My Turn: Two houses – one of fear and one of faith

For the Monitor
Published: 4/14/2019 12:20:16 AM

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. At about the same time I was elected to the New Hampshire House last fall, I found myself being drawn back to church. To be honest, I’d spent the previous couple decades only really contemplating God when it seemed the airplane I was in might crash.

My parents made a pretty good attempt to raise me as a nice Presbyterian boy. But it never really took. I wasn’t one to waste a perfectly good Sunday morning inside with clean pants and a collared shirt on when I could be having adventures, real and imaginary, in the woods and fields that provided the setting for my childhood. But things change as we get older.

At different times over the years, I have considered attending a sermon at the simple, brick, 19th-century church at the center of our town. I have long admired its timeless, simple confidence that seems to embody a dignity and perspective that tolerates others’ showboating or grandstanding, but has no need to stoop to it. It certainly pulled me when my sister died unexpectedly a couple years ago, but on that occasion I opted for the company of hawks and the panoramic view atop the rocky ledges of our hill – the sanctuary of my boyhood.

I nearly went on the Sunday after the Sandy Hook shooting; I know I wasn’t alone in both needing God and hating God after that horror.

What finally got me in the door was something far simpler: A congregant, after hearing me speak at a campaign event, pointed out that much of what I detailed in my politics was the focus of our little church’s work. So that Sunday, the kids and I went.

I realize now that the more time I spend in the Hall of Representatives, the more I value the time I spend in the pews. First of all, the sermons are far more articulate than anything I’ve heard at the State House. And an hour of calm reflection in a setting where we all truly respect one another’s dignity and equality is profound. More importantly, the constituents in my district – more than 16,000 people – have placed in me their trust to make good decisions on their behalf.

Surely bringing a weekly dose of humility, reflection and faith to that responsibility is wise.

It’s easy to discount humility and faith, especially in these hyperbolic times, but these humble concepts are powerful. Our lives, our world, are ever changing, and change is scary. It’s also inevitable. A little faith that things can be better helps.

We open every House session with a prayer, but after the amen​, humility and faith seem to exit the building. Surely there is no humility to be found among the members who have taken to wearing strings of pearls to mock the “pearl wringing” Moms Demand Action – citizens advocating for less gun violence. Who’s in favor​ of gun violence?

Surely there is no humility to be found in the member who angrily shouted “coward!” at another member, a veteran who served his country in the Marines. And where’s the humility among the crowd of legislators who recently walked out of the Hall in anger rather than listen to a reminder from leadership that civility matters? Who protests​ civility?

And as for faith? I believe faith is the opposite of fear. One of the oddest things to me is the fear that seems to form the basis of so many members’ voting records. I have asked myself many times lately, why are so many of my House colleagues motivated by fear? What are they afraid of?

They are so fearful that they feel the need to carry a gun everywhere they go, even on the House floor. They are so fearful that we’ve been told that the State House will “run red with blood” if they can’t be armed. They are so fearful of immigration that they equate immigrants with “diseases,” “terrorists” and “drug dealers.”

What’s more, this tone of panic, of life-as-we-know-it-is-in-danger, insinuates itself into votes that have nothing at all scary about them. In this climate of perma-panic, of perpetual fear, the stakes are always high and the tone is always bombastic, angry and unconstructive. They use the same hyperbolic rhetoric to oppose things that are utterly benign.

Based on recent votes, 122 of them fear something as mundane as updating our building code. It turns out that 145 of them are threatened by the thought that one day they may not be able to carry their groceries in single-use plastic bags or slurp their milkshakes through single-use plastic straws. The same 145 of them fear someone making a minimum of $12 an hour as opposed to the current $7.25.

This fear prevents civil discourse and reasonable debate, and obliterates the chance for anyone to budge on their position. It makes bipartisan legislation impossible, and honestly precludes any real improvements in our civic society. And it smacks of a lack of faith in the resiliency of our system.

Part of progress is embracing change. That requires having the humility to know that we will make mistakes and the faith to know that as a community, we’ll fix them.

I don’t have to go to the State House to be reminded of that. But going to church helps.

(Craig R. Thompson of Harrisville represents Cheshire District 14 in the N.H. House of Representatives.)

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