In a recently televised interview, author/columnist Thomas L. Friedman has coined an expression that calls for further reflection. He compared the dynamics of Brexit and the American presidential elections to following the advice of “someone who has no second paragraph.”
His turn of phrase is clear: Some folks have few clues about what to do the morning after their viewpoint or candidate has triumphed. They have a first paragraph—anger, frustration, dislike of elites, fear and even worse feelings. These individuals may believe that those emotions justify their following the leaders who encouraged or strengthened their resolve to push back, derail or disrupt societies. What comes next— consideration of consequences, plans or visions…? These necessary paragraphs are remarkably absent. There may be nothing more to these stories.
I note Friedman’s metaphor here to observe how people of faith—especially those of us who are older?—act according to a different set of guiding principles. We serve a God whose nature compels us to consider what’s next, who’s affected and what then. The rules we follow—whether commandments or the laws of love and grace—require that we name and respect the possible outcomes of our actions. That we live humbly and circumspectly. That we appreciate the fascinating human landscape outside our own narrow self-interests. That we understand how God’s presence requires actions that are beneficial to the world that God loves, that God redeemed, that Jesus entered completely.
We are people of second paragraphs—and what lies beyond. We read Scriptures whose voluminous content takes us beyond self-idolatry. We respond to “So what?” with God’s answers. We work steadfastly to bring the future into line with God’s will. We refuse to listen to narrow-minded fear-mongers who ask us trade our loyalty for their short-sighted promises.
We are the people of God.