The election has brought about a change that a significant majority of voters believed is needed, and it has been celebrated nationally and internationally in what appears to be an unprecedented fashion.
Divisions still exist, and resistance to change is predictable. But at least to many, maybe most, the opportunity for a reoriented tone and direction for our national life is a welcome possibility.
What brought us to this threshold of possibility has been a very complex pattern of perspectives and ideas that over a 40-year period has nurtured a narrative that gradually removed trust in our institutions and their support systems of education, science, tolerance, respect and cooperation.
Suspicion, fear, disrespect of anything labeled “other” and a dismissal of efforts to address collective needs with the dreaded labels of “liberal” and “socialist” took their place.
The presence of that narrative and its influence has been obvious in everything from political posturing and public demonstrations to social media posts. Many of its adherents were not alive at its birth or at least have lived in its environment most their lives. Its roots are deep, and its grip is strong.
The election, while focused on the latest representative and personification of that narrative, can also be seen as a referendum on the narrative itself. Voters essentially said “no” to both the explicit and implicit appeals to racism, xenophobia, economic injustice and a return to a time when certain forms of privilege went unchallenged.
The verdict of that referendum has opened a door to a different kind of path forward, which has been welcomed by many. Faithful travel on that path, however, will involve more than a declaration of “no” to the narrative we wish to transition from.
It will require the clear articulation and nourishment of a “new” narrative that will reflect who we see ourselves to be. “Not like them” is not a substantial statement of identity, as necessary as the affirmation might be in the beginning.
Reform movements typically find their initial energy from the contrast between their hopes and the circumstances they resist. That energy generally will last long enough for the movement to begin to develop its own narrative to serve as its guide for the future it envisions.
Without an ongoing, sustaining narrative based on its vision for the future, the movement will founder as its participants lose connection with the cause of the initial resistance. “What we were and now are not” is not an identity that shapes a future. “What we are and hope to continue becoming” is.
The articulation and nourishment of a “new” narrative is an arduous and complicated task. A community does not pick it up the morning of departure and hold it close from day one of the journey.
Leaders, perhaps, have a clear vision of what it will be, and others follow with varying levels of trust and reluctance. Unanticipated obstacles will be a challenge, as will the uncertainties of what an uncharted future path may hold. Many, like the Israelites of the Exodus, will yearn for the certainties of Egypt in the face of the unknowns of the wilderness.
A community that succeeds in framing a narrative that will reflect its values and commitments is one whose members will live, model and nurture its principles in large and small ways, in public policy and in everyday encounters.
The task for communities of faith and educational institutions will be the nourishing of this narrative forthrightly as an alternative to the one that has held some prominence in recent decades.
Pulpits, classrooms, family experiences and social settings can be places where this narrative can be nurtured, without the red-flag taboo of “being political.” Such nurturing can be affirming without being judgmental, transforming without hostile confrontation.
This narrative is not really new. It has been around since Moses, the Hebrew prophets, Socrates, Jesus and the heart of many religious traditions of more recent history.
It has receded from time to time as the more forceful narratives of power and prosperity have gained center stage. But it persists, even as empires of various kinds have come and gone.
When given courageous commitment in educational and healthy political ways, it can become a guiding force for shaping a future, which points to a healthier and more holistic world for the human family.
When we look, we can see that it has “worked’ before, when its vision and possibility have been embraced and diligently worked for. This should add confidence to our commitment.
It is fine to celebrate a victory, but if that celebration doesn’t transition pretty quickly to a whole-hearted commitment to nourish the new narrative that will sustain what it represents, the victory will be hollow and short-lived.