Years ago, my father called to tell me that one of my younger sisters had just moved in with a man she was dating, while she took a year off from college to live in Wyoming. Expecting me to share his disdain for this development, I asked, “what is his name?” That was not the reply he was looking for, especially from a seminarian on the road to ordination, and he immediately transferred concern for his daughter to anger at me.
This was not the first time we squared off, nor was it the last. We had some pitched verbal battles over the war in Vietnam, how to raise my young children, economic injustice, and the role of the church, to name some of emotional tar pits we found ourselves stuck in. We always managed to arrive at a truce, and express our love for each other, but it wasn’t always easy.
What was perhaps harder than the altercations themselves were the memories of them. I took our conversations on backpacking trips, on long car rides, and on those not so rare occasions when my psyche decided I needed to rehash them at three in the morning. I was invariably trying to fashion the perfect response: how to win, how to discredit his position, how to better focus my anger.
I couldn’t let the disagreements go. Or maybe, I didn’t want to let the memories go, because they provided so much energy, regardless of the fact that they were distractions, if not self-destructive. In a moment of fatigue, I tried something radical, if not seemingly frivolous: I prayed for my Dad.
I didn’t pray that he would change his mind, or see the error of his ways or mine. My prayer was an exercise to give it over – to God. To a presence and a power other than myself. And let it go. As I did so, I realized that I had rented out enormous psychic space to this decades-long father-son tension, and instead of a short-term lease, I gave it long term tenancy. It crowded out so many other issues and opportunities that I could engage in. As I prayed for my Dad in this way, I found that I was more open to him; and we were able to move more easily toward each other.
Last week former President Trump was indicted on 37 charges in a Miami Federal Court. The reactions were immediate – and predictable. Some have said that the entire American justice system has been weaponized against a former president. Others have said that no one is above the law, and that Mr. Trump needs to be held accountable. For people on both sides — and for those who find themselves in between the two reactions, it is apparent to me that Donald Trump has insinuated himself into nearly everyone’s psyche. And most, if not all of us, have rented out enormous psychic space to his presence and plight. We can’t let him go. It doesn’t help that the various media machines, on all sides, want him to remain front and center. As a narcissist, Donald Trump seems delighted at the attention he is receiving (narcissists, by definition, just want attention; it doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative), but for the rest of us, it is distracting, if not destructive. Because it keeps us stuck.
We would do well to pray for Donald Trump. Not that he be exonerated or convicted (the judicial process, in all its clunkiness, will work that out), but to turn him over – to a presence and power other than ourselves. It is hard work. It takes discipline and commitment. We pray for him so we can freed up to do the important work of repairing democracy, binding up wounds, and offering hope.
On another matter, my podcast, Reconciliation Roundtable, has now been posted. It features my conversation with the Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, a former anti-abortion activist who has transitioned to an advocate for reconciliation. It can be accessed on my website, markbeckwith.net.