A Commentary by Sophia Agtarap
We live in an increasingly polarized nation. As the current administration settles in, I find myself, a 37-year-old Filipina and lifelong United Methodist, navigating a different religious and political space. It’s a space that has long existed, but is being unveiled in different ways — perhaps in spaces that were once hidden and in hushed conversations.
You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. — Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, “Letters to a Young Poet”
The night of the United States presidential election, I watched the votes my preferred candidate needed come short of what would declare her to be the next president. I woke up the next morning with the news confirming that Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. I was in Memphis at the time, accompanying a family member who was checking on the status of their immigration application. You see, this family member was undocumented. I sobbed as I shared the results of the election with them, because all I could think of was: What does this mean for my family member in light of the ways this president-elect campaigned?
I did what many whose candidate wasn’t elected did: I grieved.
Then I took action, because taking an active stance in society isn’t new to people of faith. We see over and over again in sacred texts across Christian, Jewish and Islamic texts, the call to care for one another.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, and the early Methodists expressed their opposition to societal ills such as slavery, smuggling, inhumane prison conditions, alcohol abuse and child labor. The call to practice “holiness of heart and life” is in our DNA — it’s who we are as people called Methodists. Just as our own faith development as Christians occurs both at a personal and communal level, our work in the world goes beyond charity, to transforming the world by disturbing systems that create injustice and inequity.
I am grateful to be a part of a denomination that has principles and creeds it has adopted to guide our thinking and acting about how we live in — and are in engaged in — the world.
I began asking: Where am I most needed? What does my faith compel me to do? Who is already doing this work (whatever it is)?
So I started asking around and showing up. If my faith commands me to love my neighbor, what does that compel me to do in the public square? If the principles of my denomination declare that the strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens, then what does that mean for me? Both Hebrew and Christian texts speak over and over again about justice for the marginalized and those in poverty. Social justice is in our Christian tradition.
After the Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” was signed on Jan. 27, 2017, I joined a rally in front of our state senator’s local office. Then I asked: Where are all the people of faith? Why aren’t there hundreds of us here? Where are the clergy? What began as a series of questions turned into coffees and meetings and more rallies and vigils. I eventually found myself organizing what I wasn’t seeing happening, but what I know my faith compels me to do: seek the welfare of my city and love my neighbors.
I connected with groups beginning to organize around defending the needs of our immigrant and refugee neighbors. I brought myself up to speed on current immigration issues and legislation and policies that would further disenfranchise our neighbors and I connected with those who were experts in those areas. I attended trainings and gatherings where conversations about these matters were happening. I consulted the agencies of The United Methodist Church tasked with leading and resourcing in these areas.
I found myself becoming an organizer.
It wasn’t something I set out to be, but something I leaned into and now live into, all because I asked and lived the questions.
When we take time to ask questions, we leave ourselves vulnerable to answers we may not have expected, and to a life where we find our passions and gifts in alignment with the world’s greatest needs.
Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Sophia Agtarap is a communications staff member at Vanderbilt Divinity School and a communications consultant based in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and two pups. She is a pastor's kid, a candidate for deaconess, and is living out her call to serve her community as an organizer.