The smell of autumn was in the air rolling down from the foothills in the distance. The sound of the now stiff and dry leaves clinging to branches and falling to the sidewalk echoed in my ears. It was a perfect Fort Collins blue sky, fresh, October Friday afternoon. You know the kind of day I am talking about? It could not have been a more beautiful day.
This was about a month ago, and I was doing what I had done every clergy-day-off (my Fridays) since April—walking for a campaign. I love having conversations with strangers about a political candidate I believe in. Regardless of where we all fall on the political spectrum, there is something wonderful about celebrating our democracy and beliefs by walking and meeting with other people. As a card-carrying extravert, there is nothing I love more than an election year autumnal canvas on a beautiful day. It combines four things I love: policy, speaking with new strangers, touring neighborhoods, and walking outside! I am giddy even typing about it.
I do pray for change in the world, but canvassing has been my spiritual practice to make good on my part of the deal.
While ministers do not bring politics to work, we can and should speak more about the importance of being involved in the process. All of this walking has paid off—20 lbs. lost, and three worn out pairs of shoes later, I feel like I am making a difference. Who says politics isn’t good for you!? Those soles were good for my soul. :)
I have been a local walker in Fort Collins since well before I could even vote. Canvassing in our beautiful community is an extension of my theological understanding of what I believe we are called to do as Christians. We are called to get involved and work for the greater good.
Something, however, is wrong. Something is gravely wrong with our community this year. Something is wrong with Fort Collins.
On that beautiful day, I greeted a man in his front yard who was on my walking list with a “Good Morning, Sir, I’m walking today for x who is running for y. How are you this beautiful day?” His response was to yell in my face “I hope you go to hell!” He held his rake like a weapon. I stood in shock before trying to regain my perennial smile and continue walking. In my entire life, nobody has ever said that to me; especially, with such sincere and earnest hope that it would actually come true. He really wanted me to go to hell simply for walking for my candidate! In that moment, I was overcome with one of the greatest feelings of sadness and clarity I have ever experienced.
Of course, he never would have known that he said that to a minister. In retrospect, I wonder what kind of anger could stoke such a verbally violent response to a stranger’s friendly greeting even if he didn’t like my candidate. What kind of hate is afoot in our city? It scares me. It worries me. It turns me to prayer. Sadness.
I have had doors slammed and hate speech uttered. I have been threatened this year. In all of my years walking, never have I experienced the feeling that even our fair city is coming apart at the social, communal, collective seams. Beyond the façade of inclusion, bike trails, and tidy parks, something is very wrong here…and probably everywhere. In all of my years of campaigning, never have I seen anything like this.
As a local minister, more than as a canvasser, this absolutely breaks my heart. Something is wrong with my beloved Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.
I do, of course, hope that you vote today (if you haven’t already). Regardless of your political leanings, I really do hope that you vote. And I hope in April, during the upcoming Municipal Elections, that you get involved and care. Be nice to canvassers, even if you don’t like their candidates. More than anything, I pray that you don’t give up on love.
This is my business. It is the business of the Church. It is the business of rediscovering fundamental ethics.
Lastly, I pray that the neighbor whose hatred was so strong receives abundant blessing in this coming year. I pray that God will bless him and his family. I pray with sincere hope that he finds God’s peace. I don’t know him, but as my neighbor in this city, I hope whatever fear and anger would make him act that way will be no more. I pray for his peace, for his peace is my peace as his neighbor. We are tied together now.
It is not the business of the Church to get involved in politics, but it is our business to find better ways of treating people. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm election, we have work to do to fix Fort Collins, Colorado, and our country. If we start treating our daily lives and disagreements like political television attack advertising, then maybe every faith community in Fort Collins needs to return to the fundamentals of love of neighbor. Please don’t hope, no matter how much you may disagree with them, that your political opposites go to hell. That is a sure way to make sure that none of us ever finds peace.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
(or just Jake)
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.