I’m pursuing ordained ministry — which means my job, right now, is to learn. So when I got the chance to attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., and a panel hosted by Union Theological Seminary, the institution where most of my current learning takes place, I jumped at the opportunity to learn.
But the real learning came when the formal panel discussions came to an end.
Before leaving the city, I took a few minutes to sit in the center of Philadelphia’s City Hall courtyard and people-watch. On one side of the open courtyard, I saw a man doing martial arts. I watched his aged body move, and how his shoulder-length wispy white hair seemed to stand still as he kicked one leg and then the other. His concentration was so focused on moving the energy around him that he looked like a wizard.
Then suddenly, he was standing right next to me, asking if I was in Philadelphia for the big event. When I nodded, he went started telling me what he’d seen.
“There were a lot of protests yesterday. Something about police killing black people and police dying, too. It’s all real sad if you ask me,” he said.
“It looks like there are two people in the lead for president, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They both seem like decent people. I bet either of them would do a B+ job.”
I laughed and said, “I think they might do more of a C+ job.” He agreed.
I asked if he knew who Bernie Sanders was.
“He’s the governor of New Hampshire or something. Doesn’t seem like he has a chance but his followers are very nice,” he said.
A group of about 50 people were gathered behind a bride and groom in the center of City Hall square, taking a wedding photo. As the photographer lined us up, my friend put his arm around my shoulder and introduced himself as Danny.
“Scream LOVE on three,” the photographer said.
Almost everyone laughed and screamed, “Love!” It felt like an act of defiance against the lines that divided us. It felt like a screamed prayer.
I told Danny I had to get to the train station. We gave each other a hug.
“Thank you for talking,” he said. “I hope you are successful and find love.”
I wished him the same, wondering if people need anything else in the world besides those two things.
I assumed that at my first Democratic National Convention I would learn about politics. But instead I learned about people. I learned about love.
The smartest person I met at the DNC didn’t care which “decent person” was going to do a “B+ job” at running our country. He just cared that his new friend was successful and found love. He cared that people spoke with each other. I learned that the way to dissolve polarized angst and grow community is to ask a stranger in the park a question.
I learned that for those whom Jesus hung around with, the presidential election is not a reason to spew hatred or create divisions. For some living on our street corners or doing Tai Chi in our parks, the “hype” of the election season is nothing more than a distant rumble in the background of trying to survive day-to-day life.
For so many reasons, this election season has been and will continue to be stressful and difficult for all of us. But I think in order to keep my sanity in the next four months, or perhaps the next four years, I’m going to pledge to continue to be a student of the unexpected love I found in the smile of Danny, the Philadelphia martial arts master. I’m going to be a student of the least of these, who aren’t constantly checking Twitter or CNN or Fox News to see who said what mean statement or who leaked what documents or which new polls have the most up-to-date information.
I’m going to learn how to scream out for more love with strangers in parks. I hope you’ll join me.