Editor’s Note: This essay is taken from Keeping the Faith: Reflections on Politics and Christianity in the Era of Trump and Beyond. Each week between now and Election Day 2020, we will be sharing new excerpts from this anthology of dissent.
It’s an interesting position to write about American politics as a Kanaka Maoli who loves Jesus. It’s almost like asking the exiles about the Babylonian Empire or the Jews of Jesus’ day for their thoughts on Rome. Whether it be the mass death that swept across our islands and devastated a population of nearly one million before 1778, causing it to dwindle to just above 40,000 a century later; the illegal overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani, Hawaiʻi’s last reigning monarch at the hands of American missionary descendants backed by the might of the U.S. marines in 1893; or the continued occupation of our islands by the United States government and subsequent attempts to strip us of our lands, language, culture, and identity; we have become intimately familiar with the pouli, the darkness. It’s a good thing the book of Genesis reminds us that life began in darkness.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:1-2, NASB)
I kinohi hana ke Akua i ka lani a me ka honua. He ʻano ʻole ka honua, ua ʻōlohelohe; a ma luna nō o ka hohonu ka pouli. Hoʻopūnana ihola ka ʻUhane o ke Akua ma luna o ka wai. (Kinohi 1:1-2). [Emphasis added].
When I read the account from Genesis 1, I cannot help but feel as if we are in the thick of that first night. Before light. Before breath. In the depths of the void, the weight of the night can sometimes feel unbearable. Here we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic; mounting economic crises; a growing racial divide evidenced by the continued murder of Black men, women, and people; and the devaluing of human lives along racial, economic, gender, political, religious, and cultural lines. The dark of the night is sometimes so thick it’s hard to breathe …
I remember all too vividly the night of Trump’s election. I recognize now that the stillness and rush of those memories are consistent with trauma. It’s as if everything was happening in slow motion as the world around rushed by. Past the initial shock, the looming cloud of sorrow began to set in. Four years … Knowing that I needed to find a safe place to fall apart, I went to visit a friend, and through the glow of street lights and on the mat of woven hala, we lay on the floor and wept. There weren’t any words, not yet, just tears and the comfort of knowing we weren’t alone. Perhaps then the next four years wouldn’t seem so long …
Hoʻopūnana ihola ka ʻUhane o ke Akua ma luna o ka wai (Kinohi 1:2)
The Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:2, NASB)
As it was during the creation of one honua (the earth), and our own forming in the darkness of another honua (the womb), our spirits recognized the vibration of ke Akua’s presence, brooding and hovering (hoʻopūnana) above. And though we sensed it, all that flowed out were tears and the sounds of lament.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Rom. 8:26, NIV)
In times of darkness, when we are completely undone, what else is there to do but to cry out, allowing those tears to become prayers for tomorrow and trusting the Holy Spirit with the rest? As we wept, we planted seeds of prayer for our children, grandchildren, and generations yet to be born (Ps. 126:5-6). We joined with mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers who, through times of sorrow, sowed prayers of hope for us long before we entered this world.
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Ps. 126:5, NIV)
I suppose it’s true that seeds must enter a time of darkness and take root before they pierce forth into the light . . .
From the start of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s words had been insensitive, crude, and essentializing. Though many either laughed or shrugged them off, his language and demeanor carried both a pride and contempt that felt dangerous to me.
I ka ʻōlelo no ke ola, i ka ʻōlelo no ka make.
In the spoken word there is life/healing, in the spoken word is death. (Mary Kawena Pukui 1983)
This ʻōlelo noʻeau, or proverb, reminds us of the power of our words to bring both life and death. As Kānaka, we are taught that the words we speak have mana (power) that affect the physical and spiritual environments beyond what we might know or experience in our lifetime. Each thought released in speech becomes like a seed planted that will eventually bear fruit. We see this reflected in our language as, “hua,” the word for seed is present in both the word “hua ʻai”, or “fruit” (literally “seed that is eaten”), as well as in “hua ʻōlelo”, or “word” (literally “seed of speech”). Thus, there is the constant reminder that the seeds we sow, through our prayers, thoughts, words, and actions, will indeed yield fruit of some sort. It is our responsibility and privilege to be incredibly mindful of the fruit we cultivate for ourselves and for future generations. Proverbs 18:21 reflects these sentiments exactly: The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV)
Jesus’ life on earth was a perfect example of ke Akua’s original intention for us as people. Doing nothing apart from His Father, He demonstrated how to operate in grace, speaking a truth that disrupted unjust systems and brought healing and repentance. We see Him consistently rebuke the Pharisees and religious teachers, who had become condemning, exclusionary, and elitist. Instead, He intentionally transcended the social, political, religious, and cultural barriers of His time in order to seek out and elevate those considered outcast in society.
In the gospel of John, a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus by a group of scribes and Pharisees (no mention, of course, was made of the man she was found with, who by the law should also have been held accountable). In this instance, Jesus’ words had real power to bring death to this woman. However, He invited those without sin to cast the first stone, shining light on the truth that each one of her accusers was a sinner. One by one, they left. After affirming that He would not condemn her, Jesus instructed the woman to go from there and to leave her life of sin (John 8:3-11).
Jesus used His voice to speak truth that challenged the religious authorities of His day. His proposition that the one without sin be the one to cast the first stone called into question their façade of holiness and superiority. Furthermore, when viewed alongside another encounter Jesus has with women in all four gospels, we see His intentionality to elevate female voices in a male dominant society (John 4:5-42; Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). In this instance, Jesus used his voice as a man to challenge other men and to extend grace to a woman threatened with death, not only saving her physical life but also drawing her closer to the Lord.
We are called to do the same. Considering Jesus’ example, I think it important to ask: How might Donald Trump’s words and actions reflect the superiority and contempt that Jesus called into question? How might a failure to address these issues create a silence that has critical and potentially devastating effects?