Putting Words In My Mouth

Have you ever been in a place where someone has just assumed something based on something you identify with? Perhaps it’s your gender. Your sexuality. The color of your skin. Or, if you’re like me, it could be your faith.

Twenty-five years ago, I began the journey away from the Catholic faith I grew up in and started to dip my toes in the waters of Conservative Evangelicalism. It was a tumultuous time, and there was a lot of wrestling with my faith and how this would affect so many things in my life - but the thing that stands out to me the most were the various conversations that I had with Evangelicals within the community went. Some of my closest friends were more understanding, allowing me to walk the journey one step at a time while I asked questions and wondered what each step meant.

Others were not as subtle about their desire to see me convert to their faith and system of beliefs.

They approached me and began asking me questions in an accusatory tone, telling me that, as a Catholic, I must believe this way. That I must pray to Mary. That the Saints intercede on my behalf to Christ. That whatever the Pope said was infallible. I could go on and on with what they told me, and while they did get some of their accusations right, they honestly didn’t understand — and they didn’t care. They simply approached me with their preconceived notions of what they were certain I believed and stood for as a Catholic, and began their conversations with me in that manner.

We like to do that, don’t we? We enjoy putting people into boxes of our own creation. It helps us to understand and compartmentalize people that we don’t quite understand. People with backgrounds and cultures that are different than our own. There’s a power that comes from that. From assuming that you know about the rest of the world - and then assuming that with knowledge comes power.

At the core of this is the simple reality that we are ALL different.

The story of how I got here may be different than yours. My goals and calling in life are different than yours. And assuming things about my story based on your own experience or reading without learning about me first does both of us a disservice. It severs the relationship, offends, and starts everything off by communicating that you aren’t even willing to bother to get to know me.

I’ve said it before, but the entirety of Scripture rings with a thread of love. Of how God has been on a constant quest from the Garden of Eden to be in relationship with us, and how He also is working to do so by bringing us into relationship with each other. The more and more this happens, the closer we get to Shalom — wholeness — and the closer we get to God.

So with that setting the stage, I want to ask: how are you approaching the issue of politics in our current culture? When you see the Black Lives Matters protestors in the street, do you immediately find yourself in a place of disgust, assuming that you know their plight and cry? When you see a Trump sticker on the bumper of a car while driving on the freeway, is your first thought one of blessing, or do you make assumptions about the driver? Those automatic assumptions are things we all are guilty of. It’s hard for me to not assume that Trump supporters are against me because of the Republican platform stance against the LGBTQ+ community. But what if someone is a Trump supporter for another reason?

I spent several hours over the past two weeks watching, listening, and reading about the DNC and the RNC. As a self-avowed progressive, I have to admit that I was more encouraged by the DNC than the RNC, so there is a bit of a bias there. But what I noticed upset me the most was listening to the Republicans take the stage and tell their viewers all about what I, as a Democrat, want to do to America. Several of the speeches warned of the impending doom that would come with Biden as president. Of how the Democrats want to “destroy all that you [as conservatives] hold dear.” The effort was made to once again reduce me and my story to assumptions without even taking the time to listen to my story. To hear what got me to this point, having spent most of my life as a conservative Evangelical Republican and then a few years as a Libertarian before switching to the Democratic Party two years ago.

I could share stories of how I, as a queer trans woman, have seen and been on the receiving end of discrimination based on the fear that people have heard from conservative talk shows. How the time I spent before I left Fresno talking to volunteers in our local refugee ministries opened my eyes to the plight of many of the people seeking asylum in our country. And the more I listened, the more I began to see that the lives of people cannot be reduced to a single talking point. There is a humanity there if we just take the time to listen and care.

Jesus set the example for us in this.

He constantly urged the religious people of His day to leave the comfort of their homes and the safety of their synagogues to see and hear the stories of those on the margins. The Woman at the Well. The man at the pool of Bethesda. The story of the Good Samaritan. Every single one of those stories was meant to open the eyes to a space beyond the external issues that came with assumptions. They’re the stories we hear each week at church — and yet are we open to hearing the call that God is making away from our comfortable spaces and the echo chambers of our own friends and party, or are we locking ourselves out from that empathy?

It’s the crux of what we see in Matthew 16, when directly after Peter’s confession of Christ as Lord and being praised for it, we see him not wanting to leave the comfort of that moment to think about the sacrifice it would take. In the blink of an eye, we see Jesus go from praising the revelation that Peter has to the point that He gives Peter the “keys to the Kingdom,” and names Peter as the cornerstone of the church, and in the next, Peter falls from that space to a place where Jesus is rebuking him and saying, “Get behind me, Satan.”

I don’t know about you, but that brings a bit of comfort for me. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the last mistake Peter would make, and yet the Church still recognizes him as their first leader. At the same time, it’s also an eye-opening challenge to me that draws me out of the complacency where we’re raising our hands in worship and in the next moment upset and angry because we are pulled out of the warm happy place where we feel God is happy with us to a place where we realize that things aren’t going to go the way we want.

We have the opportunity now to have conversations.

To listen to each other. To hear the stories of how we got here. And to ask ourselves the question, how can we make the world a better place? Want to help make America a better place? It doesn’t begin with platitudes and party platforms. It begins when we listen to the individuals around us and actually caring about how we can lift them up. It begins when we open ourselves to the possibility that we are wrong. And it begins when we put aside our stances of moral superiority and assumptions and take a posture of being willing and open to listen.

As a Christian, I used to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 all the time: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” What I’m recognizing now is that God is calling His people to make sure that other people are humbled. He isn’t asking for us to force morality on others. He’s asking each and every one of us to approach Him in humility. In realizing that we don’t have the answers. That we’re not above anyone else. And that we are just as much in need of God’s grace than the next person. Perhaps it’s in that stance that we begin to see the face of God in the person that we have been told to fear all of our life. The person of color. The poor person. The rich person. The police officer. And when we begin to see that and live accordingly, God hears that prayer and heals our land.

So are you approaching this election season? Beth from the Pantsuit Politics Podcast said it so well in a recent podcast when she asked if we are voting for our own comfort, or if we are taking a step back and looking at what is the best for the entire world. May that be where we land with the conversations that we continue to have in the coming weeks and months. Is there a place for both? Yes. But both are necessary for shalom. And we must never forget that shalom is the goal.

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