Election PTSD

It seems to me everybody I know is feeling it. A feeling that this election has stirred up the dark underbelly of American society. It’s like we’ve been cooking a big batch of chili, and dragged up the charred, bitter, burned detritus from the bottom of the pot.
We are stirred up.
And what has been stirred up is not healthy, whole or healing. To the contrary, it’s upsetting, unsettling, and fear-provoking.
I’m hearing so many things. I’m listening to people cry, as they say they have lost friends or family members over bitter election-related discussions. I’m listening to shock, as Americans wonder about the large numbers of us who seem to believe racist, sexist, and xenophobic things.
I’ve mentioned the term “PTSD” several times in the past week, because this week, women have used that term with me. MANY women I know, privately and publicly have been pulled back in to experiences of sexual abuse, assault or harassment. Stories that we men who have been paying attention, have been hearing for years….but stories of sexism and harassment that, perhaps some of us, naively, thought might be in the past.
As Michelle Obama said yesterday, “We thought we were past all that…”
But this election has scraped all that crap up from the bottom of the pot, stirred it up, and mixed it back into society in a horrible way.
But then, I think of my African-American friends. As I’ve said many times, the Charleston shooting was the event that shocked me to my core. When a twenty-something White man can murder African-Americans in their church, it becomes crystal clear that racism, like sexism, does not die out just because the Bull Connors of the world do.
“We thought we were past all that…”
I was with a an interfaith group of clergy yesterday, and with my United Methodist clergy colleagues earlier in the week.
There is a daily PTSD to the African-American community that I am hearing from my friends…..tears….concern….honest and sincere troubled-hearts.
But then, I’m with my Muslim friends….two times this week, actually. A campaign event with Dennise in a private home Sunday, and a large event at Northaven on Monday. And I’m hearing the fear and concern in their voices too. As new citizens, some of them are confused as to how we got here…or rather, how Trump could have possibly risen to the top of the GOP field. They have a kind of PTSD from their own experience, when they hear about the Muslim ban.
Then, I am with my Latin@ family and friends. And we hear them talk about “the wall” and how THAT makes THEM feel. And I remember the stories they have told…about encounters with La Migra…with racism received from teachers….
Do you know what it’s like for me, personally, to hear Trump question the patriotism of a judge who is of Mexican descent?
The PTSD of their experiences get pulled back in too.
Yes, the situation of the past week, the sexism and abuse stories of both Trump and Bill, have caused a PTSD reaction among women.
But as I listened carefully this week, I realized that it’s everywhere.
We are all stirred up….we are troubled….we are angry…we are confused.
In the past week, I’ve been in two separate clergy groups…one a bunch of United Methodists…another a multi-faith group with Faith in Texas. And I have to say I have never experienced the kinds of emotions from THEM. Deep sorrow…as they remember their *own* PTSD, and as they question how they shall lead their flocks forward, once this election is past.
It has been said that “the past is never truly the past.”
I think that’s true.
It seems to me we progressives imagine “progress” as a straight line, into the future, where we leave the past behind. I can no longer embrace this view of progress. I now believe it to be naive.
That is not to say I no longer believe in progress. I just think it’s not a straight-line journey.
Progress, at the very least, moves in circles…like those big, winding loops in a roller coaster….you move forward, but your stomach falls through the floor the whole time.
Or, maybe it’s like the circular motion of a pot being stirred.
Sometimes, the dregs get stirred up from the bottom.
So, there IS progress. But never in a straight line. And the past is never the past.
Here’s what I know.
My political brain says that –all things being equal between now and November– Hillary will probably win this election. That assumes a lot of things. But as I’ve done in every election recently, watch Nate Silver….
It would be a horrendous mistake to assume that the day after election day, everything will be Kum Ba Ya in America again.
In fact, if you’ve learned nothing else in this election, it should be that people are stirred up and ANGRY.
Trump voters are Angry. Bernie voters were (some still are) angry.
If you don’t get that there is a churning, seething ANGER…on both the left and the right, I’m assuming you’ve literally been in a coma the past few months.
So that anger on the left and right…about economic injustice, racial, social, gender, and sexual orientation…that anger is not going away the day after Hillary gets elected.
Nor is that all that stirred up shit I’ve been talking about in that post.
My own sense is that it will take us YEARS to work through all of this…to find a new normal, where people can feel safe and secure in their own skins and lives.
Many of the preachers I know appreciate the word of Rabbi and Therapist Edwin Friedman. Friedman talks about family systems, and how religious congregations, business, and even perhaps government itself, function as a family.
Our American family is worn and tired right now.
Friedman talks about leaders and what they can do to lead change through anxious times. He speaks of leaders being a “Non-Anxious Presence.” Which means, that in times of high anxiety, leaders must not mirror the anxiety of the people, but must find a way to lead through their fear.
For those who know me, my own need to remember that message is a part of why I got my tattoo.
But Friedman doesn’t just stop there, and it would be a tremendous mistake to forget this. Along with being non-anxious…Friedman says that leaders must lead “from their core values.” Leaders must be “self-differentiated enough to not only be CALM…but also to clearly state, and clearly work toward, the values they hold dear.
Leaders must be able, even in times of anxiety, to say “Here is where I stand, here is what I believe.”
My own sense is that, especially in the church, we are VERY good at keeping people calm. We (meaning: clergy) are not so good at leading from, and explicitly stating, our own core values and being self-differentiated.
In the next months, it seems like we must be both….calming, non-anxious presence…but also principled leading from the core values we hold dear. When we lead from fear, or when we do not lead from our own personal, core values, that actually raises anxieties….and cannot heal anger and fear.
There is much that is right about America. There is much that our faiths can still teach us, and help us to move forward.
So, for all you preachers, activists, church, synagogue and mosque members…atheists, teachers, mentors….the message is this:
We are gonna have a LOT of work to do…for years and years.
Let’s get ready to do it together.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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