Election 2016: A Tale of Two Photos -Rev. Joseph L. Morrow, Campus Engagement Manager for Interfaith Youth Core

ThomasLinda sittingOur next post on the subject of last week’s election comes from Rev. Joseph L. Morrow – Engagement Manager for Interfaith Youth Core. Focused on the very real pain many US citizens are feeling after the election of Donald J. Trump, Pastor Morrow’s post is a reminder that fear need never shake our faith, nor get in the way of being able to see the other, no matter how much the ‘other’ may be problematic to us. Read, comment, and share, friends. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

The flourishing of a diverse democracy is incredibly important to me both personally and vocationally. As a Presbyterian pastor I work for Interfaith Youth Core, a civic organization working with US colleges and universities to make religious diversity a source of social strength, rather than division. I also belong to a family and have friends who represent a broad cross section of American life. So in the midst of this contentious and fear ridden election cycle, I was struck by two photos that succinctly capture my thoughts both before and after the results came in.

First photo, Korean American Resource and Cultural Center 11/8/2016

The first photo is one I took early evening on Election Day, before the votes rolled in. I was at an election watch party with my wife and young child held at the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC) where Korean American seniors who had volunteered to make calls to get out the vote throughout the day were gathered with staff and youth volunteers. As youth from diverse cultural backgrounds played in the office basement with my daughter Ella, several of us of diverse cultures, languages, religions, and ages, huddled around the TV, munching on lukewarm pizza and Korean food. An impromptu concert began and we suddenly found ourselves serenaded by one volunteer’s stirring rendition of the national anthem played on harmonica. I snapped a photo to capture the endearing moment.

It’s a scene so reminiscent of others I’ve experienced in sundry times and places throughout my life, from my neighborhood, to my school, to my college campus. This is the America I love. A place where people of from all walks of life are comfortable and encouraged to share their gifts with one another. A place where sweet music can be made that warms the heart and encourages the soul. This is the America so many of my forebears toiled and sacrificed to make possible. Despite the waves of despair and frustration, I will continue to fight and struggle for its survival. Wherever I see our government or citizenry safeguarding this image of America I will lend my support and wherever I see them denigrate it I will lend my opposition.

Second Photo: At work the next day, 11/9/2016.

The second image comes from my workplace the day after the election. Because we are an interfaith organization comprised of staff from diverse religious and non-religious traditions, our office has an interfaith room in which we are free to gather for prayer, reflection or meditation. On that day, many of us in the organization who in some way identify with the Christian tradition gathered to pray and read scripture. While we were gathered inside, one of our colleagues, Prerna Abbi, who identifies as a Secular Hindu, noticed the pile of shoes outside the room. Removing our shoes  before entering that reflective space is an almost instinctual custom we observe in the office out of respect to our Muslim and Hindu colleagues who require it in order to purify the space. But in that moment, our collection of shoes meant so much more. For Prerna those shoes were a sign of hope and solidarity. And looking at her photo I can understand why.

Each pair of those shoes represents someone who made the time and space to hold a vulnerable nation in their heart. In that room, we expressed our grief and hope, we prayed for strength to those living in fear, wisdom for those with newfound power, and courage for those who must humane ways resist. Whoever you may be in this land of ours, I hope it is heartening to know a few dedicated people gathered on that day to pray for your individual and our collective well-being in a time of deep fear and uncertainty.

Huddled in our worship, liturgy and prayer, it is not often that as Christians we get to glimpse the effect of our faith from the outside. Many times we are not aware of our spiritual imprint, but for me the sight of the shoes of the prayerful was a reminder that our presence and our commitment matters. And it prompts an important questions for US Christians in the season ahead:

In this uncertain and fearful hour, what imprint will our prayers make on the lives of others? To what purpose will we direct the liturgy of our everyday existence?

Photo Credit, Andrew W. Rennie.

Most people I know are grieving the election results, some I know are satisfied or more optimistic.

Either way, what gives me hope and life in this moment are thinking about the promise that is captured in these two striking images, which represent so much of what I hold fast to about my country and my Christian faith. Those promises stand before the horizon as destinations toward which I will step forward with pilgrim shoes.

If I may riff on a line from the prophet Isaiah (52:7):

‘Beautiful are the shoes that bring good news! Who proclaim peace, who bring glad tidings.’

bio.jpg Joseph L. Morrow works for the national non-profit Interfaith Youth Core and is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Chicago for the PC(USA). Joe received his M.Div from North Park Theological Seminary, studied at McCormick Theological Seminary and received his B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University. He is a native of Chicago where he lives with his wife Sung Yeon and their daughter Ella.


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