My heart and head are tired. I made a personal commitment a year ago to make a more concerted effort to hear, truly hear, all sides this political season. Those who know me well, know that I not only contain many opinions but I enjoy standing atop various soap boxes while wearing these opinions like sleeves. During a conversation with my husband, he shared that too often I was arguing to win rather than change. He reminded me that aggressively hurling my opinions from these tall soapboxes were doing nothing to impact change. This rhetoric was simply dividing me from those who disagreed and sometimes alienating me from those who quietly agreed. Now, we all know that I don’t always do everything Trey asks, but in this instance, I truly took what he said to heart. Rather than allowing myself to fill with rage over the differences in opinion, I challenged myself to listen, hear, and move towards change. I made that commitment a year ago. I have reminders written on post-it notes at home and at work. Tucked into my wallet is a crinkled post-it note with the following quote: “If you want to be listened to, you should put in time listening.” – Marge Piercy. I was at the juncture in my life that I did want to be heard but I also wanted to be void of anger and resentment. Guiltily, I recognized that I want doing my best to raise boys who didn’t dislike people who are different from themselves while harboring anger towards those who don’t believe as I do. Trey’s gentle nudging towards listening was well-timed and certainly welcomed.
Around the same time that I began playing with the idea of listening more to varying perspectives, a high school friend wrote a beautiful blog which included the concept of Ubuntu, a philosophy originating in Southern Africa. As Cedric so eloquently described in his writing, “Ubuntu is the idea that we are empowered by other people, and then we become our best selves through unselfish interaction with others.” After reading these words, I wrote them on another post-it note and hung it prominently in my office. These two post-it note mandates gave me a direction. I was determined to spend the next year focused on listening and genuinely interacting. Wait, doesn’t this seem like it ought to be basic foundational stuff for a therapist? It is. I truly believe that I do a much better job at these skills when I’m in my therapeutic mode than I do when I’m outside of session. Practice what you preach, right? This commitment to self growth, required me to apply skills used at work in every area of my life.
Little did I know, a year and change ago, that I was selecting the most difficult political climate. I’m struggling, folks. Doing a personal inventory and attitude change is hard enough during the best of circumstances, but this has been ill-timed for a smooth change. C’mon, have you watched the debates!? Are you reading the papers, tweets, and posts!? Deep breaths… I’ll be perfectly honest, this personal challenge to listen to all sides hasn’t changed my opinions. I might be bold enough in saying that it might have even built a more sturdy soapbox. The change I have noticed, however, is in my development and gathering of information. In order to truly listen to others, I’ve made it a point to read more from “the other side”. I’ve watched debate analysis on “the other network.” I am trying to listen, really, I am.
I expected, and maybe hoped, that through this experience I’d gain more empathy for those who vote differently than I do. In past election cycles, I’ve disagreed with “the other side” but I didn’t hate them and I didn’t fear them. This time, I do fear what will happen if a certain candidate is elected. I still can’t bring myself to evoke hate though. What I am uncomfortable with is the amount of hate that people seem to have towards both candidates. Again, I certainly dislike and fear one candidate but I still can’t say that I want him dead or that I want his family dead. I can’t understand why there is so much deep hate for the other side. Simply because there are differences in opinion, doesn’t mean we have to hate one another, does it? My Christian beliefs don’t mesh with the hate-filled comments, rhetoric, and behaviors of so many; many of whom also claim to have Christian roots. How can we as believers (be it as believers in a God or in humanity) dismiss these overt message s of hate, disrespect, and dismissal During Obama’s first election, I pushed back when I received an email labeling him as the Anti-Christ. I don’t know how disagreeing with someone can lead you to identifying him as such. I told a friend the other day that I feel numb. I am trying so desperately to understand how we as a collective people can have such unbridled hate towards one another. Hate based on race, religion, ethnicity, social status, gender, sexual orientation, political party, career, etc. etc. etc. Are we in a time of the absolute antithesis of the Ubuntu philosophy? Are we only capable of being in selfish battle with one another?
During other periods of emotional turmoil, I have found myself turning first to my church. I refer not just to my local church, but to the denomination and universal church; the big “C” in Church, if you will. During the past year, however, I have felt my spirit at odds with the church. Those who are familiar with the structure of the Methodist church are aware that we are a part of a global congregational structure and refer to the “Book of Discipline” for our rules and order. The Methodist Church has failed to evolve and continues to systematically exclude believers. Clearly I have opinions, strong opinions, on this topic. At last year’s General Conference, the Methodist Church tabled difficult conversations and decisions in an effort to avoid a division within the denomination. While the church avoided division, an entire segment of the population continues to not be fully welcomed or affirmed within our doors. I read the live reports of the conference with a heavy heart. I continue to struggle reconciling my love for my local congregation with the knowledge that our global infrastructure does not permit inclusion. Following the conference, I set up a meeting with my pastor to share my struggles. As I explained to him, my struggle is not with my personal faith but with my faith in the church. He listened and was completely authentic and appropriate but not able to “fix” the problem for me. Logan overheard me talking to Trey about my feelings and asked for clarification. My 10-year-old continues to ask why we attend a church that allows exclusion and I don’t know how to explain it to him. I don’t know how to explain it to myself. My attendance has been less regular since May and I’m really struggling. Exclusion and hate goes completely against what I believe as a Christian.
As I stated, my heart and head are weary. I’ve listened and I’m afraid of what I’ve heard. It is time to interact, to seek change, to impact healing. I will vote, I will pray, and I will continue to listen. I have to believe that behind the loud voices, much like mine has been at times, there are voices sharing messages of love, peace, and unity. I have to believe that these quiet voices belong to the change makers. I am fearful though. I desperately want to believe in a country and in a church that welcomes all who are believers, that takes care of all who contribute, and that teaches all who will listen. During a sermon, one of our church’s former pastors, Lynn Kilbourne, challenged listeners to recognize that we focus what we treasures. For example, if my treasures are material, there lie my efforts and energy. My treasures are my family, my faith, and my country. My efforts and energy must go to making this a better place even when I’m weary and lacking understanding. I must continue to listen and strive towards unselfish interaction. I’m tired but this is too important to ignore.