The last time I felt this spiritually sickened after a presidential election was in 1980. I was a journalism student at Western Washington University in Bellingham when Ronald Reagan was elected. Now I wish that my next sentence could be something like “and everything turned out OK,” but it didn’t. In 1980 the environment was my most important issue, and Reagan was no friend of my precious trees. His appointment of James Watt as Secretary of the Interior was tantamount to making Al Capone the chief of police of Chicago. My distaste for Reagan got even more personal due to that thing called “gay cancer.” With Reagan’s inaction and silence concerning AIDS it was up to those of us in the community, with some help from city and state government, to bear the load of caring for our brothers and sisters and searching for treatments and cures. I could go on…
No, everything was not “all right” in the 1980s and it probably won’t be this time around either. But that does not mean that we cannot survive, even thrive as a people, a church, a city, a state, a nation. What happens next does not only depend on one man. The future depends on all of us.
It is often said that we in the Puget Sound region live in a bubble. Liberal Democrats are not a rarity here, but the rule. Voters supported marriage equality before the Supreme Court ruling made it a national phenomenon. Our local economy is booming, and thousands of people have benefited. Many are actively working to spread those benefits to a higher percentage of our population. In the 1980s, our bubble extended to the environment and AIDS. In college I lived with an environmental sciences major, and we started recycling when that still required filling the back porch with pickle jars and then taking them somewhere. Locally our response to AIDS was broad and compassionate. I had the honor of helping fund the construction of Bailey-Boushay House, and volunteered there for the first two years that it was open.
Seattle First Baptist also can seem like a bubble – a bubble within a bubble. Our mixture of evolutionary theology, hospitality, and loving the questions of life are rare, but certainly not new for us. We ordained a woman in the 1800s (before she could legally vote). During World War II we reached out to our neighbors of Japanese descent who were interred by order of that paragon of the Democratic party, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our church provided a safe place for gay men to meet and talk in the 1960s, before the Stonewall Riots. Today we share our facilities with a synagogue and last summer we welcomed a Muslim to our pulpit.
My husband and I have traveled all over this nation on bicycle, meeting people and depending on the kindness of strangers in states from coast to coast. We’ve come to appreciate our Seattle bubble, and our SFBC bubble, but we also know that we do not have a corner on kindness, or generosity, or curiosity, or intelligence. We’ve chatted with a proud father in rural Virginia whose daughter had just won a scholarship to college. We’ve been invited into the homes of farmers in Missouri and Kansas for food and shelter. Truckers in Eastern Washington have gone out of their way to give us room on the road. People everywhere have been eager to share their stories, and even hear ours. We’ve also had some scary times bordering on vehicular assault, but most of those happened in “blue” places like Colorado and right here in Seattle.
Aggressive drivers aside, we do live in a bubble, and worship at a bubble within that bubble, and it’s up to us to make sure it stays that way. Because our world needs bubbles. We’ve always needed bubbles – places where it’s safe even for the latest “out” group. And I predict we will always need them. The arc of history may bend toward justice, but fear and greed aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon.
Funny thing about bubbles. They only exist when there is enough pressure inside to keep them from collapsing. So it’s up to us, we bubble dwellers, to keep our bubbles inflated, and growing. In the 1980s and 90s I needed a city bubble and a church bubble where I could be a gay man without being marginalized or kicked out. Someday soon our Muslim neighbors may need us to provide them with safe places to live and work and worship. Society will always have its “out” groups. And we bubble people need to be ready to welcome them.