Learning to Take Sides

Elle, do you know how much I love you? Do you know how wonderful you are? Do you know that you are special?

IMG_7674Ever since Elle was tiny, Bea has been asking her these questions. And ever since Elle was able to respond, she’s answered, Yes! She does know how loved and amazing she is. (And, lest you think Bea is some sort of magical big sister, she learned those phrases from Frank, who also asks Elle those questions every day.)

It’s moments like that that make me smile and think that we are doing something right as parents. And then, later in the day, I’ll hear the shrieks and cries that only sisters who know the art of pushing buttons can elicit. As I go to mediate the fight, I forget the sweet moments and focus on navigating the world of taking sides and teaching apologies.

I keep hearing that we are living in the most divisive world we’ve ever experienced. There are lots of culprits, though social media seems to take the most of the blame. We are at odds politically; our world is constantly in conflict; our churches are fragmented. The divides seem huge and unrepairable.

I was talking with a friend about taking sides and how unhelpful this seems. As we listen to stories and sit with the experiences of others, black and white thinking is much more complex. Even gray doesn’t seem to do justice to a conflict that stems from colonialism and millennia of power changes.

My friend wisely observed that sometimes, we do need to take sides. She likened global conflict to fights between her own children. While she loves both her children deeply, if one provokes the other, she takes one side as they work through the conflict. Often, as parents, we have to take sides in a moment as we teach life lessons of apology and forgiveness. When Elle snatches a marker from Bea and then draws on her artwork, I take Bea’s side in that conflict, teaching Elle to apologize and only draw on her own paper. When Bea runs past Elle, flicking her head in passing, I take Elle’s side as I teach Bea that no one likes their head flicked.

Taking sides doesn’t mean I don’t love both my girls or that I always take Bea’s side over Elle’s. But in a particular moment, the way to resolution is to stand with the oppressed.

We do live in a divisive world, though I wonder if it’s any more divisive than in centuries past. I would love for us to all hold hands, to usher in this season of Advent with hope, love, and peace. To put aside conflict and recognize our own part in the messiness of this world. In the meantime, I’m learning to take sides. I’m learning to stand with the oppressed, even when it feels more divisive or goes against popular opinion. I’m learning that, until the oppressed are given freedom, none of us experience freedom.

I’m learning that I can stand by the oppressed while still loving the oppressor.

How do you “pick a side” on a big issue? How do you intentionally learn about all sides of a conflict?

The Platinum Rule

We’ve all heard the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” While that rule is a good start, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

heart-1567215_960_720Living life by the Platinum Rule means setting aside my own preconceived ideas for what others need and want. It forces me to stop and listen, to put aside my own life experience and allow others to fully live out their own life experience.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside my notions of historical significance to manmade objects and listen to how people feel when they see oppression objectified.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside my own reality of comfort and safety and listen to how people feel unsafe walking in their neighborhoods, driving on the other side of town, living their daily lives.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside an ideal that learning a new language is an easy thing and I listen to stories of learning three or four other languages before tackling English.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I recognize that my marriage and family fit into societal norms and I listen to the heartbreak of families not recognized by their churches and faith communities.

There’s been a lot in the news the past couple days about how we want others to live their lives – from the distribution of resources in a crises to the way we choose to interpret the Bible that cuts out whole sections of the population, we are living the way we want to be treated. My rights are so rarely infringed upon that I can easily treat others how I want to be treated because society treats me pretty well.

But when I treat others how they want to be treated, that can make me uncomfortable. It can force me to recognize that my neighbors want to be treated with dignity because their rights are often diminished. It forces me to recognize that my LGBTQ friends want to worship without condemnation because they are so often shut out of the community of God. It forces me to recognize that our system is built on a history of racism and oppression and that I have both directly and indirectly benefited from this.

Treating others the way they want to be treated doesn’t make me less than. Building others up and honoring their experiences doesn’t diminish my own or rewrite history. I think about the way Jesus lead by example, how time and again he treated the “other” with dignity and respect. He didn’t treat them the way society demanded but with grace and love. How can I do any less?

How do you honor those whose experiences are different from your own? What are some ways you’ve learned to listen to the experiences of others?

A Love That Breaks Down Barriers

Imagine “love.” What colors do you see? What shapes? Now, try to think of the word without the color red or a heart. What do you see?

img_2680I often lead students through this exercise at the museum. An effort to understand that artists are constantly making choices – no matter how simple a drawing or painting looks – is a key part of this lesson. This discussion has so many interesting results:

I drew blue circles – because love is never-ending. And the sky is blue. We need love like we need to breathe.

I drew tulips – because there’s a field of tulips by my brother’s house that I love visiting.

It’s green – because green is calming and love should make me feel safe.

How do you view love? Sometimes I have trouble remembering that love does win; that love trumps hate. These days, it seems that those types of phrases are said in such an unloving way – that they’re used as accusations rather than reminders.

When I look to others and see that definition of love, I’m discouraged. It seems that I have to look so hard. When I close my eyes and think about it – really think, beyond hearts and red – I’m not as discouraged. It doesn’t seem so far away.

This second week of Advent, we lit the love candle. Sometimes it’s called the faith candle: A reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem – a journey of faith and love.

We had our neighbors over to decorate the tree and have dinner. We lit the Advent candles, though we left off the devotional. There was something so amazing about starting this second week with these friends of a different faith background. As the girls decorated, we parents talked about Christmas and Bethlehem but from different perspectives.

As we talked about our own traditions this time of year, as made plans for making tree decorating a yearly tradition, love took on a whole new meaning. I am reminded that to love our neighbors is what this is all about. To come together and do life. To talk about our different experiences and celebrate the rich diversity we bring to our conversations.

I need to remember that as we tell stories of the manger. This love was revolutionary. It wasn’t about drawing more us-them lines. It is a radical inclusivity, where love truly does win and conquers hate.

So this week, I focus on a love that breaks down barriers, that doesn’t see differences, that turns the kingdoms of this world upside down.

What are some tangible ways you let love lead in your life? How do you actively break down barriers?

 

Remembering Love

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately. Freedom tied to privilege; Freedom of speech; Freedom of choice; Freedom to marry. It’s been in the news, in conversation, and its definition has felt a bit divisive lately.

It’s interesting to think that, just about 250 years ago, our freedoms were literally a revolutionary idea. That the idea of giving (white landowning men) a list of freedoms was so out of the norm, a war was fought over it. (Well, and a lot of other things, but it’s more romantic to think of our War for Independence in those terms…)

I think there’s a tension in living with these freedoms, though. While I am incredibly grateful to live in a country where my status as an educated woman grants me so many freedoms, I find the balance of holding tight to those freedoms and loving my neighbor a difficult one to achieve.

I believe that the number one commandment of the Bible is to love our neighbor. From Micah 6:8’s “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God” message to Jesus’ repeated themes of loving God and loving neighbors, of loving the poor, of remembering the last will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, I see the message of love – not freedom – being preached over and over.

I’m not sure these two ideas have to be exclusive, but I do wonder if, when we are so worried about our freedoms being taken away, we forget to love. And I wonder how that would look – if we focused on love rather than freedom.

How do you view freedom? How do you find the balance between celebrating freedom and loving your neighbors?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.