enact. We have forgotten who the enemy is. In The Hunger Games, kids were in a battle against each other. Once they realized it was a battle against the people controlling the game, they began to strategize against the evil regime. It has been easy to focus on the enemy being the Democrats, or the Republicans, or the liberals or Fox News. But the real enemy is division and making politics more important than our unity as believers, and as Americans. The enemy is hatred and judgmentalism, on both sides. Not that we shouldn’t speak up against sin, but we must find ways to speak in love and humility. As I fear the judgment of God on our country, this is the great challenge now.

New York City— Pianist and music educator

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Steve Moore

I always love the thought that the culture is upstream from politics. A part of my “puzzlement and perplexity ” is how did the whole stream seem to get so polluted ? It appears that we are in for a continuing season in which conflict will be a part of the cultural stream. Turbulent waters are not an unexpected part of  of the civic discourse. But the social media world and the public discourse seem overly supplied with those who would “blame and shame” and avoid or hide from the reasoned dialog and discourse needed for democracy to function. Nonetheless, i am quite hopeful. This seems a ripe opportunity for those are willing to build unlikely alliances and unusual collaborations where we agree to disagree yet agree to work for the common good. As Isaiah Berlin once remarked, “let those who must, despair; let those who will, begin again.”

Vancouver, WA— President, the Murdock Trust

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Tod Moquist

The local is global. 40 years ago Daniel Bell wrote a sociological classic called The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.  He offered a new interpretation on the history of “the Protestant ethic” of work, thrift, dignified labor and economic vocation. The birth of “capitalism” represented a long-term cultural renewal—comprised of countless costly personal and generational shifts in habits of heart and hand. Beginning with the popularization of the Calvinist revolution in the 17th century, capitalism was the small-scale entrepreneurial work of common people, largely un-welcomed by European aristocracy as a threat to the neighborhood, disenfranchised despite their business or trade acumen until the 19th century. Eventually, the burgeoning capitalist culture would knock down parochial barriers to trade and migration. The result was a succession of Great Nations. By the 1960s, however, Bell claimed that much of the “capitalist spirit” had largely evaporated, replaced by an elite post-industrial capitalism at the top of society and a secular culture of consumerism at the bottom. The wider population, now disinclined to work and save, would turn instead to the State to deliver the good life.  And the elite are only too happy to oblige in order to maintain their own hegemonic position. When Mr. Trump declared war on trade agreements and undocumented Mexican immigrants, I thought—wrongly it turns out—that rural Californians would cry foul.  Much of the state’s massive agricultural sector is dependent on international trade with Mexico and hard-working Mexican immigrants. That a very large part of this workforce is undocumented and thus disenfranchised has been published at length by the media. That they are overwhelmingly Christian is a fact noticeably absent in the conservative press.  What strikes me as odd (a new twist to Bell’s contradiction?) is that in the most recent American election we’ve turned to the embodiment of an elite post-industrialist—a captain of global consumer capitalism—to vouchsafe the quotidian values of Christian faith. Somehow the State, soon to be managed by the new hegemon, will somehow protect Christian values and restore real work to real Americans—while threatening to disrupt a vast network of individual labor, family enterprise and trade as dynamic as any in history. The American southwest is well on its way to becoming Hispanic majority region. Right or wrong it is a growing fact on the ground. One other fact distinguishes this demographic movement: the overwhelming majority residents of Mexican descent in the United States, documented or not, are imbued with a “Protestant” ethic.  That this process of migration and adaptation has occurred over the last century without even more upheaval is a testament to the slow but steady work of two-way economic and cultural assimilation. Churches have played a major role in this work, whether evangelical or Roman Catholic.  Are we all statists now, seeking to turn back the tide of globalization by fear-driven fiat?  Can we now shirk the costly personal and generational work of witness, welcome and cultural renewal for our own time and place? Can we be neighbors again?

San Joaquin Valley, CA— Agriculturalist and historian

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Alex Moser

Life is complicated. We want simple answers. The tears that well up in our eyes often want simple reasons for their existence. And yet, they typically don’t come that way. The morning after the election I woke up desiring simple answers. As I listened to my classmates, my friends and the country’s response I heard the same desire. In this search there was a created image of the “Other”, a people irreconcilable and a people that couldn’t be understood. Therefore we saw, and see, deep division. Surely politics divided us, but that’s too simple. Our culture, with its complexity and multitudes of subcultures, is at the heart. We are at the heart of this. This nuance may lead us to apathy, to leave the country or say, “We still have the next cycle”. I hope that’s not our response to this. I hope we fight for understanding; we wade in the complexity, so that we can deconstruct this image of the “Other”. We need to address this, before bridging the gulf in politics.

Austin, TX— Student the University of Texas

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Jim Mullins

As we’ve watched this toxic election season unfold, I’ve found myself in conversations with Christians from around the country who are dreaming about what a fruitful and faithful witness might look like in the public square. We’re longing for something different. We’ve found ourselves imagining political communities that are motivated by the self-giving love of Christ rather than the self-interest of the world. We’re envisioning a community that respects and partners with people on both the “Right” and the “Left,” but refuses to be owned by the idols of either party. We’re longing for the type of nuance that cares for the whole scope of life in God’s world – refusing to choose between economics and the environment; young mothers and unborn children; national security and national hospitality; justice and peace; or any of the other binary decisions that the world tells us we must make. We’re trying to re-imagine politics for the common good, knowing that our best efforts will likely only bring proximate change, but something is better than nothing, a foretaste of the feast to come. I genuinely believe it’s important to try to re-imagine a different way of engaging in politics, but we must recognize that it’s just as important – maybe even more important – to re-imagine our daily engagement with the stuff of culture, the upstream of life. Today, carcinogens are being defeated or promoted based on the decisions in research labs across the country. This week, pastors are preparing sermons that will either proclaim the Biblical Story or proof-text the idolatrous stories that eroding the world. The public discourse of the future is being shaped around dinner tables this very evening. Our economic flourishing is dependent on the decisions of entrepreneurs this week more than the results of the next election week. Right now, the very songs that will make sense of these strange days, and give us a vision for the days to come, are being scribbled on napkins next to guitars in this very moment. Let’s keep our ballots in our pockets, but also put our hand on the plow of culture making, sending the clean waters of common grace downstream to the generations to come.

Tempe, AZ— Pastor, Redemption Church

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Charlie Peacock

My belief in the idea of America has not weakened. Yet, the well-being of a nation is never better than the well-being of its people, and our national mind is not well. We are living the result of our collective trauma – a 2.3 billion acre head wound decades in the making. Consider our loss of language fluency and the decreased inability to read, speak and write. Consider how little ability we have to hear opposing views and patiently offer both argument and affirmation. Our anger, confusion, memory loss, lack of empathy and inability to discern cause and effect is epidemic. Discourse and debate are antiquated terms from another century. Arguing is shouting obscenities, not proposing alternative views. We put forth opinion without apologetic. Leaders model a culture of lies and subterfuge and we call it politics – a norm to live with. Or is it? As I understand it, in the history of humankind, there has been no better means of cognitive rehabilitation than a humble admission of failure. I have failed to love, to care and to forgive. God have mercy upon me. Help me to be a better, healthier citizen creating not only a nation good for me, but good for my neighbor as well.

Nashville, TN— Musician

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Madison Perry

In this election we witnessed the end of the attempt to influence culture via politics, but also the moment where we redefine culture around ‘what works’ in politics. And what works in politics, it seems, is not the behind the scenes machinations that are valorized in House of Cards, but rather the gaming strategies of reality TV show hosts and contestants. American culture at last has the politics its viewing habits have (mostly secretly) craved. Who needs Househunter and Big Brother when we have CNN and Fox news? Speaking in terms of culture (not geopolitics), this election’s significance may very well be a surfeit of reality TV virtues, where what is rewarded is not straightforward honesty and speaking the truth in love, but instead reactionary venting of all kinds. The fiction seems to be consuming the fact. Given that our new political reality cannot be changed by politics (politics is downstream after all), it would seem that part of what is needed for any progress to be made is for a group of people to refuse being cast into the reality drama that threatens to envelop us all. We must work to preserve and promote a measure of decency toward strangers, a desire to understand rather than to assert and vent. Our words are not an opportunity to advance a cause, but windows into a reality of love and truth that this world is dying to experience, whether it knows it or not.

Chapel Hill— Director, Carolina Study Center

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John Priddy

And then David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress.  Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (1 Chronicles 21:13).  As I reflect on our recent election and the rancor coming from all sides, I am reminded of David’s prayer to “not let us fall into the hands of men” as apropos for seeing beyond that which divides us during this season of strife.  I am also reminded of the works of God’s mercy and our collective and communal need of it.  Mercy is not merely an idea, but an action.  Mercy is the movement in love, kindness, and generosity towards another who may have been treated harshly, or a help to people who are in a bad or desperate situation.  There is a circular movement to this action of God.  God impacts us in particular ways, and we in turn seek to extend what we have received to others.  Thus God’s presence in our lives is not simply a protecting presence, but and empowering one.  God graces us, and we then seek to extend that grace and goodness to others.  In these challenging days, my prayer for the community of faith and for the people of good will in our country, is that we seize this opportunity to extend God’s grace and goodness to others, that we take action and movement in love, kindness and generosity towards each other, and that we “fall into the hands of the Lord”, for His mercy is very great.

Boise, Idaho— Businessman, and co-founder, Windrider Forum at Sundance

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Clydette Powell

“Growing up bi-culturally, living abroad with my family, and working as an adult in some dangerous places of the world has invariably shaped my worldview. Therefore, this last election cycle’s narrow rhetoric about immigration and foreign policy has been hard for me to embrace; the values which I hold stand in contrast with those whose lives have been more circumscribed or scripted more traditionally within a smaller “neighborhood”. I have loved the “stranger among us”. Over the decades, I have welcomed them into my home, and I have been in theirs. We have shared meals together. I have played with their children, celebrated their birthdays, rejoiced in their weddings. I have also tried to speak their language. I have yearned to understand their culture and to incorporate some of that beauty into my own life.  As a consequence, my perspective about others who are not like me precedes, supersedes, transcends – and is “upstream” to – some partisan definitions of how our country should move into 2017 and beyond. For politics to attempt to distill the issues down to “right or wrong”, “black or white”, “north or south of the border”, “them or us” –  ignores the personal realities and struggles of people who yearn for freedom, choice, and opportunity – and disregards the history and founding principles of the United States. The current issues cannot be neatly solved by building walls, closing borders, crushing enemies abroad, or crushing what might be considered the enemy within. In facing complex politico-socio-economic problems, we are surrounded by dissenting voices, and also by a cloud of witnesses. May America choose wisely in her response to global and domestic issues and reflect the Creator’s intent for the inhabitants of this earth. We are all pilgrims on this path.”

Arlington, VA— Global health physician 

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Valerie Rawls

In my attempt to comprehend the sovereignty of God over the past week, while consoling my concerned children, a sense of numbness hovered over my heart, soul, and mind. But, there is hope behind the headlines. “Hope is Here”, Rom. 8:18-25, this is the message Rev. Richard, W. Wills, Sr., Pastor, of Friendship Baptist church a 154 year old church located in Atlanta, GA delivered on 11.13.16. Friendship Baptist church was founded in 1862 by 25 former slaves with the assistance of a white congregation in Cincinnati that provided a boxcar for its services. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Rom. 18:24-25 “Hope is here, in my heart, soul and mind.”

Atlanta, GA— A reverse migration African American to the South

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Mark Rodgers

There really are two Americas.  I’ve had to remind one group of my friends who cheered that the Republic was saved that I have another set of friends who are mourning that American was lost.  If we aren’t able to truly understand this, we won’t be able to pursue “e duobus unum.” America’s strength comes from the elasticity of the American experiment to accommodate our differences and find paths forward.  2016 is no different than 1960, when Kennedy won the popular vote by 0.1%, as did James Garfield in 1880. Historically, we have been able to navigate our insularity through actual human interaction with people who differ with us.  This is one of the great legacies of public education and three national news networks.  Sadly, our gated zip codes and force-fed Google algorithms have made us even more insular than ever.  How do we navigate the gates without burning down the houses? Here I come back to my trope: culture is upstream of politics.  As The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael said in a speech she delivered on Dec. 28, 1972 to the Modern Language Association:  “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” I’ve mused before that perhaps “story” can save America. “How does a society develop E Pluribus Unum? In part, by walking in another’s shoes.  By sharing fences, classrooms and battlefields.  By joining the Rotary, the Knights or the Girl Scouts.  We learned about our neighbor and the challenges he faced because we knew our neighbor and faced his challenges together.  We developed empathy … I believe that the one of the few shared experiences we still have is popular culture.  Sure, there are niche genres, and certainly we can have a tribal mentality regarding the music or films we enjoy and promote, but how better can I develop empathy for the challenges of African-Americans than by watching “Twelve Years a Slave,” “The Butler” or Walden Media’s television special, “The Watsons go to Birmingham.” A lot more could be said, and someday should be.

Washington DC— Principal, The Clapham Group

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Gustavo Santos

When the first results of the American elections appeared and unleashed the power of people’s affections, I decided to take a step back and observe. It was not an act of cold voyeurism, but my natural reaction to make sense of all that was happening. I was afraid, I stayed quiet, I sought wisdom. The reflection brought to my attention the theme of the remnant several times. Trying to understand what that meant, I was reminded that those who pursue being signposts of the kingdom have made use of culture to shape their environment. Actually, sometimes even regardless of Politics. Either under David or Nero, the remnant let their faith inform their vocation to give shape to their culture. For them, throughout history, political acts have been expressions of their understanding of a kingdom that is within people, weaved in culture. Politics has been the flower that grows out of the root they call faith. Now, truth is that all of us have a faith, a theology. We all have gods, whatever they are. The way we see these gods determine the expressions of our culture, thereby our political stance, either as individuals or as a nation.

Sao Paolo, Brazil— Business consultant, student at Regent College, Vancouver, BC

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Lisa Park Slayton

“I am not sure, I really need to process more fully before I respond, but I do know this, we (the media) apparently have no ability to listen west of the Hudson.” So commented a season broadcast journalist to his younger colleagues on election night as they tried to make sense of the seismic shift they were experiencing. This insight may have been one of the most profound of this emotionally charged night, for what was unfolding was far more cultural than political. Culture is indeed upstream from politics and culture gets shaped and formed only when we have ways to work through differences and resolve issues together. This requires the ability to truly listen to one another and we, as a nation and as individuals, must re-learn this simple but vital human skill. Listening is far more than downloading a few sound bites to quickly form a point of view or mentally crafting our argument to convince someone of our position even while are still speaking.  It is sitting across the table from someone who views the world differently than we do and seeking to truly understand what they see. It is recognizing that our own experiences and values may differ greatly from another’s but that does not make us right and them wrong, just different. It is stepping back from our own circumstances to gain a bigger and broader perspective on what we know in order to truly learn.  As a nation, we have had a Wilberforce wake up call. Can we stop long enough to recognize that real “cross-cultural” listening maybe the only hope we have if we truly wish to see our world become more like what it ought to be?

Pittsburgh, PA— CEO, Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation

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Fred Smith

Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a man deeply respected and loved by everyone in our community. I realized something similar to the communion scene in Robert Benton’s “Places in the Heart” was happening in that congregation.  Set in rural Texas during the Depression, the film ends with people passing bread cubes and tiny cups of grape juice down the pews. Following the sermon on 1 Corinthians 13 and then accompanied by the hymn “In the Garden” a woman passes the elements to her cheating husband. Ku Klux Klan members share bread and juice with a black man they assaulted. A sheriff, killed at the start of the film, quietly passes the bread and cup to the young black man who shot him, saying, “The peace of Christ.”   Maybe it is the nature of a small town, but we all sat there together in spite of our differences, racial divisions, histories of broken relationships, years of political rancor and falling out over trivial and serious misunderstandings. There were people in the same pew who had not spoken to each other in decades. Former partners and ex-spouses. Disgraced leaders and pillars of the community there together. In that moment I thought perhaps reconciliation and redemption is possible, if only for a short time.  Where else but the church?  Not some lofty national amalgam of Church but of church as the place in a community where we come together in our differences and say, “The peace of Christ.”  That is culture.  That is where we begin.

Tyler, TX— President, The Gathering

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Larry Starrh

Yesterday I was roaming through one of my almost orchards, dust puffing up under my feet as I walked past tree after tree— and I was angry, I was sad, I felt misunderstood and threatened. As I was walking by each tree that we had just recently bulldozed over, not because the trees were not producing anymore, not because  we had decided to change cropping patterns, but because political regulatory policies were forcing us to… I was frustrated. I remember planting this orchard, nourishing it, harvesting it, and I felt helpless watching as each tree fell with crack and groan, not wanting wanting to be uprooted. I believe that our nation is spoiled and soft, and that our culture is so confused, so easily bastardized and so far away from God that we have pushed a part of our nation and society into a corner. A corner of desperation. Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It,” describes how simple I wish things were. “Sir, I am a true laborer. I earn that I eat, get that I wear, own no man hate, envy no man’s happiness, glad of other’s men’s good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lamb’s suck.”

Shafter, CA— Farmer and cultural entrepreneur

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Gene Tibbs (Kobina Nyametse Agyeman)

Deep, subterranean, widely-held core beliefs…

…fundamental ways of seeing life
resonates in hearts and minds
believed by massive segments of society
like an underground aquifer which
flows downward, outward from underground the causal source of/for what we value most
how we structure our social and electoral politics and politricks
like the emerging waters affecting
ground erosion, collecting…in pools
shaping topographical structures
‘political landscape’ itself
shaping and shapeless
source of life and toxic trace pollutants
sustaining and sickening
all who drink from it
refreshing the thirst of the people
to vote for hope
to often settle for death
the only water they know
the only waters we flow

Pittsburgh, PA— Campus pastor

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Christi Carson Townsend

1) The whole thing makes me sad, especially for people of color who are fearful of the future and of an entire segment of the population who doesn’t want to understand why!  2) Yes, politics definitely follows culture and this was frustrating to me that local friends were voting for Trump to save the country from Hillary, as if she were driving a bus heading to “moral decay” and dragging the country behind her. When, in fact, she is the product of a segment of our culture. And 3), if I weren’t a student of the Old Testament and particularly the book of Daniel, I would be terrified right now for what might lie ahead for our nation under our new leader’s un-grounded leadership. I am nervous because history shows us what God can allow. We have no assurance that God will continue our safety and prosperity, but nothing is out of his hand and all will eventually be for the glory of his name.

Beaver Falls, PA— Compassionate entrepreneur, Trades of Hope

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James Wilson

It is said that when Portuguese sailing vessels were seeking to round the Cape of Good Hope, in search of profitable avenues to the Middle East, to the Indian sub continent, and to ports farther east, that they often tacked very far west, almost to Brazil, before catching the prevailing winds that they needed to take them around the Cape, at speed and safely.  This journey to nowhere, that allowed them then to journey to somewhere, was called the Gran Volta, the loop.  (The Italian sailors referred to it as Gran Volta inversa — an inverted loop.)   Without question the events of the past week put me in mind of a journey that is not, at the outset, one that I want to take or that is, in its initial stage(s), apparently the most direct way to get to where I believe we, as a people, need to be.  But there is no question that we are all, now, more or less aware of the prevailing winds and all equally unsure of where we will be blown.  I guess I am still at the place of coming to grips with the deep currents and channels of which I had been unaware.  And as with any journey into deep, uncharted waters, there are cries all around us regarding the perils of our chosen course and the monsters that inhabit the deep.  But I remain willing, for a time, to move in a direction contrary to my own mapping, hopeful that we will arrive at our desired destination.

Pittsburgh, PA— Attorney

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Leigh Vickery

“Do not believe his vows, for they are brokers.” This line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet popped into my mind again and again throughout this impassioned political season. In a time where most Americans are experiencing tremendous anxiety and insecurity due to the rapid global changes affecting our homes and work, we were desperate to find a suitor who seemed to understand us and give meaning back to living an ordinary life. However, I think largely because we are tired (and tired of not being heard), we were wooed and won over by the affections of a person who has built his entire life around saying and doing whatever it takes to get his deals done. The question remains whether the deal was made with us – or for us.

Tyler, TX— Founder, Leigh Oliver’s

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Todd Wahrenberger

For the past 25 years I have worked to provide medical care.  My patients are the 5% that make up 50% of health care costs in this country.  During that time I have practiced under a Clinton, George W Bush and Obama administration and I have seen the effects that policy, good and bad have on the people that I serve.  However, having read Steve Garber’s essay, I agree that culture is upstream for politics and that what has happened during this election says a lot about our culture, what we know, what we believe, and what we love.  Because the election was so close in number, we know that there are generally two camps that appear to differ a great deal in what they believe and this is reflected in their respective political candidate to some degree. But what does each group have in common? Both groups have anger and fear in abundance. From what I know about the way our minds are made, anger and fear are manifestations of a deeper emotion.  Sadness is almost always under both anger and fear.   Each group feels that our society has forgotten them or abandoned them.  I know I can say that the patients I care for every day feel that way. They are sad that they may lose their housing, their medical care, and their transportation.   Many of them work, many cannot, but it’s not enough to keep body and soul together.    They are sad when they see a loved one in the grips of addiction, who finally has the courage to fight this disease (it is a disease, but unlike many others the patient much choose to get better) only to find out there are no services available and all the detox beds are full.  It goes on and on.  But, what is our response to all of this sadness, this disappointment?  Do we stoke the flames of anger and fear?   The gift that William Wilberforce and Walker Percy show us is that meaningful change only comes from making those around us aware of the injustices (sadness) in our society and our responsibility to act.  Knowing what I know about those in my community with severe mental illness, and knowing my gifts and temperament, I have worked along side those who need assistance, using whatever recourses are available in our community.  Although I have fear and anger and yes, sadness over the outcome of the presidential election, for what it will mean to the person’s served in my work place (repealing the Affordable Care Act will not benefit my patients), it is my underlying belief that every life is made in God’s image and worthy of love and belonging.  So knowing, I will continue to work the work that I have been given to do, sharing with others, making them aware of the injustices I see and reminding them of our responsibility to act.

Pittsburgh, PA— Medical Director at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System

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Yihao Z.

Living in Asia for the last 10 years and coming back to the USA periodically, I am often dumbfounded by the cultural changes that have occurred in the US since I first stepped my feet in this “Land of Free” near 25 years ago.   Similar to your story, I find it ironic that I have had amazing freedom in this supposedly closed Asian country that is not bound by the political correctness in America.   It excites me every morning when I wake up to realize that I have the privilege and freedom to be a signpost in this Asian country so loved and blessed by God.  The purpose of the signpost is to point people to the truth and point people to God’s calling for all of us, which I believe is “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as It is in Heaven”.  This election is an attempt by the multiple cultural forces to define who America is and what America is all about.  I have no illusion that American politics has changed with this 47% vs. 48% popularity voting results, but I pray God will use this new administration and his people to serve as signposts to change the American culture thru American politics, or more importantly to change the culture thru us.  As for me, I will continue to purse my mission in life, “To use my futuristic / ideation skills to influence business professionals and bring redemptive meanings to the marketplace”.

Asia— Businessman

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Luke Zubrod

America’s vote this week and the impoverished state of political discourse that embodied the presidential campaign are in part a reflection of a multi-decade shift toward social isolation. For all the wonders of the modern age in allowing us to stay connected to a far flung web of contacts, we often do so in forums that emphasize self-expression rather than interaction, and that have ultimately served to reduce human connection. The breakdown of the “information commons” has served to isolate us from media sources that challenge our beliefs. Our growing distrust in institutions has muted forces that in prior generations were central to community life. We are domiciled in zip codes with those who are much like us. In this age of expression and isolation, we have limited means through which to cultivate empathy with those who see the world and experience it differently. While there are no easy means of addressing these realities of modern life, we can begin to forge a better path through a simple, timeless, and powerful means: by asking questions. Questions are the wellspring of dignity, conveying interest, stoking the embers of empathy, and reminding us of our common humanity. They reset the context from isolation to engagement. They enlarge our perspective and season it with healthy, even if sometimes uncomfortable, tensions. If we are to create a better political conversation, it will not least be because we ask each other better questions.

Philadelphia, PA— Consultant, Chatham Financial

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