When Peter Wehner went to the office, for years, he pulled onto Pennsylvania Avenue: the White House. He served in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations, as Deputy Director of Speechwriting and later Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for President George W. Bush. Now, he’s a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.
He’s been in the halls of power, and he writes for publications of prominence. So why has Peter felt like he’s been in exile? If Peter has felt this way, chances are, you’ve felt it too.
In this powerful episode, host Curtis Chang talks to his old friend about what it’s like to have a role in the unfolding drama of American history, to believe your most important moments are in the past, and to walk out one’s faith in complicated times.
Specifically, we discussed:
- The pervasive feeling of spiritual and political homelessness;
- A reflection on Peter’s day as a speechwriter for George W. Bush during 9/11;
- What it means to be “those who dream” as mentioned in Psalms 126;
- The experience of “exile;”
- What to do if you feel like your best moments are in the past;
- The importance of having people to come alongside you in life;
- Why you need an “emotional excavation process” surrounding change and loss;
- Permission to go “off script” when it comes to matters of faith;
- Pete’s political exile after breaking ranks in the GOP to oppose Trump; and
- The social cost of standing for your principals.
CURTIS CHANG: I have this vision of the Good Faith podcast acting like a weekly campfire for those who are trekking through the wilderness – whether it be political, religious, or relational – and gathering here to try and make sense of the world. Even if you feel rooted now, eventually everyone will experience some kind of exile and leave behind their most fulfilling days, their careers, or homes. I wanted to ask you, Peter, about your experiences with exile. What would you advise people who feel a sense of exile in their lives?
PETER WEHNER: I went through a fundamental sense of political exile during these past few years. Even though the White House was my home for years, leaving the White House was actually not the most difficult transition. It was leaving the Republican Party. As a lifelong Republican, it was painful to leave the party I had so long defended and supported–over the nomination of Donald Trump.
The question, however, is why is it such a loss? What does losing the apex of my life tell me about myself? Meaning can be bottled up in so many different ways, like power or wealth. When in exile, it’s crucial that we start excavating our foundations by asking these questions instead of scrambling to climb the hill of success again. Locating those shards of shattered meaning tells us where we placed most of our worth, and where we should go from there.
After excavation and reflection, we can then redirect our energy into something that can give a sense of renewed purpose, making peace with the fact that life is a series of unfolding chapters and some are simply better than others.
Finally, the importance of community–of people who will travel the exile’s journey with you and ground you in relationship–cannot be overstated.
CURTIS CHANG: Many people tend to skip that process once they lose the apex. They are so deserpate to get back to the top and center that they’ll take a shortcut and avoid that process of reflection, introspection, examination, and of being examined by friends. During their exile, they miss out on the opportunity to go deeper and excavate the foundations of their being. But if you excavate that, you can build deeper foundations for your next chapter.
PETER WEHNER: Yes, some people just deny the loss. And oftentimes Christians will hide behind scripts. They’ll try living their life according to what they think should be, rather than what it is. But the church, in particular, should be a place where people can express grief safely and comfortably rather than feel like there’s a script they’re failing to follow.
CURTIS CHANG: I love that vision of giving people permission to go off script or, at least, to give them scripts where loss is part of the script. If Christians have not cultivated the spiritual postures and practices that enable us to tolerate going through that exile, we’re in trouble. Only through exile do we find our way to our ultimate home in Jesus. In Jesus, we understand the exile, the real exile, is the power of death. Until we reunite with Him, the challenge for Christians is to learn and live as exiles.
HOSTS: Curtis Chang and Peter Wehner
PRODUCER: Victoria Holmes
The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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