I was never the popular kid. I could sort-of fit in with some of the cool kids, especially when I was in middle school, but I was never That Girl – the girl that others wanted to be and guys wanted to be with. I was usually too tall or too big or too loud or too awkward or too artsy or not artsy enough or kind of smart but not smart enough or whatever else kids, teens, and young adults choose to label each other in the moment. I sort of floated down the middle for the majority for most of my youth.
I know a lot of adults who still float, but it’s getting harder and harder to do these days. We are all being pulled by some one, some thing, some idea, some event that demands our loyalty to one side or another. I believe this is why the last several weeks and days have brought an onslaught of insomnia, at least for me.
For the most part, I have been consuming – articles, blogs, videos, news feeds, podcasts, sermons, angry outbursts, questions, passive aggressive inbursts. As someone who is still learning how to listen before speaking, I am working on absorbing facts and narratives from as many sides as possible before retreating to my own internal processor and rendering an opinion. Lately, my internal processor has been on overload.
One minute, I find myself giggling at a famous female comedian who asks everyone to just “sheet cake” their pain and anger, and in the next I am reading a book about people who go out of their way to love the most unlovable people around them. It is overwhelming and confusing.
Nothing made me more uncomfortable, though, then when a colleague pointed out that the only people who were really shocked by what happened in Charlottesville were upper and middle class white people. I had to stop and think about that one, but I think my friend was right. Middle and upper class white people (myself included) don’t understand racism. We read about it, and hear about it, and sometimes see it, and watch movies about it, and know it is wrong, but (for the most part) it isn’t a part of our every day lives. So while an anti-human group marching together through a college town and killing someone is horrific, it isn’t new. This is happening every day. All over the world. All over our country. In your front yard and mine.
On the Sunday after the events in Charlottesville, my pastor/friend/colleague Zach Van Dyke preached a sermon he had prepared weeks before on how every single person walking this planet is made in God’s image. Liberals. Conservatives. Murderers. Surgeons. Freedom Fighters. Babies. Old people. Young people. Brown people. White people. Black people. Men. Women. Transgendered men and women. Gay. Straight. Q & Q. Racist. Humanitarian. Communist. Socialist. Libertarian. Capitalist. Classist. Rich. Poor. Employed. Unemployed. High. Sober. You get what I am saying – the labels go on and on and on. When I first heard his sermon during a preview on Wednesday, I thought it was really good and rather bold. When I listened to it on the following Sunday, I realized it was outright offensive, but for all the right reasons. I was all on board with what Zach was saying. He even started listing the people who are most offensive to many people in this world, and after each one he would remind us that this person, too, was made in the image of God. They may not live or act like it, but they were made in the image of the Creator.
That means our current president. And neo-nazis. And protestors. And everyone in between. That was hard for me to swallow.
After watching Tina Fey inhale a sheet cake, my giggles stopped mid-snort when my husband walked in and said, “She’s spewing just as much hate.” And he was right. I can’t help but notice hate doesn’t eliminate hate. It actually makes it grow. Hating neo-nazis and Donald Trump and statues are just as bad as hating anyone else. All forms of supremacism are wrong, because they force us to see ourselves as better than someone else. Whichever side you fall on, hate is hate. And hate equals death – for all of us.
A few months ago, I joined a few women to lead another recovery group inside of the jail where I work. I was excited to start this group again, and wasn’t sure who would attend since it was on a different side of the jail than the one where I normally visit. During the second week of group, a woman walked in and every fiber of my being tensed up. Without a word I knew exactly who she was. She was the center of a very high profile investigation and for the last two years or so, I had spent hours upon hours upon hours listening to her victims recount the trauma they had survived under her. Not only was I afraid of what this woman could do, I hated her for what she had done to women I love. I was in jail to lead a Christian recovery group, and my body was seething with anger towards this woman whom I had never actually met in person.
It took everything I had to get through that group without either screaming or lunging across the room. How DARE this woman walk into this classroom and pretend to want recovery!
Hatred had consumed me, and it was killing me from the inside. I knew I could not leave that room with so much hate in my heart and still sleep at night, much less call myself a leader. So I approached her, told her that I knew who she was, and asked if she would come back so I could get to know her a little better. She said she knew I probably didn’t want her there, but she would come back. And she did. Week after week she returned, and during these weeks we developed a dialogue in which we got to know each other a little better.
By the end of the group, I was not only proud of the work she had done in the circle each week, but I had grown compassionate towards her and really wanted to see her get a second chance at a new life. She has done a lot of evil things. A lot of evil things have been done to her. I will never condone what she did to the young women I felt I had to defend. I am working on forgiveness. Maybe I will get there, and maybe I won’t. As the new philosopher of our time, Kesha, sings, “But some things only God can forgive.” It’s not my job to make it right. But it is my job to make the more loving choice while moving forward.
So maybe you and I are being called to speak. Or maybe we are being called to listen. Or maybe we are being called to be the unpopular one in the room on or the feed. Or maybe we are called to take action for that in which we believe. Do these things. They are important. But please, do them in love, not in hate. Just because I am for something or someone doesn’t mean I am against something or someone else. It is actually possible to be “pro” without being “anti”. I will reference the ever graceful Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She was pro-many things and people without being anti-anything or anyone. She wasn’t perfect, and from everything I have read she readily admitted her faults. But she did a heckuva a job reminding the unlovable that they, too, are worthy of love.
Look, I get it. What I write here will be no more popular than my go-to sixth grade outfit of a sunflower skort romper with white tube socks and Timberland boots. But some of the most revolutionary men and women in history have changed lives by being unpopular. I am not out to change lives, but I would like to offer an alternative to hatred. No one walking around needs to reminded that the opposite side is wrong. What we need to remember is that every single life has value. Period. Even if you don’t agree with that person’s actions, words, motives, or lifestyle. It goes all ways. We are all hypocrites. We are all capable of committing atrocities. Each of us is one breath away from being the man or woman we despise.
My challenge to you, and to myself is this: Don’t join the haters – any of them. All sides are already screaming enough hate at each other. Consider being on the side of truth – the truth that says we are all equal. And we are all different. We are all equally different. And that’s a good thing. Hurt people hurt people. So why don’t we stop hurting people, and starting working on our own hangups so that hate stops here?