by Autumn Byars, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Arizona [about the author]
There is so much noise around the federal election cycle. Op-eds, debates, primaries, public feuds, scandals, caucuses, social media exchanges, exclusive interviews and on and on take up so much of our time and attention. As often as not, public discussions around pressing issues devolve into arguments about rhetoric and attempts to assert the superiority of any given campaign. Even though this is only the second presidential election I am able to participate in, I, like most people, find myself exhausted at the thought of going through it all again.
Thankfully, our God is a God that disrupts cycles.
God greets us with compassion and, many times, encourages us to greet each other with compassion. This election cycle, I am praying for our candidates to move through this process with compassion.
Compassion shows. It is to look upon someone not as a sum of their actions, not as someone who must earn our empathy or prove their relevance to us, but as a person with their own struggles and story. When we are no longer fixated on tracking our or another’s failures and successes, when we no longer have to spend our energies ensuring that we are measuring up and doing good enough, we are freed. We are freed to do good in the world without fear, to live in and extend the grace we all need. Compassion for ourselves and others helps to undo the cycles of resentment in our lives. If my life, worth and value are no longer dependent on what I can earn, then no one else’s has to be either.
A candidate can demonstrate compassion with their opponents by seeking to understand how they came to their beliefs and why certain policy changes matter to them.
I hope to see candidates who greet the electorate with more compassion as well. Elected leaders on all sides of the aisle often seek to further the wishes of those who voted for them, ignoring or discounting the rest of their constituents. I want to see officials who work for the betterment of everyone they are sworn to serve, including those who cannot access the voting booth or did not vote for them. I don’t want leaders who are only loyal to their donors, but also to those who do not hold political sway. I want leaders to look upon all of us – the poor, the weak, the immigrant, the hungry, the disabled, the unhoused, the disenfranchised – and feel, above all, compassion. To look at us not as potential voters or opponents or problems to be fixed, but people in need of care and attention as much as themselves or any other.
CHALLENGED BY COMPASSION
Compassionate is a difficult thing to be sometimes– for all of us. It makes us recognize humanity in people different from us. It challenges our notions about the world. It spurs us to act even when costly or uncomfortable.
In a system that seems to thrive off of alienating one another, the disruption of compassion isn’t always popular. But greeting each other with understanding and grace can be a disruptive first step to building genuine, effective solutions for the issues we share.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Autumn Byars (she/her) is the first ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow placed with the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Arizona (LAMA). Before joining the LAMA team, Byars graduated with her BFA from Arizona State University. A lifelong Lutheran and Arizonan, she is greatly enjoying this opportunity to serve her community through advocacy.