Love Means Reaching Out

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I keep coming back to Sebastian Junger’s opening story in his book Tribe. He writes of hitchhiking across the United States when he was fresh out of college. Out west as he’s walking along the highway, a man wearing dirty coveralls and carrying a lunch pail walks down the highway entrance ramp to meet Junger.

As things shook out, the man was a relief coal worker, living out of his car, who didn’t find work at the local mine that day. He saw Junger 1/2 mile out from town. Then, the man walked to meet Junger to make sure he was okay and had food. Even as he was struggling to make ends meet, he gave Junger his lunch — likely the miner’s only meal that day. The coal worker took responsibility for a stranger at cost to himself.

I want to be like that coal mine worker: looking at strangers as kin to be looked after, instead of avoided or dodged, even at my expense. I want that for our country and our world.

How do we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions?

This is the question I’m wrestling with today. Because as I listen to various perspectives and note places of silences, I’m hearing lots of shame and fear. We’re scared of each other, of the state of our country. We want to point fingers and avoid responsibility (myself included). We are afraid.

And if we’re not afraid, we’re trying to throw facts and logic back and forth at each other like a game of bag toss. Will this idea resonate? Will that one? 3 points! Miss!

But, the antidote for fear is love. L-O-V-E.

Not logic. Not facts. Not news articles. Not name calling. Not shaming people into silence.

Love.

Not impersonal, generic love. Personal. Direct. Committed love. The I see you, I stand with you, and you are important to me kind of love.

Love is messy, and it demands something from us. Love requires us to reach out, to listen and to acknowledge where we’re hurting each other. And it is hard, vulnerable work, not just platitudes and warm feelings. Love costs us something; if we’re not willing to sacrifice, we don’t love. That’s like, not love.

Holding all the pain is exhausting, particularly when it’s pain we don’t understand.

There are no quick fixes. Silencing grief smothers the soul, as the Korean concept of “han” teaches us. Pain needs to be spoken and heard to heal.

You don’t have to be silent. You get to feel your very real feelings. And, even if someone’s exercise of free speech irritates you, protecting their right to free speech protects yours. Hearing people out helps them let go of the wellspring of emotion; shaming and shutting it down is gasoline on a fire and rapidly toxic.

Be angry, if you are. And in your anger, don’t sin (Eph. 4:26). If someone specific offends you, reach out to them directly instead of blasting everyone in your internet feed. Passive aggression is the enemy of community; it breeds paranoia and distrust.

(It definitely does in me. I hear every single reproach people put on the internet as a personal reproach on me. And that makes me feel squelched and trapped, even when the issue may have absolutely nothing to do with me. I never want to shame people. EVER. If I’ve wounded you, reach out to me.)

True unity is found in the commitment to keep standing in relationship with each other, not in uniformity of opinion.

Take deep breaths. Reach out to people. Check in. Tell people you love them. Especially your friends and family and neighbors who feel crushed this election. Don’t poke them with facts and opinions. Hear their pain.

We have a responsibility to be gentle with each other and to be present to the pain, as uncomfortable as it makes us. There’s no road to healing aside from attending to wounds across our divides. Shutting down communication breaks down hope for reconciliation.

I am responsible for this mess, too.

As hard as it is, I have a responsibility to be aware how my choices wound others, whether the damage was intentional or not. My actions hurt people this election. Not because I intended to, but because I chose silence instead of love.

If you remember nothing else from this post, recognize that I found myself complacent in this mess. I am culpable, too. The finger is pointed right back at myself.

Prior to the election I said little directly about the candidates because I support formal separation of church and state, and I didn’t want to set a precedent of dipping my toes in the water of telling people how not to vote.  I was naive and thought the blatant racism and sexism issues were self-evident — or at least would be tougher for evangelicals to reconcile.

Also, I was scared, and I sold out my values because I wanted to be liked and validated. I’m responsible for the harmful message my silence communicated to my minority friends. I have a responsibility to communicate that all people matter. Love requires speech and action. I failed, and I’m responsible for that. My post yesterday was too little, too late. And I have to carry that burden.

How do we make sense out of the protest cries?

As I’m listening to conversations, the difficulty is less about the actual politics of Trump or Clinton per se, it’s about the symbols they represented — particularly Trump.

It’s possible to support Trump, without personally hating people of color or holding misogynistic values. I said it. And it’s true.

However, the vote inherently represents support of systemic oppression of minorities. It does NOT automatically mean a person hated people of color when he or she voted: it’s about the byproduct of support for the racist systems. Why? Because in voting for a president who has unabashedly demonstrated racist values, people (whether inadvertently or not) demonstrated tangible support for racist structures in this country. Racism is prejudice with power — not whether you or I personally hate someone or use racial slurs.

When ranking their values in the election, people decided, in the scheme of things, blatant racism did not matter as much as other issues. It doesn’t mean they’re a fan of racism, but it does mean that they valued other issues more than they dislike racism.

People are legitimately upset because we as a country blatantly communicated through the election results (whether intentionally or not) that people of color, immigrants and Muslims are not welcome here. And this is a barrier to the message of Jesus’ radical welcome of all people.

This is a very real challenge to the evangelical witness about the character of God. It’s also one where I’m hearing crickets.

Yes, the election is over. Yes, Trump won. And in the meantime, I’ve had a bunch of conversations with people internalizing the message that white evangelicals hate them, or at the least, when push comes to shove, white evangelicals value other issues more than standing up against racism.

By the way, this cry is not new, and people of color have been saying this for YEARS. I’m by no means the expert on this, or the first one to say it. Check out Drew Hart’s book Trouble I’ve Seen.

I’m struggling to see more than a minority of white evangelical Christians recognize this pain or reach out to those who’re broken by this message. Instead, I see versions of “Suck it up, buttercup” or “It’s not the end of the world. Wait and see what Trump will do.” Or calling for people to silence their pain in order to come together now.

I’m feeling unsure of how to relate to the people of God. I’ve lost my way. And I found myself returning again and again to the Korean notion of ‘han.’ I am scared by Christian circles that attempt to silence the cries of grief in the name of peace. Silence and peace are not the same.

Coming together requires trusting people whose voting record suggests they systemically don’t care for others like the coal miner cared for Junger (whether their personal feelings and actions do or not). It’s hard to come together with someone who isn’t holding his or her hand out to you, or if you believe they’ll pull their hand back when supporting you means self-sacrifice on their end.

My previous silence makes me culpable of pulling my hand back. The problem isn’t just out there. It’s in here.

As I navigate my own guilt and think of my engagement in evangelical circles, I’m having a hard time mustering hope. I don’t know how to speak, I am terrified of accidentally wounding or shaming people, and for the first time, I don’t know how to move forward.

The crickets are generating rifts in my confidence in the body of Christ.

I know I’m not alone, but I feel it. Maybe it’s better put that I feel like an outcast, even as I know there are other misfits who get me.

But, the silence. The silence is killing us and our witness. And silence is an indictment on us, whether we intend it that way or not.

Church, can you stand up and reach out? Can you tell people you love them? Can you hear the cries for justice, even as they make you uncomfortable?

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