Later this month and in early September, tens of thousands will descend upon Tampa and then Charlotte for the Republican and Democratic national conventions. We clergy welcome our guests.
A nine-hour drive separates our two cities. The platforms of our two political parties might feel even further apart. And yet in both Charlotte and Tampa, we have conservatives and liberals, undecideds, many who've given up caring and others who are waiting for somebody to show them a better way. We believe that what all these have in common, although we forget this in the heat of debate, is that we are people who love, strive for happiness, long for meaning and wish to be part of something exciting. We are all made in God's image, yet find we are all broken, capable of doing well but also flawed and in need of mercy.
While a growing number of folks in our country claim no religious affiliation, or just don't believe in God at all, prayer seems to be in order. To pray for a convention is risky. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have played the religion card when it helps them get votes. It may be that attaching God to a particular political agenda makes the public cynical about faith and its leaders.
But we do believe it is possible to offer up nonpartisan prayers, especially during these anxious days in our world. And so we pray for our country, that we might be a nation where goodness matters, where justice and kindness are our passions, where truth matters and is told.
We pray for peace — in the world and in our own communities. Conventions can bring out the worst in people. We have far too much rancor in our country as is. We forget how to disagree respectfully, and to consider the possibility that the other person might have a point. Anger is toxic and poisons us all. Working together might be better than getting our own way, even if we are dead sure we're right.
As clergy in the host cities of Tampa and Charlotte, we think of the delegates, media, protesters and other visitors who are far from home. We pray for their families and friends who miss them. We pray for them, that they may be strong and alert and be filled with wisdom and good judgment.
Residents of Charlotte and Tampa have mixed feelings about hosting a convention. Some are proud and energized. Others are annoyed and inconvenienced. We pray for the citizens of both Tampa and Charlotte, that they might be patient and hospitable.
Both cities will put on their best appearances, striving to look impressive on this stage of history. But in both cities, as in our country and world, we have those who are poor, hungry, homeless, children nobody cares about, military veterans who've never been appreciated, garbage collectors and schoolteachers who never get thanked, policemen and firefighters who keep everyone safe. We pray for them, and for all of us to be a better society that can embrace in whatever way might be best for those who have fallen on hard times.
We pray that all of us, because of conventions and the political process, will not let our cynicism balloon into bitterness; rather, we pray that all this might lead to a renewed sense of citizenship and pride in community and nation — and that we will learn to be participants in finding solutions instead of just critical onlookers.
As clergy, we believe that all people in our cities and in the nation harbor deep longings for meaning, purpose and belonging; we would say these yearnings are for God. We can pray, for those who are overtly religious as well as for those who remain unpersuaded of the things of God, and everyone in between, that we will discover the richness in ourselves and the wonder beyond ourselves. We pray that we might tap into our dreams for better lives and a better world, and that because of these conventions, and the simple goodness of being alive to see it all unfold, we might stretch upward and become more, closer to our ultimate destiny.
This is our prayer as clergy friends who live nine hours apart but are united in love and hope.