privilege, empathy, and other things this election got me thinking about
As the election unfolded, I was in shock. I just did not think Trump would win based on what I’d been hearing and reading in the weeks and days leading up to the election. Watching the results with a Trump supporter swayed my perspective on the whole thing, I’m sure, but I was also simultaneously reading the texts of a bunch of my friends who felt devastated that he won. And then I saw the social media storm begin to swirl. Cynicism, hopelessness, anger, sweeping generalizations getting swept up into the tornado of tweets, comments, and hashtags.
My initial reaction was, “Oh no, everyone is so hopeless. But it’s all gonna be okay!” which grew into a somewhat impatient, “Okay, come onnnn, people, chill out.” I immediately started tweeting verses like “Since, we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful & please God by worshiping him...” and “But we are citizens of heaven....” and “this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”
And then I saw on Twitter:
@thecapitalv: "What a privilege it must be to be able to look past a presidential candidate's racism because it won't ever affect you."
@RevDaniel: “Dear Christians saying, ‘Don’t worry. Jesus is still on the throne.’ He was there when Hitler came to power, too. Your privilege stinks.”
Ouch. I felt so stuck. Am I one of these Christians? Speaking out of privilege? Is it so wrong to share what I believe is true? What am I supposed to say? I noticed a defensiveness and confusion rising up in me.
I wrote in my Notes, “Acknowledging Jesus as our hope in the midst of political craziness doesn't have to invalidate people’s sadness at the election results. That's the point of hope in Jesus - it’s something we can hold onto it in hard times.”
I told the retweeting friend, “It’s frustrating that it’s perceived as minimizing to say anything about Jesus. If people were saying, "I'm scared. I'm hopeles. I'm sad, others could respond with, ‘I am so sorry,’ and empathize. Instead it just seems like people’s attitudes are, ‘Let’s wildly complain about everything about this election and be mean and harsh and use superlatives and be hypocritical.’ I just feel like it sucks to feel like you can’t communicate your faith-filled sentiments without seeming inconsiderate even if that’s the thing that brings you hope. But I guess someone saying, ‘I’m placing my hope in Jesus,’ is different than preaching at someone, ‘Jesus is still on the throne. Believe that and stop being sad.’”
She responded, “Yeah, one is a testimony and another is a sermon. My hope is for sure in Jesus, but I’m just pissed that such an idiot was chosen and I don’t feel ready to be positive.”
That hit me. Her honesty opened my eyes. “I don’t feel ready to be positive.” Here in this personal conversation, I realized I can apply her statement to what I’m reading on the Internet. People don’t always own their feelings and articulate them in I-statements. Sometimes they blame and shame and project. Sometimes they name-call and start saying they’re unfriending all their Trump-supporting friends. But, as my husband calls it, “Vibey Listening” is important. People don’t always communicate exactly how they feel in well-articulated sentences, especially when heated or hurt. Good Listening hears past that. I remembered that I don’t need to wait for people to communicate their fear in a perfectly-crafted statement for me to realize they’re deeply afraid, for me to see the sense of hopelessness and frustration and anxiety surfacing among so many. I recognized that I was using what I perceived to be “poor communication” as an excuse to distance myself from their pain; mix that with my own “privilege” and I could’ve stayed distant for a while.
“Privilege is when you think that something's not a problem because it's not a problem for you personally.” - David Gaider
Was @RevDaniel’s tweet in fact addressed toward me? Is it my privilege that causes me to want to tweet Bible verses in the face of America’s pain? Even though I don’t want to admit it, I do think privilege is one of the things affecting how I listened to others and responded. I think it was easy to tweet all them verses because I don’t have much at stake. I’m not experiencing personal fears or intense feelings associated with Donald Trump being named the President-Elect, so I’m sitting here grappling less with that announcement and more with the responses I’m witnessing, trying to process all the interactions happening along the continuum of grief to elation.
“If we are privileged, which many of us are, then let’s fight so everybody gets that same privilege. Feeling guilty helps nobody.” - Donald Miller
This morning, I started reading about the breakdown of who voted and realized that the majority of minorities voted for Hillary and that white, wealthy voters gave victory to Donald Trump. I felt a little more understanding of the various perspectives I’d been hearing.
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I saw a friend on Facebook say,
“Don’t tell me God is in control or gloat that your candidate won. Don’t tell me who sits in the Oval Office doesn’t directly affect my life. Don’t remind me that this is not my home and that the real King sits on the throne. I believe you, but I still have to live here...Find some empathy, Trump supporters. You have a real opportunity to really show the love of Jesus (that includes grieving with us and listening to our fears).”
Christian friends, let's be a little better today. Less quick to counter mourning with immediate positivity. (It feels like invalidation). Listen. Be sensitive. There are communities that need to be heard and are hurting. "How you love is your religion." - Leah Lu
We have to be able to give space for grief and sadness - not just when it comes to politics, but when it comes to anything.
I used to think, “Okay, if I just believe Jesus is enough, I won’t feel [negative emotion].” A sense of guilt came with that philosophy whenever I couldn’t believe in God’s goodness enough to stop experiencing a negative emotion. I don’t have all the answers as to how truths about Jesus and his kingdom and his sovereignty are supposed to make us feel, but what I can see is that when people have extended love like his to me, one that’s patient and steadfast and gracious, it has helped me trust Him more. Piling on top of someone’s sadness the notion of, “If Jesus were really enough and if you believed he works everything together for the good of those who love him, you’d feel okay,” seems unhelpful and void of empathy.
“Please be thoughtful of the "God is on the throne" platitudes. Those who believe that and are grieving today still believe that...BUT PEOPLE ARE GRIEVING. I am grieving. That is not helpful. It feels like a knife. It feels like that statement is all at once accusing me of not trusting in our God and belittling my emotions.” - Facebook Friend
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that in Ecclesiastes it says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens...time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” I do see a whole book in the Bible called Lamentations. I do see David in the Psalms being pretty dang devastated and honest about those emotions.
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All those out there who are feeling afraid, your feelings are welcome. All those who are feeling excited, your feelings are welcome too, but I think some “good sportsmanship” is in order.
What’s happening on social media is a demonstration of how badly people want to be heard and it’s also a sad display of how poorly we listen.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I struggle to listen well in my day-to-day life, and not just in this political conversation. I know I tend to want to fix and hurry others towards feeling better and I’m constantly being reminded that instead of answers and quick-fixes, a sincere “I get it / I feel you / Me too” goes a long way. When I reflect on my instant reaction to the heaviness much of America feels, I see that bad habit of mine, that fixing, corrective, and prideful impulse.
But, it’s not too late to grow and change, and I want to take this election as an opportunity to do so.
For the ones who are hurting, I’m deeply sorry. Your fear makes sense. It’s painful to not feel advocated for. I can see how this decision is confusing and frustrating and feels like a major setback. For the ones who are happy, your voice matters too, and happiness at the fact that the candidate you voted for won is certainly valid. But let’s not forget that a lot of other people wanted something radically different. Let’s not demand we all rejoice together quite yet. Shouldn’t grief get it’s time?
If we keep communicating like I’ve seen on social media, divides will continue. If we communicate that way online, we’re most likely communicating that way offline. I’m aching to see unity and harmony, and believe that if we learn to be slow to speak and quick to listen, we can find ways to work together as the actual united states of America. We can disagree without blame and shaming and deciding to disconnect from those who voted differently. Undoing these practices are the very thing that will change our homes and communities and country.
“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment...Finding connection with people that we perceive as “the other” is our collective mandate. Maybe the conversation will be about something other than politics – something small that we share in common. I don’t think it will be easy, but I believe it is the only way forward...We are often susceptible to the worst stereotypes and myths about groups, but people are hard to hate close up. My hope is that we can turn toward each other and find even the smallest bit of grace surging between us.” - Brene Brown
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” - Martin Buber
Despite us Christians getting it wrong so often, Jesus does model humility and empowers us to do the same.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2
So what does this look like? Different for each person, I’m sure, but here are some words of encouragement and exhortations that helped me envision what it would look like to support each other, advocate for others, and love sacrificially.
“Jesus would be spending his time with the very people who feel left behind by how the church largely voted in this election...The American church gets to decide if it wants to be a relevant part of God's rescue mission for our world. It's happening in Africa. It's happening in China. It's happening in South America. We can decide whether we want to kick back and feel good about ourselves because Republicans are in power or we can shake our heads and complain about how people who voted a certain are idiots. Or we can get off our butts and do what we've been called to do. Love our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves.” - Josh Pease
“Yes, we confess Jesus is Lord. But that, in no way, means we are exempt from participating in the reconciliatory and redemptive work that is required of the Christ follower, daily--within every system, under any president.” - Benjamin Crook
Ok, Church, it's time to roll up our sleeves and be who the people of God have been called to be all along. Believe, defend, and advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Welcome and provide for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the refugee. Stand up and against anti-Muslim rhetoric, in all of it's forms. Embrace and celebrate your Hispanic and African-American sisters and brothers. Do not tolerate violence against them, in word or in action. And to those of us mourning, be kind & patient towards yourself today. Drink water. Hug someone you love. Don't fight the tears---grief is part of the holy work of restoration. - Sarah Schwartz
If we can actually do what God tells us to do, we’ll see the unity and harmony we hunger for. Let’s live like Jesus is in fact on the throne and take his charge to love seriously. Instead of only declaring that he is king, let’s demonstrate it as well, extending the peace, patience, and persistence produced from believing in his lordship and love. Instead of saying his Kingdom lasts forever, let’s reveal what that Kingdom is like. Let’s love like the king of this eternal kingdom loves. Let’s be his hands and feet and not a group of believers whose faith is void of deeds.
I won’t be saying some of the same things I said yesterday as I continue to participate in this conversation, but I still stand by one thing I wrote: In the midst of all this election chaos and the stress I've witnessed, I keep coming back to the fact that the church's call remains the same no matter what happens in the political sphere. The church gets to bring the Kingdom no matter who's on an earthly throne. Things get pretty dark and things may get darker, but we are the Light of the World. And something I know about light is how relieving it is to finally see it when you've been surrounded by darkness for so long. If politics get darker, the church has the opportunity to shine brighter. Jesus died for our freedom. Jesus gave us purpose. Jesus demonstrated humility, inclusivity, and love. Whatever happens, let us not curse the darkness. Let us be light. That's always been our call. May the backdrop we live among cause our light to shine even brighter, our love to be even sweeter, our words to be even kinder.
"It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." - Eleanor Roosevelt
Update: Between the time I started writing this and ended up posting it, I've seen so many more positive, hopeful posts on social media. I'm happy to see a growing number of empathetic responses, statements of advocacy, and people beautifully articulating their attitudes about everything. Yes, yes, yes.