Let us talk of numbers.
As I write this, the US Presidential election is not yet decided. The magical number of 270 – the electoral college votes necessary to secure the presidency – is the source of all energy. The strange and complex system called the electoral college is not worth exploring on this day fraught with anxiety for both sides. Suffice to say, a whole lot of calculations are going on: which combination of states must decide for one candidate or the other to tip the balance?
But as is always the case, the obvious numbers are not the ones that God cares about.
Instead, let us ponder other numbers:
- 545 children who were separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the southern border. No one has been seeking their parents. Some of these children were randomly dumped back in Mexico, although they are not Mexican children, they are Guatemalan or Honduran or from another country. Children. Alone. Not reunited. Think about that number. Think of 545 replicas of your children, or your nieces and nephews, or your parish’s children. 545 souls damaged.
- Almost ten million cases of COVID-19 in the United States. All ages, not just old people like me. Some still recovering imperfectly from this illness that we hadn’t suffered before.
- Over 200,000 deaths here in the United States from COVID-19 or of complications subsequent to getting the virus. Again, all ages, all races, all socioeconomic classes, but the impact is significantly greater among people with black or brown skin, among indigenous people, among those who already struggled with meager access to medical care. Many died isolated. Some of us read the prayers at the time of death over the phone to the family and the soul who was dying. Multiply that by 200,000, and put the face of the grand dame of your church on each of those 200,000 persons, or the face of your grandmother, or the face of the homeless woman you saw every day as you walked to work, in the days when we all could walk to our churches.
- Other numbers might grab our attention: the number of married LGBTQ+ persons who are worried that their marriages might be invalidated. The number of young trans persons who might commit suicide, afraid that society would forever demonize them. The number of persons who were formerly incarcerated and are finding it more and more difficult to find a job, a place to live, the ability to vote. BIPOC persons who rightfully fear that further empowering white supremacy might cost them their lives.
I could go on. And on. And on. The lists are endless.
As much as I worry about the impact of the presidential election going one way or the other, I worry about those other numbers infinitely more. Because God does. Because God knows each hair on each beloved head, each ailment of body or spirit, each possibility for that beloved one. And because God expects us to share the responsibility for each of those numbers, each of those souls, we cannot focus on 270 alone.
We must hold elected leaders to account – they are equally obligated to share the responsibility. We must hold ourselves to account: are we doing all we can to transform the shattered world into something closer to what God intended?
So here’s the quandary. We may have parishioners who think everyone is responsible for themselves, and no one really has to worry about anyone but themselves. The natural endpoint of that kind of thinking is that they don’t want to share all that God has given them, because they earned it, darn it! And if others are in a tough spot, they didn’t make the right choices, or go to the right schools, or make the right connections. You’ve heard the arguments.
And it gets me to thinking about connections. I wonder if the one connection they lack, these folks who are not about helping others, is a connection to the Gospel. They may think they do because they come to church on Sunday. But are they seeking to be fed the living Bread? Or is it just a glorified Sunday brunch at the club, with an omelette station? Nice setting, nice music, friends…a lovely thing, but they’ve missed the point.
In these strange times when nothing is as it was, can we ask a few key questions:
- What’s the purpose of church?
- How has the Gospel broken your heart?
- What are you afraid of?
- How can you live differently now that you understand?
- How can we be a community now that we understand?
Maybe then the issue of numbers of electoral college votes will not be our primary numerical focus. Maybe then it will be mouths fed, persons with addiction remaining in recovery, homes for those without them, decent schools. But if we don’t have a moral compass in our soul, how can we expect a political system to have one?
The Rev. Dr. Mary Brennan Thorpe is Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Virginia. A RevGal since our earliest days, she is an iconographer, musician, learner of new things, wife, mother and grandmother. Right now she does these things on her sun porch, her office during this time of pandemic. Her book “On the Emmaus Road: A Guide to Transitions in Ordained Leadership” will be published by Church Publishing in November, 2020.
Photo by Willfried Wende on Pixabay.
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