As I write it is the day after Election Day, 2014. It is a good day to sit at a sidewalk cafe and reflect, evaluate and cautiously look ahead. President Obama, as evidenced by his musing, “I would enjoy having some Kentucky Bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” is doing just that himself– reflecting, evaluating and cautiously looking ahead.
It may be that the book of Ecclesiastes is the biblical book most suited for reading on the day after Election Day for it’s author, the Preacher, is, like President Obama and I, engaged in the work of reflecting, evaluating, and cautiously looking ahead. To many, Ecclesiastes is a frustrating book; they want its tone to be more positive, its outlook more upbeat. Indeed, some readers describe the Preacher as depressed or depressing. They wonder, “Where is his faith?”
Yet, at moments of great importance, weddings, funerals and the like, we often turn to the Preacher to express our beliefs, to give voice to our faith. We read, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” The Preacher’s words give us perspective as we reflect, evaluate and look cautiously ahead.
I believe that the Preacher is most certainly a person of faith. His faith, or her faith, is just a cautious faith. He or she regards it as imprudent to speak too boldly, inappropriate to say too much. We can, however, identify the contours of the Preacher’s faith. Central to this wise one’s belief system is the understanding that, “two are better than one…For if they fall, one will lift up the other.” Life is to be lived in relationship, in community, for in these there is energy, resolve, resilience and strength.
Further, it is the Preacher’s faith that this life, while often marked by arduous toil, is also framed by God’s good gifts; “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has long ago approved what you do.”
More than a glass of bourbon with President Obama and Senator McConnell, I would value welcoming the Preacher to my table at this sidewalk cafe and sharing a little wine. I would like to listen to him further describe the contours of his faith. I would like to hear her expand on the deeper meaning of her words. I would like to hear this philosopher’s counsel as, on a sunny November afternoon, I think about the direction of my city, my state and my nation. I would like to dialog with this leader of the assembly as I reflect, evaluate and cautiously look ahead.
I cannot be certain, but I like to think that if I were to ask the Preacher, “Is there a portion of Scripture you hold on when you are brooding about what next’s of life?” the learned one’s answer would be, “I tend to turn to Psalm 24, The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it. I start there when I am reflecting, evaluating and cautiously looking ahead for I need that larger perspective. I end there when I ponder what is going on in this world in which God has placed us for I need to know that this constantly changing life is touched by the Eternal. You might do well to do the same”
Rev. H. James Hopkins is the pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA and the Chair of the Board of Trustees of American Baptist Seminary of The West.