I'm With You, All of You

I am full of arguments against writing this post.

The first is the loudest voice, it tells me that it is more loving to stay silent, or if I can’t stay silent then to stay vague. Don’t offend anyone. Don’t cause conflict. Don’t rock the boat. It’s wiser to just listen. And while this voice speaks some truth, it also lies. I have spent a lot of my life listening to the voices that tell me to get smaller and quieter and I don’t want to follow their lead anymore.

The way of love also asks us to listen, but it asks more of us than just getting quiet. It asks that we show up to the table, that we listen when others speak, but that we also speak up ourselves. It asks that we show up with all of ourselves and our hearts and we let others show up with all of their selves and their hearts too. It asks that we love and value others enough to hear them, really truly hear them, but also that we know ourselves to be loved and valuable enough to not tolerate anyone who doesn’t respect, validate, and listen to our voice as well.

Without good people speaking out, disregarding their own security and acceptance, ignoring the apparent wisdom of silence for the courage of love, we would never have change of any kind.

And I think the way of love is the way of change, because love wants growth. Love is not passively condoning an action that hurts someone because saying something might hurt someone’s feelings. Love is speaking up and calling forth something higher, something better, some growth that would lead more and more towards wholeness, health, well being, and true connection.

The voice that tells me to stay silent, even if the reason is that "it’s more loving", is not a loving voice. It is the voice of shame. Period. And I will not live under shame’s tyranny. I want to live under love’s dominion.

Having gotten over one hurdle towards writing another emerges.

“Other’s are already saying it better.”

I have felt proud of my Instagram feed this week. I am sure there are those out there who are being hurtful, hateful, and spiteful, but I have heard little of that. What I have heard and seen from so many people, people who are disappointed and hurt, is grace. I have seen love in action from so many people as they engage socially in sharing their thoughts, their feelings, there ideas, their fear, and their disappointment. I have seen people inviting those very different from them to the conversation both online and face-to-face. I have read words that are more thoughtful, beautiful, and powerful than anything I have read in the modern era in a long while.

Others are saying it better.

And then today I happen to be reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet in which she writes:

“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about.”

And like a flash of lighting I know I have to write this post. There is something I have to say. Not because I can say it better, or in some new way, but because it has to be said by me. There is something in me, which must come out. Not because of anyone else, but because of me. Because in the process of speaking, writing, sharing, creating, there is some growth that happens in the one who speaks, writes, shares and creates. There are words that need to come out of me because in doing so they can change me. And I need that. Always. No matter how many others are also doing that work and seem to be doing it better.

So, I sat down to write and a new fear rose, a new argument made it’s case. What if someone takes my words the wrong way? What if someone feels personally hurt or angered or harmed by my words? That can’t be the way of love, can it?

I think of a post I read this morning in which a woman I follow wrote beautifully on the cyclical nature of change and progress, the discomfort of it, the way the pendulum swings back and forth. The words were thoughtful, and gentle, and reading it felt like a call towards peace. But then I scrolled down and a rather long comment caught my eye. The person writing the comment was clearly upset, angry, and feeling their choice was being attacked by something that I could see clearly didn’t aim at attacking.

What if someone misunderstands? What if they take my feelings as a personal attack?

And I’m reminded of a truth that seems to be everywhere in my life right now. It is both simple and one of the most complex ideas I have ever grappled with:

I am not responsible for other people’s feelings. Just as someone else is not responsible for mine.

When I try to make someone responsible for my feelings I am placing shame and blame somewhere it can’t be placed.

Where this get’s complicated is that I do have a responsibility to my words and actions. I want to live in love, speak in love, act in love. I want to be aware and intentional. I don’t want to harm another, even in their feelings. And if I degrade, devalue, humiliate, abuse, dehumanize, brutalize, wrongfully accuse, or shame someone either in my words or my actions I am absolutely responsible for that. If I intentionally (or unintentionally) inflict harm on another with my words (or actions) I am responsible for that.

But, I cannot be responsible for how someone takes something I say in love, for how they interpret my words or how it makes them feel. Feelings are a rather tricky thing, and they come not just from what I say but from how what I say triggers a myriad of past experiences and stories in someone else. I can’t control that reaction. I am not responsible for another person’s feelings. I am responsible for my own actions, my own words, my own responses, that’s it.

So, here’s my promise to you: I will speak carefully.

I will chose my words with intention and caution. I will not use shame, I will not devalue, or degrade.

Will you read this post with grace? Will you read it with softness and understanding, not taking it as a personal attack, but as exactly what it is, my own processing, the words that must be said by me?

So, here it is…

I felt shocked, saddened, angry and discouraged that Donald Trump won the presidency. I could even go so far as to say I felt heartbroken by it. I walked around in a depressed daze for much of this week.

It wasn’t because a Republican won. I don’t often feel that Republicans value the things I value, but I have nothing against Republicans and I feel like there are plenty of them who would do a fine job running the country even though I may not agree with them.

It wasn’t that Hillary lost, I voted for her and I feel good about that vote, but I don’t love her. I didn’t want her to win the Democratic ticket. She feels like a typical politician.

The depression didn’t come from those things, it came from who won and how they won.

It was because someone won who is endorsed by the KKK and other white supremacy groups (yes, those groups shockingly still exist), who continually makes racist comments, who advocates for war crimes, who according to politifact tells the truth only 4% of the time, and has bragged about sexually predatory behavior.

It felt to me like a victory for hatred, for racism, for bigotry, for sexism, for disrespect, for inequality, for fear.

It felt to me like love and respect and civilized human decency lost. And that feels rather discouraging (to say it lightly).

I know a lot of wonderful, kind, loving thoughtful people who voted for Trump. I do NOT think they are about everything he seems to be about.

I am personally struggling to understand how, not being about those things, a person could vote for someone who is so blatantly about those things. But, I know this was a complicated race. I know people value different things than I do. I know there’s a lot that went into every persons decision, but knowing that doesn’t make me any less sad. I’m sad.

I’m sad for our country. I’m sad for the world, because this swing towards extremism, towards fundamentalism, towards exclusivism, and ethnocentrism, is not just happening in America it’s happening in a lot of places right now.

And I personally chose not to value those things.

The truth is those things are in me, as I wake up to myself I can see all of it.

In 1942 Etty Hillesum, a Jewish women in Amsterdam, wrote this in her journal as Nazis were rounding people up in the streets:

“I try to look things straight in the face, even the worst of crimes…I feel like a small battlefield in which the problems of our time are being fought out. All one can hope to do is to keep oneself humbly available, to allow oneself to be a battlefield.”

I don’t want to admit it, to see it, and especially not to write it, but the hatred I see in others is mirrored in me, the fear I see in others is mirrored in me. I am just as capable of bigotry and racism and sexism and exclusivity as even Donald Trump. I am just as capable of being close-minded and judgmental as the next person. I am not naive enough to say I am innocent; I am not. My world, my very soul, is subtly and not-so-subtly colored by all those things. Just like Etty I am a “small battlefield in which the problems of our time are being fought out.” But I will fight them out. I will not give in to my baser self. And I think I had hoped that we would not elect a candidate who time and time again seems to give into that baser nature and not even be in the battlefield.

So, what I need to write for me, right now, ontologically - in order to be - is a new commitment, a sort of vote of my own.

I need to say I’m with women, and girls, who are afraid to walk down the street alone at night, who are paid less than their male counterparts, who are kept out of certain jobs and certain industries, who are still in so many settings treated as objects for someone else’s pleasure either blatantly or subtly. I’m with you.

I’m with those who’s skin is darker and history more tumultuous than mine, who are between two and four times more likely to be stopped by police and 3 times more likely to be shot unarmed, who still in this day and age are segregated and looked down on and treated as lesser by so many, who enter their society being seen as a threat before they’ve even done anything. I’m sorry. And I’m with you.

I need to say I’m with the immigrant, those who are searching for home, for place, for safety; whether you come here legally or illegally because I know sometimes coming legally is just too hard and too expensive and you would do anything to have a future and give your children a future even if it means breaking the law. I get it. I would feel that too. I’m with you.

I’m with the disabled, those who walk differently and talk differently and those who don’t walk or talk at all, those who’s brains work differently than mine, who see the world with entirely different eyes, who we label as “disabled” because often we don’t know any better, but who just like me were made in the image of God and have so much to teach me about life and love and what it really means to be healthy and whole. We need you in our societies, in our churches, in our families. I’m with you. I’m with my daughter.

I’m with the sick who don’t know how they will afford the treatments they need, who are concerned that they will be denied insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions, who are held responsible for things they should never be held responsible for, who in any other industrialized civilized country would be cared for, because basic healthcare is a human right, at least equal to that of education, that any ruling government should be obligated to provide, but here we haven’t. I’m with you. I understand your stress and your fear.

I’m with all those who have been treated as less than, because of their race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. People matter. You matter. You have value. Even if others don’t treat you as valuable. Even if our highest office of government, the president himself, doesn’t treat you with value.

AND…

I need to say I’m with those of you who voted for Trump. Not because I agree with you, but because you have value too, just as much as me, or anyone else. You are entitled to your choice, to your ideas, to your vote. Just like I am.

I want to try to understand you...

To those of you who voted for him because you’re hurting, you feel like you’ve been forgotten, you feel like you aren’t getting what you’re entitled to, you want a better future for yourself and your children and you think he can give you that, I hear you. I want a better future for you and your children too, for all of us and our children.

To those of you who voted for him because the most important issue to you is abortion, you are outraged that so many innocents are being murdered every year, I hear you. I’m with you in wishing abortions would stop. It's a complicated issue, but I’m saddened by that loss of life, by all that potential destroyed. I’m with you.

To those of you who voted for him because you believe in the Republican party, you might notice that it’s not the party it was, you might not like that, but you still believe in the things the Republican party stands for and you could never vote otherwise, I respect your loyalty. I was raised Republican, there are things they say that they are about that I could get behind if I actually saw them being about those things. I hear you. I hope for a Republican party that is more than just a hate group, that is really about some of the things they say they are about, and I know that will only happen by kind passionate people like you staying in the party and working to raise the level of discourse and the quality of candidate. I’m for that.

To those of you who voted for him because you wanted change, you liked how he said whatever came into his mind and wasn’t polished and rehearsed, you liked that he wasn’t a politician, and even that he sometimes messed up and said the wrong thing, you value authenticity and people being who they are even in the spot light, I get that. I like that too. We desperately do need change, we desperately do need people in office who are authentic and not two-faced, but I also believe in the value of words and that words matter and what we say matters and we should be careful in how we use our language, using our words to built up rather than abuse or harm.

To those of you who voted for him because your parents, or friends, or maybe your pastor and the other people around you told you it was the right thing to do, even the “Christian” thing to do, and you believed them, because your relationships are built on trust and you trust them, I understand that. I voted that way for a time. It’s nice and comforting to see the world in black and white and so much harder to try to start wading through the grey. I get that. I feel that. I’m with you.

To those of you who voted for Trump because you really couldn’t tolerate seeing Hillary in the white house, you have a visceral, extremely negative reaction to the Clintons, you think they are manipulative, lying, slimy, two-faced, disingenuous, and even evil, I hear you. That feeling that you get in your gut when you think about the Clintons, that’s the feeling I have when I think about Trump. I get you. I understand you. The Clintons are far from clean, far from honest or forthcoming. And you value those things. I understand that. I’m with you.

And to those of you who voted for Trump for reasons I haven’t thought of, reasons perhaps beyond my understanding, maybe you really are scared about immigrants taking your jobs, maybe you really do like the few policies he sort of put forth, wherever you are coming from, whatever reason you had for voting for him, I’m with you.

I’m with you. Not because I agree. But because I value you. I value your voice and your right to chose. I value democracy.

Most of all, I’m with you because it’s the only way we can move forward.

But the second you, or our president-elect, start to devalue another human being, whatever their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion I will call you on it. I will fight you on it. I will not stand behind that.

I am willing to enter into an honest, respectful, discourse about differing political ideologies and plans, with love, but I am finally ok fighting when you say or do something that devalues another human being. Loving, respectful, discourse is so deeply needed and important, but if all I do when you degrade another human being is shrug my shoulders and say you are entitled to your beliefs I am no longer walking in the way of love. I am then part of the problem.

And I do not want to be part of the problem anymore, even in the darkest most subtle and unconscious places of my heart. I will let my heart, my life, be the battlefield. I suspect I will fail at times, but I will try and I will keep fighting.

I do not want to stand silently or idly by any longer.

I am with America. I believe in the experiment that is America.

I am also for our shared growth, our shared progress, our shared value. Each and every one of us.

Grace and peace, Bethany

PoliticsBethany Stedman