I went to church today. Two days after the US Supreme Court decision that declared same sex marriage bans unconstitutional. I almost didn’t go. I waited till the very last second to book my transport yesterday and then cancelled the transport today and ended up spending between 14 and 16 dollars traveling down the road. I knew it would be uncomfortable. For my own reasons, I bore the discomfort.
I say this to give the context of where my newest lesson was learned. I entered in a very upbeat mood. Then the worship began and ended and then there was the prayer. Here I held my breath. “Oh,” I said, “I hope they don’t bring that up”. No such luck, for it was brought up immediately. I rolled my eyes, I sighed, and the good mood I had sported up until then was squashed. I sat through the entire service feeling very uncomfortable. In the midst of that uncomfortableness, something was revealed to me: We can deal with discomfort, we can sit with it. Sometimes we must.
It’s a rare occurrence when we find someone who agrees with us on a particular matter. It is inescapable, however, that we will find someone that will disagree. But our beliefs, religious or not, are very sacred and we fight over them and we try to win others over to our way of thinking or we cast others aside because they don’t adopt our (obviously) right point of view. Unfortunately, that is the nature of life, whether this sort of behavior is inborn or learned.
Why was I uncomfortable today? Because their speech during prayer ran counter to my beliefs. That’s it. I’d love for them to be more in line with what I believe and they would love for me to be more aligned with what they believe, and so we engage in the tug-of-war, neither of us willing to compromise. But this isn’t about that. Not entirely. It’s also about empathy. After service, for the first time I wondered “wow, how do they feel when actions in their community run counter to their beliefs?” “How uncomfortable must it feel to hold on to a belief despite a rising tide?”, “How awkward was it on June 26th to see their facebook and twitter and Instagram feeds proclaiming something they feel is fundamentally wrong?” Notice here that I am not saying that they are right/wrong in their beliefs. I’m focusing on feeling. Something I can relate to. We have all felt alone, indignant, afraid, ashamed, and abused. We’ve all been in the majority and we have all been in the minority at some point.
All I have to do in this case is put the shoe on the other foot. Ask myself what it would have been like if the situation were reversed. What would I (want to) do? Would I be re-affirming my stance in a place that was my own (a church for example)? Would I make my opinion known on my own personal space? Would I feel angry, frustrated, confused and cheated? Yes. Why? Because I invest a lot into my beliefs. We all do. These particular individuals were simply reacting naturally to an occurrence.
In understanding this, we can understand a few other things as well. When we have disagreements on particular beliefs, we tend to build walls. We create spaces in which our beliefs are welcomed and affirmed. That is fine. In fact, I had planned to go to a church that was more affirming, today in hopes that I could avoid this. I was content to find people like me. But that doesn’t help us progress any further. Instead it allows stagnation or digression. Historically, Segregation was overturned in Brown v Board, but we saw gentrification happen as well. Which means that segregation still occurs (in some sense) in minds if not on paper. We haven’t made any lasting progress towards equality because we changed the law, but we didn’t take the time to see what both sides of the argument needed or wanted. I argue that in this particular instance, instead of finding spaces where we are affirmed constantly, we can use our empathy to build bridges. We can strive to respect and understand one another truly and fully and not superficially. Some of us are asking for unconditional acceptance and on the other hand we won’t return the same to another. We want love and we won’t give it. We ask for freedom of expression only when it suits us, forgetting that there are others. We want to pull others toward our side, instead of realizing that the place of balance is in the middle. Without giving up anything that we stand for, we can converse, surely. We can empathize certainly