12 Spiritual Leaders the Year After the 2016 Election
A Surprising Surge of Hope
by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
On November 8, 2016 an already divided America was further fractured. For many of us who are working to make America a more welcoming, just, and inclusive nation – to make the America that never was, but that we pray must someday be – the victory of a backwards-looking candidate whose campaign was marked by racist and sexist rhetoric was a soul ripping moment.
It has been a long year, and, for those of us who work in the multifaith movement for justice, our worst fears have been realized. A Muslim Ban, ICE ripping apart families, environmental protection gutted, white supremacists rally with the White House blessing, Trans hatred and violence at the highest level, an attempted assassination and now a slow smothering of healthcare, the intentional neglect of the people of Puerto Rico, rising anti-semitism, a tax bill aimed to benefit the most wealthy, repeated gun violence, and now, clear signs of the corruption of the campaign, all seasoned with interminable tweeting and golfing and tweeting and golfing and tweeting. The president is who he always said he would be. And that has been very disheartening news for those who care about a nation of equality, justice, and compassion.
Even before the November 7 elections in 2017, people have been gathering in unprecedented numbers. New partnerships are being forged, creative artistic projects are envisioning a new world and people of faith and moral courage are sharing hope and possibility like never before. As we observe the one year anniversary of the 2016 election I asked twelve leaders to share what has given them hope over this past year. Their answers range from spiritual practices, stories of people who are showing solidarity, to great works of art and their own children.
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Dr. Simran Jeet Singh: Community Coming Together
I have never, in my lifetime, seen people come together for justice in the way that our society has over the past year. Seeing people show up and stand up for one another, and hearing people repeatedly announce that we’re all in this together — that’s what is giving me hope right now. I have always believed that we could not truly progress until we recognized our shared struggles and banded together as one. I’m inspired to see the beginnings of a collective movement, and I’m hopeful that this development will help bring about meaningful change.
Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson: Knowing The Dream Is Possible
“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,” is the song’s refrain that has come back to me over and over again when I think about this presidency compared to last. And yet, as painful as these months have been – and truly devastating for the most vulnerable among us – this moment has laid bare truths about racism, fear of difference, and distances beyond geography that divide us in ways that we can no longer escape. What gives me hope is that as individuals and as a nation we are being called to wake up and to build a future story that is more just and generous than previous ones. In the Christian tradition we know that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Which means that hope is an act of faith to build the world we are dreaming of, that we can’t quite see but we know is possible.
Sharon Salzberg: Organizing Everyday Goodness
I find hope in young people I know who are newly committed to registering people to vote. I find hope in artists like Lin Manuel Miranda, who not only reminds me of pouring your all into what you are creating but also of being courageous and always taking a new look. I find hope in the newly begun organizing efforts of the Obama Foundation and in the public service of people like the NY state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. I find hope in the everyday goodness I see in so many people. I think the hope has actually overtaken the frustration.
Caitlin Breedlove: We, Not Just Me
I have gotten a lot of hope from my community in Phoenix in the defeat of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I also take heart in my belief that an organized community is a safe one: the more we organize and build the tender fabric of relationships, the more that we see it is about ‘we’ and not just ‘me’ – the more hopeful I feel in these times.
Rev. James Martin, SJ: Love No Matter What
What gives me hope are the LGBT people I have met who persevere in being who they are, seeking acceptance in their families, and finding their places in their church. My favorite story is from a grandfather who told me about his grandson coming out to him. He suspected that his grandson was gay, and so when the young man said he had something to say, the grandfather said, ‘I love you no matter what you’re about to say.’ How could that make me anything but hopeful”?
Brian McLaren: Overcome Evil With Good
In a year in which Trump-inspired NeoNazis and White Supremacists took off their sheets and paraded in the streets, I have been encouraged by the nonviolent activists who have stood up to them, outnumbered them, and lifted up a positive message in response. They have, to quote the apostle Paul, not been “overcome by evil” but have “overcome evil with good.”
It began with women marching across the country after the election. It has continued, consistently, throughout this year. With my own eyes, I saw clergy walk into the center of tear gas and flying bricks in Charlottesville, courageous, nonviolent witnesses. Through the reports of others, I have seen pictures of moms and dads, kids and grandparents carrying signs of peaceful, courageous witness, not just protesting against hate, fear, bigotry, and ignorance, but testifying for precious and threatened treasures: equality, safety, and dignity for all.
Rabbi Sharon Brous: Hope Is Our Superpower
I joined last week with 400 civic leaders from around the world at the Obama Foundation Summit. What gives me hope? Having lunch with Ken Oloo from Nairobi who is fighting corruption and poverty by empowering children to tell their own stories through film. Sitting with Marshall Bizure from Zimbabwe, who was told by his mother after he was brutally bullied, “You are being prepared for greatness,” and witnessing how he has fulfilled his great destiny.
Hearing the wisdom of Anand Giridharadas, “The best defense to hate is an evangelism of love.” Meeting Manal Al-Sharif, the first woman to drive in Saudi Arabia, who advises that when women walk into a room, we need to overcome our instinct to stand quietly by the door and instead take a seat at the table. Hearing Lin Manuel Miranda talk about love as a fuel source, and hearing Angie Thomas, author of New York Times #1 bestselling The Hate U Give, say that books are either mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors. “I want mine to be all three.” And learning from Bryan Stevenson that HOPE is our superpower. Plain and simple.
Wajahat Ali: Praising God For A Wonderful Life
On November 1st, two loud, energetic tyrants in Huggies conspired with their mother and busted my door wide open, jumped on my bed, slapped my head and sang me Happy Birthday with big, goofy grins on their faces. Despite the chaos in America, I praised God for a wonderful life and the opportunity to help, in some small way, mentor my kids into making America a country that stretches, accommodates and hugs all of her diverse residents.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Feeling God
I sat on a beach, listening to the low ocean rumble as deep beneath the surface waters ebbed and flowed. I listened for God’s voice to cut through the ebb and flow of worry, fear, grief, and in my own soul. Born of Breaking News binges, serial sprints against injustice, direct confrontation with evil in Charlottesville, and tireless protests – including one that landed me in jail for a night – with 50 roaches. I needed to feel God. Not just hear God. I needed to feel God. I sat and I waited … in silence, except for the waves. It felt like time froze. For a single moment I felt God … and l I knew I would be alright.
Diana Butler Bass: Gratitude Empowers Resistance
Oddly enough, I spent the first 100 days of the Trump presidency writing a book on gratitude. Everyday, I woke up to bad, nearly debilitating, news. And then I had to go into my office and write about gratefulness. What I discovered surprised me — understanding and practicing gratitude made a huge difference. As I grew to appreciate the gifts of abundance that really do surround us, Trump lost his emotional power over me. Gratitude made me resilient. And it empowers resistance.
Bishop Gene Robinson: Unlikely Heroes
In a world gone mad and violent and upside down, I have found civic comfort and stability in the person and investigative efforts of Robert Mueller. He is moving forward, one methodical step at a time, doggedly unearthing (and believing) the facts, pursuing justice wherever it leads, and doing so with quiet, understated, inspiring integrity. An unlikely hero in a dark time.
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III: Resources Of Hope
Resilience: Hard Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens
Greitens pulls from his background as a Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar, and the discipline of philosophy to create an inspiring book about the mindset and practice of resilience.
For The Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman edited by Ann Spencer Thurman
The mystic Howard Thurman always challenges the reader and listener to dig deep to cultivate an inner life, especially in turbulent times.
I Kill Giants (Graphic Novel) by Joe Kelly
One the most extraordinary graphic novels I have ever read, sharing the story of a perceived misfit teenage girl who is called to “kill giants” only she can witness, along with the dreaded giants of growing up and facing the painful reality of life.
Home Again by Michael Kiwanuka
This Afro-British singer of Ugandan heritage is part Bill Withers and part John Denver and is the truth!
Luke Cage on Netflix
No other Netflix show mixes theology, race, music, politics, and urban imagination like Luke Cage. It is subversive entertainment that highlights Black Lives Matter with powerful subtlety.
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May their hope enhance your own. Together, may all of us continue to love one another until America becomes the America it never was but is called to be, and will be.
This article was originally published by Auburn Seminary.
Header Photo: Auburn Seminary