When I was younger, I went on a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota with my parents. We visited Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We drove through beautifully scenic areas, and I remember spending time marveling over all of the beautiful Black Hills gold jewelry that seemed to be for sale everywhere we went.
I also remember going to Cosmos Mystery Area, which includes a wooden shack that seems to defy gravity and logic. All the floors are slanted. Things seem to roll uphill. There is no center point from which to gather your bearings, so all of the laws of physics and gravity seem to be suspended in this strange little place my dad called “a tourist trap on the side of the road.”
I simultaneously loved that place and was uncomfortable in that place, which I think is the whole point. Everything is askew; nothing is as it should be. It is delightfully off-kilter. It offers a brief sensation of vertigo, while also allowing a quick return to normal.
The thing about Cosmos Mystery Area, however, is that it is only delightful because the whole time you are there, you know you will eventually leave and get back to a place where everything follows the rules again.
It’s delightful because it is temporary.
This presidential election season in the United States, which seemed to have begun the moment the previous election ended (or maybe even before the final poll numbers were in), has been so long, so drawn out, so filled with contention and scandal, that I think many people have wondered if it will ever end so that we can all find our bearings again.
From my perspective as a pastor in a mainline Protestant church in the United States, I see a great deal of weariness with the way things are and a great deal of election season vertigo. There’s fear and disorientation. Every moment that seems to bring hope is followed by a moment of despair when the ugly underbelly of political in-fighting and divisiveness is revealed once more.
I wonder if many American Christians might feel as though they’ve been inside the Mystery Area for far too long. And it is with that in mind that I want to urge all of us who might be feeling fatigued and off-kilter to step out of the microcosm of chaos and look for the horizon again.
The reality for Christians during this election season is two-fold, but I think it bears repeating: 1) as crazy as all of this seems, it is nothing new, and 2) we need to step out of the chaos and look for the horizon.
Nearly every election season I have memory of has been fraught with controversy and worry. Beyond that, even those that did not happen within my living memory have had scandals aplenty. Perhaps you remember the “hanging chads” debacle of 2000, or the campaign scandal in which Richard Nixon (as Eisenhower’s VP nominee) defended being given a cocker spaniel from a supporter. Even the 1872 election faced a bribery scandal that implicated Ulysses S. Grant’s running mate Henry Wilson.1 I won’t even get into the things that have been said by previous presidential candidates, but even a quick scan of election history will reveal a whole lot of ugliness.
The tumultuousness of this election season is nothing new, even if at times we wonder to ourselves if it has ever been this bad. It feels worse this time around. However, I wonder if perhaps it isn’t that things have actually degraded as severely as it seems, but more so that the media makes us aware of every misstep, terrible comment, or thoughtless remark mere moments after they happen. Election seasons have always been filled with mudslinging, demonizing, and ethical controversies. It’s important for us to remember that none of this is new.
In addition to that, as Christians we also have an obligation to step outside of the political Mystery Area and gather our bearings by looking towards the horizon. We cannot allow ourselves to become fractured and divided over what happens in the political sphere. We may have differences of opinion. We may have different political leanings. But, none of those things are our horizon.
The real trick at Cosmos Mystery Area is that the horizon is obscured. All of the fixed focal points that could re-orient us to reality are hidden or covered over. That’s because being able to see the horizon would alert us that things in the Mystery Area are not as they seem. The quickest cure for election season vertigo is to step outside of the chaos and find the center point that doesn’t change.
I’m drawn to Hebrews 12. Throughout chapter 11, the author of Hebrews highlights the struggles, pain, and loss endured by many as they followed Jesus. These people pressed on despite difficult circumstances, and these are the witnesses and encouragers who are surrounding us as we go through difficulties of our own.
Hebrews 12:1b-2 says this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” The Greek in these verses points to the importance of keeping our eyes on the one who is immovable – Jesus. The translation “sin that clings so closely” is also found in other manuscripts to read “the sin that so easily distracts.” We are urged to lay those things aside, to put those distractions away so that we can focus.
Jesus is the pioneer and the perfecter – the beginning point and the end. He is the immovable one we are to focus on so that the vertigo subsides. He’s the one we are to look to as we try to regain our bearings, or find our land legs again. When the world seems to be spinning with fury, perhaps more today than it did before, and when the election season leaves us uncertain of what is real and true, we are to step outside of the chaos and find our focal point again.
If I could say only one thing about this election season, it would be that we need to leave the Mystery Area behind and go look for the horizon of the one who helps us see.