Keeping the Faith in Myself and My Neighbor
November 5, 2020
Raja Gopal Bhattar, Ph.D., (they/them/theirs) hails from a long lineage of Hindu spiritual leaders from the Srivaishnava tradition. They are a higher education leader, advocate, and consultant. Bhattar is a 2020 Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.
As a kid, Election Night used to be a fun experience of watching the television and reflecting on how diverse and awesome our nation is while also having faith that all want the best for everyone in this country. The last few years have been a bit less comforting. While I believe in this democratic process, I continue to be dismayed by the number of people in this country who are using faith to support a president that is anything but faithful to any values that make our nation a great democracy. Seeing the map continue to skew red and noticing my anxiety rise has become a normal experience now, not only on Election Night but in the weeks prior as well. Usually, I find myself stress eating desserts and unable to get out of bed.
I believe in our country and the vision for better futures for all of us. Though many of us are not who the founding fathers envisioned as the electorate, we have and continue to be the most diverse nation with rich cultural traditions. I understand that we have different perspectives on religion, history and maybe even what foreign relations will be beneficial for our future. What I don’t understand is how so many people in our country support a president that has repeatedly used religion when beneficial to his gain while lying, having extramarital affairs, and endangering the lives of thousands of children through his immigration policies. I am honestly not sure. I just don’t understand how so much of this country can vote for a candidate and a party that continues to disenfranchise so many of our communities. I don’t understand how we can’t see the ways our values are being attacked. And yet, I continue to keep the faith.
How can we heal as a nation when we can’t listen to each other? How can we build communities when we can’t even exchange hugs or break bread together? Jesus spoke about loving thy neighbor yet, it feels like I don’t even know these neighbors who can fathom another four years of the current administration. It has been difficult but I’ve been attempting to actually listen to concerns my neighbors have about the state of our world. Having these conversations does not feel comfortable, yet I do believe that as a country we can learn to be more uncomfortable. Yet, being uncomfortable and feeling unsafe are two extremely different experiences. And for many of us who have historically and currently marginalized identities, the line between these two contexts are extremely thin. I find myself living my life in a more defensive state than ever in my life. Being Brown, queer, immigrant, and genderfluid does not feel safe under the current administration. And while people are using the economy as justification for a Trump vote, I can’t help but feel that it is simply a cover for other “isms” that are maybe full of shame. Yet I can do more too. I can be intentional about clarifying my own threshold for what situations are unsafe vs. uncomfortable and when appropriate, leaning into the discomfort. My mother used to say, you can’t have fire without friction. I believe our country is in a moment of friction which will define not only the next four years but the foreseeable future of our country and indeed the world.
I am feeling a bit optimistic by Vice President Biden’s words on election night: “Keep the faith.” My faith in our country, our democracy and my neighbors is on the table. While I’m struggling to find this faith in my neighbors who are voting against what feels like even my basic existence, I’m choosing to have faith in a higher power. My spirituality requires me to be hopeful. Hopeful that this election outcome will continue to push us as a nation to make more spaces for conversations across difference, not just in politics but in our daily lives. We can do better. During the wee hours of election night, I heard a newscaster evening state, “This is a divided country and that’s not surprising.” We are a complicated country and I choose to be hopeful that we will find healing. I choose to believe in the basic goodness of my neighbors. It’s not going to be easy and the current election isn’t as decisive as I had hoped it would be. But that just means we have more conversations to be had. As a Brown person, I know I can have conversations on politics especially as it relates to #BLM and racial justice in ways that do not impact me at the same level as my Black friends and family. And therefore I choose to insert myself and have those conversations that will help us find a path together. We have more work to do. We have more healing to do. We have more conversations to have.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life