As I drove down I-10 yesterday, I passed one of the many billboards that line Houston highways. Sometimes I forget the signs exist, the way sometimes you can’t see the biggest thing in front of you, the proverbial forest for the trees. But this billboard sucker punched me, my awareness jolted upright and already starting to swell. It read:
Truth, Lies, and America Today: How to Vote for a President (insert red, white, and blue rectangular graphics and Dr. Ed Young’s best smile in the background)
I don’t know Dr. Ed Young personally, nor do I attend his church. I went to a service there once in high school and many of the high schoolers I teach are members at Second Baptist. I only know him by reputation and insider gossip (mostly from a friend who attended school there and considers herself a recovering Baptist). I am biased and somewhat uninformed. But I couldn’t help my fear and terror and deep wish for a sermon I suspect he won’t give. I so wish he would. So here you go: my instruction manual for Dr. Young.
How to Give a Sermon on How to Vote for a President
for Ed Young
Tell a story.
What story you tell–its plot lines and poetics, its heroes and villains–will depend on your intentions. Check your intentions, dear sir. Comb through them with fine-tipped bristles. If one thread of ulterior motive exists, revise and rewrite. Consider the wastebasket lined with coffee grinds and yesterday’s headlines.
Wear the right tie. The occasion calls for red or blue. Try red and blue stripes. Avoid binaries.
Tell a story about privilege. Ask your parishioners to take out paper and pen (you may need to provide these; the modern faithful are not all notetakers). Ask them to list every privileged group they belong to–not by choice, but by pure luck. They may need help uncovering these categories from a giant heap of dirt we’ll call the Pile of Entitlement. Here’s a sample list of categories to help them out:
Employment status: _________________
Marital status: _________________
Health insurance status: __________________
Physically abled or disabled: _________________
Economic status: _______________
Level of education: __________________
Amount of money (estimate) in savings: _______________
Renter or owner ______________
That’ll be a good start.
Have them kneel down. Have them recite the following prayer, which is actually a poem. Tell them poetry is prayer:
|by W. S. Merwin|
Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings we are running out of the glass rooms with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you we are standing by the water thanking it smiling by the windows looking out in our directions back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging after funerals we are saying thank you after the news of the dead whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you over telephones we are saying thank you in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators remembering wars and the police at the door and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you in the banks we are saying thank you in the faces of the officials and the rich and of all who will never change we go on saying thank you thank youwith the animals dying around us our lost feelings we are saying thank you with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives we are saying thank you with the words going out like cells of a brain with the cities growing over us we are saying thank you faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is
Then, give them the definition of a strong leader. Make eye contact here with the camera. Quote Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Ask them if they know the most important trait in any human. Eager followers, A-students on Sundays, they will call out guesses from the pews: Strength? Power? Intelligence? Faith? Hope? Fame? Wealth?
Say no. Say it again. No. Say: the most important trait in any person is kindness.
Tell them to build and nurture compassion. Feed it everyday. Remind them literature and music help with this endeavor.
Tell them to ask questions. Tell them questions are the pump jacks that dot the rich oil fields of their lives, the nodding donkeys that dig deep, that bellow their slow, yes, yes, yes, from the distances.
Tell them good men have flaws. The best men acknowledge them in public. An anecdote from your own life might serve you well here.
Tell them they have spectacular brains. Tell them they have big, huge, red hot hearts. Tell them to use both.
Tell them they are worthy. Tell them you trust them.
Tell them about city ordinances and local races.
Tell them about the beggars that stand everyday under the Texas sun two blocks down from your megachurch at the cross-section of San Felipe and Voss. For those who may not speak Spanish, translate San Felipe into Saint Philip. Tell them he was an original apostle of their Lord and Savior.
Tell them Jesus loved women. Refer directly if necessary to your Bible. Check the footnotes for specific passages. There are too many to include here.
Tell them of the people, by the people, for the people.
Tell them separation of church and state, poll and pulpit, oil and water.
Tell them you love them.
And then let them go.