I have the interesting assignment of writing this column the day before the presidential election that won’t be published until the day after we head to the polls. I don’t mind. Writing offers a welcome break from the hourly task of deleting the fresh avalanche of emails sent by my political tribe-of-choice, with headers like “We’re Panicking, Friends!” “This is a Crisis!” and “Holy Mackerel!” This democracy tire fire cannot end soon enough.
But end it will. By the time these words hit cyberspace we’ll all be living in a post-election reality — whatever that will be.
The current upheaval in America brings to mind another unforgettable Tuesday, 27 years ago. My husband and I had just begun our second year of marriage in the oh-so-great city of San Francisco. The evening of Oct. 17, 1989, was brilliant, clear and unusually warm. Tim hadn’t arrived home yet from work and I was alone in the house, preparing snacks for game two of the World Series — Giants against the A’s. At four minutes past five o’clock, it hit.
I heard it before I felt it — a low-pitched rumble that quickly swelled to a roar. Then the walls around me began to convulse. “Earthquaaaake!” I shouted to the universe as I jumped inside a closet doorway. I watched as our bedroom furniture played a bizarre game of tag, the dresser chasing the bed around the room. Books flew off the shelves and I could hear glass shattering throughout the house.
After an interminable, terrifying 15 seconds the shaking came to an end, followed by absolute silence. I made it down our front steps to the sidewalk before my rubbery legs buckled. I sat on the curb, calling out to neighbors as they emerged from their homes, many of them collapsing on the ground, some becoming physically sick. Next morning, newspapers around the world carried word of the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake which took 63 lives and injured more than 3,000.
Nothing prepares you for the terrifying sensation of the ground rising and falling beneath your feet. It can send even the bravest person into a kind of primal panic. We humans have the capacity to adjust to all manner of surprises, but we have a fundamental assumption that the ground beneath us does not move.
Sometimes, though, the earth does move: seismically, as in an earthquake, or sociologically, as in this election season. What do we do then?
We return to the unshakable. We come back to the Source that does not move. We join our faith tribe-of-choice, our spiritual ancestors, who, in the midst of cataclysm and uncertainty, raised their voices to sing:
God is our refuge and strength …
And though the whole earth should change,
we will not fear.
Though the mountains themselves should tremble
and fall into the seas …
we will not be afraid.
For God, our God, is with us,
a refuge and strength. (Psalm 46)
In 1952, at the threshold of the Cold War, Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke to students and faculty at the Pacific School of Religion. After acknowledging the uncertainty and chaos in the world at that time, he spoke these now-famous words: “The highest use of a shaken time is to discover the unshakable.”
This is the Church’s task in these tumultuous days. As the political, social and religious structures roll and quake beneath our feet, we return again and again to that which cannot be shaken. What remains constant following the election? The love of God. The calling of Christ. The empowerment of the Spirit.
Come Wednesday, what will the community of Christ do, regardless of whom we voted for on Tuesday?
We will love and worship God.
We will love and serve our neighbors.
We will pray.
We will act.
We’ll speak up for the voiceless.
We’ll stand with the powerless.
We’ll come alongside the hopeless.
We’ll plant seeds and paint pictures.
We’ll sing songs and hug our children.
We’ll do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our Maker.
We’ll break bread with friends and strangers.
We’ll invite people to take a chance on God.
And maybe we’ll even take some fresh chances ourselves.
In other words, some things remain the same after Election Day. All the best things.