As we are thrust into the drama of the presidential race of 2016, I’m faced once again with the overwhelming need to put words to thoughts and feelings, but somehow they always fall short. There is too much I want to say and too many emotions attached to each letter etched on the screen. But I’m going to try.
Friday afternoon I attended a beautiful memorial service for a young man who was shot and killed in Austin last week. A man who had seen entirely too much suffering and pain for someone barely in their 20s. A man who’s life was so difficult from the moment it began that I have no business even attempting to articulating it.
As his friends, one by one, stood in front of one another voicing their grief into a microphone, I was overcome by the words they spoke. It was unlike a funeral I had ever attended, which have been filled with words of hope and life and comfort. Words that can cover neatly over the pain of a loss. Behind the words these 50+ “kids” (barely adults) was more akin to despair. Hopelessness. Words that reflected a mentality that there is just no point. “We’re all just going to die young anyway, so why even try?” one muttered.
Yes, not your average middle-class funeral. It was tough to swallow. My heart was pounding. The 100+ degree sun beating down on attendees. I felt the heaviness of life outside the safety of my world. A life where trite phrases used to offer comfort are completely meaningless. A world where “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” has been tried and tried, to no avail. No amount of money or willpower or encouragement can fix all factors at play. So I gave in and shed some tears, because I could offer little else.
Since moving to Austin, God has been leading me down a path straight to the doorstep of people who used to terrify me. Afraid that the “other” I had heard about may challenge my lifestyle or worldview or false sense of security, I stayed at arms distance. An occasional short-term mission trip or a day feeding the homeless would quench my desire to be a good christian and care for others like the Bible taught me to. Then I could go back to my reality without the built-up guilt I’d been storing.
Can I just pause here and say that I am so far from where I want to be when it comes to being in community with people who are different than me? Because I am. I am aware of it every single day as I sleep in soft bed with a roof over my head. When I leave the roach-infested trailer of a formerly homeless friend and get into my air-conditioned car with leather seats. I am always aware of it. I am always grappling with what to do about it.
God has graciously placed me in the lives of refugee families, homeless, youth aged out of foster care, and the physically and mentally ill in the last few years. It has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received from Him. I’ve had the privilege of sharing my home, many meals, offering childcare, and mentoring beautiful young adults. In doing so, my life has been changed. Josh’s life has been changed. Politics for us have changed.
Putting a face and a voice and a story with the “other” has diminished my ability to write people off. It has made me consider the possibility that some people’s choices are truly limited. I have cried with a teenager over yet another possible pregnancy in which her child would be taken away from her and given to another family. I have seen how the system favors people with money, and without it, there are no breaks to be had. There are awful cycles in place that need to be broken, but it is just so complicated. There is no easy solution. I am completely inept at solving any of the deeply rooted issues I see my friends facing.
One thing I can say for sure, though. It is becoming harder and harder to see my christian brothers and sisters making strong stands politically that directly effect people other than themselves, and they have no face or story or name to attach to their vote. It kills me to hear the shouts of christians rallying for “life” without leaning in to hear the cries of the mothers who feel powerless, judged, and lacking options others swear they have. Why aren’t we reaching out to know these women and listening to their stories? Why aren’t we sharing life with those who scare us? Is it the feminists? Is it the poor? People of a different ethnicity? Please. I beg you. Know the ones who are impacted by your votes and labels and judgements. Know them.
I hope you will come to find that your beliefs did indeed hold up against the weight of a life different than your own. That your vote was one in favor of the marginalized the whole time. There is a good chance that your worldview is beneficial to many. But I pray that my christian brothers and sisters would know and be known by the people they formulate opinions about. Please know them first, and let Christ mold the opinions you hold about them afterward.
Josh and I are a constant work in progress, and we often laugh at how terrible of a job we are doing. Thankfully, I am surrounded by people in my life who do this beautifully. They step into uncharted territory and break through barriers and make the uncomfortable comfortable every day. They, like Christ, are in the business of knowing people. I’m not about changing people. I learned that lesson long ago. I’m the person who needs redemption through relationships. I’m the one who needs my eyes opened. I need to be awoken to the factors that contribute to complicated choices and lifestyles. I need to meet people where they are, loving them completely, and be radically changed in the meantime. I have found some of the greatest joys in my life on that journey, and my deepest desire is to invite more people into it.
You may find yourself at a funeral for a foster child or ecstatic for your gay friends on their wedding day or weeping with a woman who is pregnant through prostitution or in a million other places you would never expect. You may not recognize yourself at times. But in all of the discomfort there is joy and life and growth. So can we all enter into that together and watch ourselves be transformed?
Whatever that transformation looks like for you, please let it begin with love and relationship. That is what we are called to.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. -1 John 4:18-19