Before I come barreling out of the gates (forgive the bull riding analogy, I am Texan), I want to make it clear that this post is written for one person: 2019 Kathryn, the person I once was. It’s my prayer that a few of you might find some solidarity in that.
That one word makes us all uncomfortable, doesn’t it? But you know what two words should make us more uncomfortable?
I’d like to tell you that I’ve “arrived.” But, I’m writing this from a place of humility, knowing that I have some serious heart work to do when it comes to living a life rooted in Christ’s teachings.
As we embark on an election season – in an age of social media where everything is analyzed and criticized in seconds – my heart finds itself weary. I’m betting yours is, too, no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself.
Somewhere along the way, we started making politicians idols, saviors of our problems. Then, we took it a step further and started demonizing and villifying people on the other side. How many times have I heard, “Well, you can’t be a faithful Christian and vote for XYZ candidate.”
Can I be completely vulnerable and admit something to you? Not only have I heard that statement, I’ve said it. Believed it.
And then, 2020.
A few weeks ago I heard an interview with Sr. Helen Prejean, the famous religious sister that inspired the 1995 movie, Dead Man Walking, about an inmate on death row and her relationship with him as his spiritual director. It was her emphatic, “exposure to something gives you an appreciation for the experience.” And, in a written interview with Busted Halo, she said this:
“The gospel of Jesus and conversion of heart doesn’t happen, for the most part, simply by the hierarchy of the church…That’s not the conversion journey of what it means to follow the gospel. There has to be a change of heart and you have to arrive at that change of heart by bringing people through their own emotions.”Sr. Helen Prejean, bustedhalo.com
With each jarring event of 2020 – wildfires, deaths of celebrities, pandemics, murder hornets, racial tension, cancellation of sports, closures of schools, a Dr Pepper shortage (what?!), dual hurricanes and more wildfires – I found myself not only hitting my knees, but asking Jesus what he was trying to refine out of me. Just what needed burning down and what needed building up?
I started reaching out to friends and acquaintences that hold different beliefs and have experienced different upbringings, yet who adhere to the same Gospel message I do. We started talking. I started listening. And something shifted. I could hear Sr. Helen’s words, “there has to be a change of heart and you have to arrive at that change of heart by bringing people through their own emotions.”
Difference doesn’t have to be discord, nor division. If there were an easy answer, particularly in political elections, our choices would be simple. But they aren’t. They’re complicated and nuanced and require an informed conscience. What I’m coming to realize is that I can strongly dislike someone’s political leanings, but it doesn’t mean I have permission to villify them, question their faith or admonish who they are.
More than a decade ago, I found myself in the NICU (the neonatal intensive care unit) and it was the deepest, darkest, hardest valley of my life. Those 44 days felt like 44 years. I have the gray hair to prove it. But throughout our preemie’s journey, there was the friend who brought us a meal, the families who raised money to help us pay medical bills, the fellow mom who held my baby while I sobbed in the hospital shower, the marriage counselor who helped us put our life back together and the NICU mentor who gave me hope.
And you know what I didn’t do? I didn’t ask a single one who they voted for, and if I had it wouldn’t have mattered one damn bit.
Because in the most hellacious pit of my life, they were present for me. They were Jesus to me, my kids and my husband. And that’s what God asks of us. To live a Gospel life. And, for American Christians, that means that no political party has gotten it totally right because none of them represent the Gospel message.
I think 2020 reminded me of that: to see someone’s humanity before I saw their bumper sticker. Because at the end of the day, there is no red or blue section in heaven, y’all. It’s what you do here, in this life. How you love people on the fringes. What you do with your privilege. How you share your story and your experience with love to instigate change. How you meet people right where they are and find a path to get them closer to Jesus.
Who am I to look at someone’s heart and judge it based on their ballot? I’m sure glad Jesus doesn’t. He looks at the totality of our lives. He sees our failings and our wins, our heartaches and our joys and He sees us as worthy.
Perhaps, as we form our voting conscience we can remember that worth, that dignity of every human person. We can see one another as sinners, stumbling toward heaven. Sometimes, we get it right and other times, the fall is pretty painful.
Please Jesus, help me to live a Gospel life. Help me realize the work you want me to do and not judge my brothers and sisters for the work you need them to do.
Help me lead with love. Always.