Informal Musings
Over Coffee

James Rissler

James has served as pastor to Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship since October of 2006 and was ordained in May of 2010. In what seems like a prior life, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from the University of Notre Dame. So he can be called Rev. Dr. James Rissler, but that sounds ostentatious. The only people who call him that are public officials responding to letters advocating for greater justice for all, which he signs with those titles, hoping they’ll be impressed :-) James is married to Christina, and they have two boys, Andrew and Peter.

James emphasizes the love of God and the importance of loving relationships with God and with all persons. He believes that relationships take precedence over doctrine, and that, almost always, people can find common ground that is wider and deeper than our theological differences. His enduring optimism is grounded in God's creation of us in God's image, a creation that God called very good.

Election Day Hope

I know that I have much deeper commitments to faith and family and friendships than I do to anything related to Hillary Clinton or our political process.

It’s election day.  How are you spending it?  I’m spending this part of it processing some of my thoughts and feelings about the election.  You’re welcome to join in.

Do I Care Too Much?

Election day is finally here.  Christina woke up this morning and after chatting about other things for several minutes said, “Oh, it’s election day!”  I woke up about ten minutes before her, and by the time she said this had been thinking about that fact for twenty minutes.  What does that indicate?

I wonder if I’m investing more emotional energy into following this election than is healthy.  I’m not constantly checking Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which evidently refreshes every three minutes, like some people do.  But I have looked at the RealClearPolitics average of polls every couple days.  I have caught myself wanting to listen to CNN at the top of the hour, rather than to whatever Andrew and Peter are talking about.  I’m generally interested in following politics - I saw all three of the “calls” of the 2000 election (Gore, Bush, let’s keep counting) - but I’ve found myself more invested in following this election cycle than in past ones.

The Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908 last week, in a thrilling game that was interrupted by a rain delay and went to extra innings.  I missed it - I was in bed by the fifth inning.  I used to be a pretty avid sports fan, but I had no trouble turning the TV off and going to sleep that night.  Tonight, I am confident that I will be up until the election is called, whenever that is.

Still Have My Sense of Humor

On the other hand, my sense of humor is intact.  Yesterday, my sister-in-law sent our family a picture of a bear outside her mother’s house in Estonia, along with her Mom’s reminder to vote today, echoed by Maia (an ardent Hillary supporter).  It’s a new kind of get out the vote strategy, I suppose, sending unrelated cute bear pictures with an admonition to vote.

I responded by saying that I had no intention of voting today, trying to get a reaction from her.  While she did promise me “perpetual disdain” if I didn’t vote at all, she correctly guessed that I must have voted already.  The point of this digression (other than to include the picture of the cute Estonian bear), is that I can still joke about the election, so I must not be too anxiously invested in it.

Deeper Commitments

More importantly, I know that I have much deeper commitments to faith and family and friendships than I do to anything related to Hillary Clinton or our political process.  We reminded each other of this as we celebrated communion at AMF this past Sunday, and many congregations will celebrate communion today as a reminder that our unity in Christ is much greater than our political differences.  

I know of myself that my optimism and hope run deep.  If Hillary wins, I will hope for comity and compromise from her and legislators.  I will hope that we will engage in a national conversation about the real disaffection that so many feel, and for leadership in that conversation from our elected officials.  I will hope for legislation that addresses the income inequality that is rampant in our nation and world, and hope that such legislation increases our sense of being one nation.

If Trump wins, I really don’t know what I will feel.  I have trouble imagining that.  As Barack Obama said last night, “I'm betting that the wisdom, decency, and generosity of the American people will once again win the day—and that's a bet that I've never, ever lost."  

An Enduring Hope

But if Trump does win, I trust that it will not drain the wellspring of hope within me.  The reason for that is that my hope for our nation is grounded in my faith in humanity.  And my faith in humanity is deeply grounded in the belief that God created us good, and that while we all too often turn from God and turn from love, we also most deeply desire relationships with our neighbors based on compassion and respect.  While we all want things for ourselves, we also want what’s mutually beneficial for us - for our families, and our coworkers, and our neighbors.  

The human spirit is beautiful in its generous response to those we know.  When we recognize the needs of people, and recognize them as people, we all respond with compassion.  It takes shields of ignorance (Don’t make eye contact!  Don’t talk to the person asking for money!) or of rationalization (They must deserve it.  They might not use this help well.  I can’t help everyone.) to say no to those in need.

Unfortunately, many of us live in ways that make it easy not to truly see those with whom we disagree.  Many of us think of who we are in tribal terms that constrain the boundaries of our care.  But when we do learn one another’s stories, we respond with compassion, with some degree of appreciation for the other’s perspective even as we continue to disagree about much.  

That, I believe, is because we are all made this way by a loving Creator.  We have been shown the profound beauty of lives lived this way by Jesus and other saints or bhodisattvas.  We are encouraged and enabled to see others with the eyes of our hearts by the gracious ever presence of God’s Spirit.  And the Church, as Christ’s body, is called to invite all people to recognize our goodness and to encourage us to develop relationships that demonstrate the love we most deeply desire.

I have found myself fascinated, and repulsed, and unable to look away from this election.  But because of my faith, I have confidence that I will continue to live a life based on hope and love and joy in those, regardless of how we as a nation vote today.  

I just hope that our vote will give evidence for this faith.

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