Have you ever stopped to think about how long you spend in childhood and how long you spend being an adult? Proportionally, I mean?
Have you ever stopped to think about the lasting effect of childhood experiences on your own life? How can an experience from the cafeteria in the 3rd grade cause us to behave a certain way when we're 40? How can a positive or negative remark from middle school be so embedded in our minds that we're still trying to process it at age 78?
We don't spend very long being children. It's only a little slice of our lifetime (for most of us).
I've worried about what our children are seeing and hearing.
I don't care what your politics are today. I have friends and family who think any number of things. Of course, if you read my "story" the other day, then you already know what my thoughts are. I don't mind if you and I think differently about some things. Being human is, by nature, an acceptance that other folks are going to be different from one's self.
What I do mind, what I do care about, and what I do feel burdened with is this: No matter who we agree or disagree with, we have to accept that our children ARE seeing and WILL see the world through the lens of our example.
This means that if we choose to label every single member of another political party "dumb" or "whiny" or "lazy" or "prideful" or even worse things than these, our beautiful children will follow. They'll follow us into our judgement of others. They'll follow us into our hatred. Hatred isn't too strong a word. Hatred is fatally blind, in and of itself. In order to feel it, we have to block out a certain amount of information - the humanity of the other, details about the life of the other, any redeeming qualities about the other . . .
Most of us are reasonable folks and we make choices the best way we know how. That often will bring us to different conclusions. That's alright. We're human. We're diverse. We will have to accept that about our condition. But sometimes when we wish the other side had chosen more like we did, we turn the same things we oppose over onto the other side. Responding with equal venom is a good way to start the cycle of violence. Haven't we witnessed enough wild fire lately?
Hear me, friends - I'm not saying that you should not feel what you feel. I'm not telling you to stop your grief. I'm not telling you to ignore fear or even cognitive dissonance. I have those feelings, too, right now. I have loved ones who have them even more than I'll ever be able to comprehend because the shape of my life within our culture is easier to negotiate than some of the precious people I love.
I am saying this: Overcome hatred with goodness. Sit with that woman wearing the hijab and create a sense and a truth of community. Compliment that child who speaks a different language and feels out of place just now. In the face of any hatred you may encounter, go straight to whoever is alone and other - really be present with them. Dispel the darkness.
Let that be the revolution we seek.
I'm capable of being incredibly liberal. There are a few issues that get me going - my soap box can be a mile high. My passion about some of my loved ones and their well being is extreme. Naturally, I feel anger sometimes . . . reading things . . . being isolated in conversation. It's easy for me, living where I do, to feel like people must hate the ones I love . . . to feel like people must hate me. Hey - there are some people in some places who do hate my loved ones, categorically. By extension, they do hate me. But I believe that those people are the exception and not the rule. I believe we can drown them out with the blinding power of God's goodness. That doesn't mean we won't get hurt doing so. God doesn't promise us an easy time.
So, what's with all these people who are actually lovely human beings, but are sharing and writing and spouting all these broad, ugly statements about gay folks and foreign folks and folks who are feeling let down after the election? Life experience, I suspect. So many of them don't have a way of knowing. They probably don't have someone to put a human face on the issues I know about so intimately. They probably can't understand my fervor because they haven't had the same late night conversations . . . haven't been there for the same pitfalls . . . . haven't actually seen firsthand the same abuses. So often, they don't know. And then they hear me lamenting. They see me crying (ok - yes. I've actually cried over this - not ashamed to say that). It looks like an inappropriate response because they probably don't feel and know what I do as a result of the life experience I've had. I can't trade lives with them. Their lack of understanding isn't a fault. It's just a fact. We all fail to understand each other at times, don't we? Even if we agree on every single hot button issue, don't we sometimes hurt each other? It happens.
As a music teacher, I have to advocate an awful lot.
Folks who didn't grow up with a lot of music or didn't have a pleasant music ed experience easily assume that my job is not worth very much - or that it's not effective if it's not teaching long division and paragraph structure. I even spend a lot of time advocating for the specific method I use in my classroom because it is somewhat unusual and I'm vastly outnumbered by peers who have chosen to pursue more traditional teaching methods. So I find myself in situations where I have to channel the anger I feel toward the education of whoever is other. I have to educate my way to a place of understanding. That's advocacy. If I advocate well for myself as a music teacher, I end up with an arsenal of supportive resources - people who understand what I do and why I do it . . . people who will stand up for me and what I do even though they chose to do something different.
Please understand: condescension never works. Don't try it. It will wear you out and hurt your soul.
What does work?
Oh, this is going to be hard.
This is going to be painful.
We all need to do a few things. Right now. Right away. This really applies to both sides of every fence.
1) Don't bother trying to "get over" whatever you feel. That's not healthy. Feel what you feel. If you feel fear or anger, go on and feel that. Own your feelings. Understand your feelings. Find people you can talk to about them. Safe, good, kind people who will hear you and tell you the truth. I'd give you the same exact advice in any situation - this is a rule for life, not a rule for politics. Your feelings aren't static. You're a human. They will evolve if you allow yourself to work through them. If you feel exasperated, go on and feel that. Understanding, peace, or closure will stumble into your life at some point and you won't feel frustrated for the same reasons anymore.
2) Focus intensely on the people you see every day. Focus on your own family. Focus on the people you work with. Focus on your friends. Not somebody else's friends. Not some random troll somewhere. Get focused on your neighborhood. Get focused on your local culture. Start there. Get busy. Say "hi" to people. Look them in the eye. Talk with them about the weather and "how's the family" and college football. Inquire about their health. Make sure you do this for people you know you agree with and for people you know you disagree with. That's going to be very important. I have a lot of experience with this because I'm usually the lone, crazy liberal at the table. Folks are kind and allow me to be who I am most of the time. Build relationships wherever you can. Maintain them. If you see a place where the bridge fell down, try hard to build it up again. But do this locally before you get sucked into the abyss of the great "everything." If you look at the chasm to closely, you will fall in. You're not useful if you fall in. You need to be useful. You need to get to work.
3) Stay human. Do not allow this to reduce you to something less than what you are. You're not just a Democrat. You're not just a Republican. You're not just Independent. You're not just a specific combination of ethnicity and race. You're not just straight. You're not just gay. You're not just anything. You, dear one, are the hand crafted art of God - your'e too complicated to be labeled. Don't let the world give you a serial number. Don't buy in. Your life came from God. It was a gift. You are a gift. Be a gift to other people however you can. When we allow ourselves to be baited into territory where we've lost our humanity, we can't do any work effectively. Don't lose your humanity. Don't take anybody else's humanity away. Yeah - you heard me. "And if hated, don't give way to hating" - this is where it hurts. Don't give them what they want. Just because somebody else fell into the pit doesn't mean you have to fall with them. Stay above it. Feel what you feel and do acknowledge it. Stand up for yourself and find safe harbor. But don't fall into the pit with the aggressor. Stay human.
4) Maintain contact. Don't allow yourself to be isolated. I'm so guilty of this. I go through phases where I withdraw myself from conversations I know will be difficult. I preemptively sequester myself. I don't mean "maintain the argument" when I say this . . . I mean . . . maintain relationship. Stay in contact with those folks you don't agree with, but can be safe around. And a word to the wise about this whole "safe" issue. There are some hateful people who feel recently emboldened to behave and speak inappropriately and threateningly. Nobody can deny that. Don't try to deny that. We can disagree about politics and still both shake our heads and say, "This is not right and we won't let this behavior take place." I've seen an awful lot of folks who feel really disconnected from the "safe" issue express frustration that it's even being discussed. Please understand . . . it's all about personal experience. I can tell you that in my own personal life over the past few days I've witnessed some serious trauma - some of it is the direct result of real hatred. It's not my story to be telling you. But trust me when I say that there are places where this stuff is real and if it were your cousin, sister, uncle, or close friend? You'd be horrified and praying just as hard as I am. I say that in all respect. I say that because I hope you'll understand, especially if you know me personally, that it's not really a political thing . . . it's a human thing. Help other people to maintain contact by being the one who disagrees politically, but is willing to understand the humanity at stake here. Be the brave one - "and being lied about, don't deal in lies." - none of us should be perpetuating the lie that other people are ALL wrong. We don't know that. We can't know that. Be the one who is surrounded by people who want you to make fun of somebody for their different feelings, but then don't do it! It's just the same as when you were young and afraid to break away from the cool kids to sit with the loner in the cafeteria. Sit. With. The. Loner. You'll be so glad you did. So glad. We all need help. Be the helper.
Children change very quickly. They grow. They learn. It all happens at the speed of light. My son reached up and opened a door with the handle yesterday. Nothing will ever be the same in our house again.
I teach children. I love children. I'm amazed by children. This morning was no exception.
I walked into the building feeling really down. Really concerned for some people I love and some things that have recently happened. I rounded the corner into the front office and there were 5th grade students with signs that said all sorts of beautiful things. They said stuff like, "Smile more" and "Bee yourself" and "You are the only you." These kids went out into the 33 degree weather and held their signs up for all the kids walking into the building . . . all the kids coming from their cars, stepping off the bus. They cheered at cars driving by. (I saw some grumpy grown ups grudgingly smile - who could resist?)
It was beautiful.
Friends, when I was in that front office, seeing all these kids getting ready to take their signs outside, I said, "Is this a real thing happening at our school?" One of our AP's laughed, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Yes! You should carry a sign, too!" So I did.
I stood out there at my spot next to the cross walk and cried. I couldn't help it. It was so beautiful. And what's even better is that I know for sure there are differing opinions represented among our faculty at the school, among our students, and among their families. We're a giant school. It would be impossible for all of us to think the same. But today there was a unified effort to get some good work done. Our students were the leaders (with the help of their rock star school counselors). They were teaching us how to be human.
So, grown ups, can we do it, too?
Are we kid enough to remember what Jesus was asking us to do for Him?
I'm in if you are . . . well . . . actually, even if you don't feel like joining the fun, I'll be giving it a shot. But it sure would be nice if we all tried together.