B: Believe People

“100% of the time, I am going to default to their [any minority’s] reaction because I know it’s true . . . I am no longer going to say my perspective is the right one because it’s the majority perspective.”

–Jen Hatmaker, Surviving Sarah with Sarah Bragg


A few years ago, I was working at a fitness facility. I worked in the Aquatics Department, mostly teaching and organizing swim lessons, and one afternoon, one of the swim instructors called me to let me know she would be late because her car had broken down on her way into work.

Once she arrived, I asked if she had been able to get her car started, but she said no, she had just begun to walk to work.

“You walked that entire way in this weather?” I gasped, glancing out the window at the huge snowflakes flying wildly through the air.

“Oh no,” she laughed. “A cop was driving by and offered me a ride.” She paused as she dropped her bag into the chair next to her. “He was black, so I knew it was safe.”

I froze. Untamable thoughts raced through my mind: She was afraid of a policeman, the very person who was supposed to keep us safe. She was threatened until she discovered he was more like her than like me. She had to think about whether she would be safer inside a police car or walking along the side of the road alone.

I stared at my friend, unable to find words, until she turned and walked toward her waiting class, already splashing and giggling in the pool.

This was just after the Black Lives Matter movement had started, just after I had moved off the family farm in Small Town, Ohio and into the “big city”, just after I had only begun to understand that my charmed experience in America is not everyone’s. My eyes were only beginning to see my beloved country for all it’s good, bad, and ugly parts–and this experience cracked my heart wide open.

This was the story that changed everything for me, but it was not the first story I had heard. It was just the first time I believed–truly, unequivocally believed–the person telling the story. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? That I hadn’t believed other people telling me racism and discrimination exists in the country we claim is The Land of the Free. But we all do it. Or, at least, we have all done it at some point.

Think about it:

How often do we hear others share their hard, heartbreaking experiences and think: Surely not. Not here.

How often do we hear sexual assault survivors bravely tell their stories only to accuse: “Well, were you drunk? Maybe you said yes and you just don’t remember.”

How often do we hear people of color talk about their experiences with racism and think: Really? Are you sure that really happened?

How often do we hear those in the LGBTQ community tell stories filled with homophobia and transphobia and biphobia and say, “Well, I don’t know if they really meant that.”

We are all gaslighting each other so badly that I’m surprised there is even still a Church at all. When no one believes one another, how do we live and work together? How can we possibly learn, speak, or love when no one’s experiences are valid except for our own?

We can’t and we don’t.

Instead, we gaslight and second-guess and disbelieve people who are literally just telling the truth about their own lives. We surround ourselves with people just like us. We create echo-chambers in attempt to avoid conflict. We stop listening and learning, and grow comfortable instead. We become wildly exclusive.

The way to stop that? Believe the experiences of others–even when (or perhaps especially when) the stories we hear don’t make any sense to us. I’m convinced it is the only way.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work, the act of believing other people’s experiences without conditions or questions. Are you having a hard time listening without an agenda? Here’s a few tips:

  • Stop comparing your experiences with theirs. You’ve heard that comparison is the thief of joy–it is also the thief of compassion.
  • Accept that you will never be the expert on experiences which are not yours. Listen to learn, not to refute.
  • Practice intentional silence. Listen more, speak less.

 

What do you need us to hear about your story?

This is a safe, welcoming space.

Let me know in the comments below or on social media with #MakingRoomOnThePew.

A: Ask Questions

In college, I was a social work major and one of the most impactful classes of my college career was the one where we learned how to appropriately and effectively interview clients during a therapy session. The first day of class, I walked into the classroom and reluctantly found a seat. To be honest, I was dreading this course. My anxiety was sky-rocketing at the sheer thought of interviewing a classmate (or being interviewed, for that matter) in front of the entire class.

Besides, how hard could this be? I wondered as I listened to the professor review the class syllabus. It’s just asking questions!

I was young and more than a little naïve, and apparently equated professionally interviewing a client to asking my best friend about her weekend plans.

Do you know why asking questions is not as easy as it seems? Because it is not just about asking questions. It’s about asking the right question to get to the information you need. It’s about your tone and body language and choosing the best words. It’s not about the questions; it’s about how to best get to know the client.

Little did I know, as a twenty-year-old pouting about speaking in front of the class for a final exam that this class would teach me valuable skills I would use for the rest of my life. This class taught me how to ask questions–and how to not ask questions.

Let’s face it: there is a bad way to ask questions. Insensitive language and ignorant questions can hijack a productive conversation and send it careening into the flames of defensive anger. You know, questions like these:

  • Is your marriage legal everywhere? Like even in other states?
  • Couldn’t they have another tagline? Something more inclusive, like “All Lives Matter”?
  • What religion allows women to be ordained as clergy?

Ouch. These are some cringe-worthy examples.

But the whole point in asking questions is to learn, you may be thinking. If I’m asking about something I know nothing about, how do I know if my question is offensive?

This is a fair point, and I am going to give you the same advice my professor gave me: “Ask kind questions with curiosity.”

Kind questions don’t feel like ammunition. Kind questions are asked from a place of curiosity, not positioned to take down an opponent. Questions asked with curiosity communications a desire to learn instead of a need to be heard. Kind questions asked with curiosity begin conversations rather than ending them.

I believe kind, productive conversations are the basis of creating an inclusive Church, so it makes sense to prioritize the skill of asking good questions.

The next time you find yourself wanting to ask questions of someone different than you, consider these points:

  • Am I asking to better understand, or to “win” this conversation?
  • Could I find the answer to this question by doing my own research on this topic?
  • Is there a kinder way to ask this?

What kind, curious questions do you have?

Let me know in the comments below!

Take me to the next letter! B: Believe People

The ABC’s of Building an Inclusive Church

I never considered church scary until I was no longer welcomed in with arms opened wide. I never thought church could be uncomfortable until I walked through the door after being asked to step down from my leadership roles when they found out I was dating a woman. I never imagined church could be anything other than a safe haven full of ridiculously fun games at youth group and fantastic (though perhaps theologically concerning) music.

My church was my home.

Some of my friends tried to tell me. They tried to explain the shame and fear and heartache they experienced in the same sacred building where I discovered restoration. But I couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to hear that my experience was not everyone’s experience; that my favorite place in the world was someone else’s least favorite. I didn’t want to know that the place where I found God was capable of causing my friends to all but lose their faith–whatever type of faith they had.

Looking back now, I can see how much I hurt others by not listening to them, by insisting church could be good for them too if only they would keep trying. I never realized how painful and detrimental that can be for a person–until that person being broken apart and shaved down in order to fit into a pretty little box was me. Maybe it’s been you too.

Let me be clear: I don’t say this out of anger. I don’t hate the Church. I love the Church–despite our rocky past. I say these things because I still love the Church deeply and I know we can do better. I am not condemning; I am challenging. Challenging us all–the Body of Christ–to be more loving, more radically welcoming; to be more like Jesus.

This is not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not about watering down the Gospel or “cherry-picking” the parts of the Bible we like. This is about how to best represent the God-Man we claim to be following. It’s about how to become the true Body of Christ, the one God was envisioning at the beginning of time, the one not at all homogenous but which reflects the glorious Kingdom of God.

It is beyond time to start #MakingRoomOnThePew. Join me, won’t you?

Take me to the first letter! A: Ask Questions