Week 30: Sitting in the Discomfort
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
I wish I were talking about the physical discomfort of pregnancy. The concrete discomfort that grows heavier and heavier as these third trimester days pass one after another.
But I’m not.
I was struggling with the idea of going to church on this first Sunday after the election. I knew that I would be worshipping God alongside people who had voted for this man. I knew the anger and frustration that I would feel. I knew someone would say something that would send my blood pressure soaring.
But I went.
Because I needed healing. I needed to hear, Help, save, comfort, and defend us, Gracious Lord.
I sat in an adult Sunday School classroom in which, at nearly 35 years old, I was the youngest person in the room.
We listened to an episode of a DVD series by Max Lucado called You Will Get Through This. Before the election, those words had comforted me through the difficult moments of pregnancy. Now, those words address a completely new range of emotions.
I told myself, No. You will not bring up the pain of the election. You will not be the one to instigate a conversation. You are not here to argue. You are here for healing.
But it didn’t matter. It was on everyone’s mind.
I mean, look at this last election, an older man said. And now people are protesting like this? What has happened in the last twenty years? How did we get here?
I think it’s an erosion of values. Look at the young people of today. They have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, and they think that’s connection. When I was a kid, we talked to each other. Young people today aren’t really connected to each other.
Yes, I’ve noticed that too. When I was a kid, there was more expectation of looking out for your neighbor. We’ve lost that neighborliness. And we need to bring that back.
It’s Christian values specifically that are being eroded. I mean, I can’t speak to what Muslims are teaching, I don’t have an understanding of it, but we’re starting to see a real decline in Christian values among our young people.
Right! Young people aren’t going to church the way they used to. And why? Where did they go? Why aren’t they coming?
Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that, ones that I don’t know that we can get into now, but it’s having an effect for sure. We see those values falling away more and more.
It was at this point that I thought about leaving. My heart was racing. I was fuming.
Geez, I have no idea why Millenials are leaving the church, I sarcastically mused. Could it be because they don’t think there’s a place for their opinions? Could it be because they are being labeled and dismissed as whiny and disconnected? Erosion of values? What about the values that more Millenials have than Baby Boomers? Values like respect for sexual orientation and differing religious views?
I am a regular contributor to this class. I don’t just sit there and say nothing. I open up. I offer personal stories from my life. I allow myself to be vulnerable in this classroom because, usually, I feel surrounded by supportive fellow Christians. But the next words out of my mouth were going to be full of hurtful, angry words.
So I shut up that morning. Because my words would have only fueled the fire already ablaze in that room. Because there was only enough time to really get pissed off at each other. Not enough time to actually talk through an issue.
Not that morning. That morning, I needed to calm down and think.
I needed to sit in the discomfort of being generalized and labeled and dismissed. I needed to feel the way that millions of working class Americans have been feeling for years. I needed to shut up and listen.
I haven’t been doing enough of that lately.
I let this room full of Baby Boomers talk and I listened to their concerns. I listened with the intention of understanding how they were drawing conclusions.
My epiphany didn’t happen in that moment. It didn’t even come to me on that day.
The next day, as I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard a segment on interviews with working class voters in New Hampshire. Then, a light bulb.
The way that I felt in that Sunday School classroom was the same way that many of the rural, working class of America has felt for years. They have felt that their ideas and concerns have been too often generalized, labeled, and dismissed. They have felt forgotten and unimportant. And in Donald Trump, they saw a person who has pledged to not forget them.
The racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the lying, the bad business practices… All of that just comes along with Trump’s package. But for many of these voters, all of those vices are not horrible enough to deny Trump their vote. And as disturbing as I find that dismissive attitude, I have to acknowledge that their decision is coming from a need for self-preservation.
He’s going to make America great again.
He’s going to bring back our jobs.
He’s going to bring life back into our dying towns.
Even if he doesn’t accomplish all that he says, at least we’ll get something.
And what about racism and xenophobia? When everyone in your immediate social circles is white and native-born Americans, these vices tend to not rank high on the list of disqualifying characteristics in a candidate.
After all, it doesn’t affect you.
It doesn’t affect your family.
Sure, it will probably affect someone. But that someone is probably a “bad person.” They probably deserve it. And it won’t affect your life.
Perhaps it’s quite telling that the people who have been downright mourning this election for the past week are people who have family, friends, and coworkers who belong to the targeted groups that Trump has scapegoated for the past year and a half.
For them, this election has hurt those they love. They have real fear and anxiety over the future and those fears aren’t completely groundless. Overt racism and hate crimes have jumped since this election. At my own university, faculty and students of color have reported racial bullying on our campus.
It used to be that tensions were higher between different cultural groups. Now, tensions are high even between generations of the same cultural group. Our realities are wildly different.
In talking with my own mom, I saw it.
Why are people just now acting racist like this? She wondered aloud. What makes them think they can act like this?
Mom, the racism was always there. It was just under the surface. Now, it’s coming out.
I just can’t believe that.
Of course she has trouble believing that.
Because she grew up in white Christian America. She doesn’t have a non-white friend who was flipped off by white men in a pick-up truck sporting proud Confederate flags. She doesn’t have students who were denied entrance onto a public bus, “unless they took their burqas off” (they were wearing hijabs, but I’m sure the driver didn’t know the difference).
For my mother, it is incredibly difficult to see this racism–because she doesn’t have much interaction with people who aren’t white and aren’t Christian.
But I have to admit that I am also blind.
Because I have benefited from globalization, I don’t have to live in a world where I can’t find a job. A world in which I have been outskilled by a younger, more educated workforce. I don’t have to face that everyday.
Believe it or not, I have empathy for this situation. Because it happened to my father.
He was a working class man with a high school education who was left further and further behind by the increasing technological demands of his job. The burden became so great, he had to retire early. For a man who relied on his work to define his identity, the blow of leaving his job was so crushing that he never truly recovered from it.
We have to start recognizing our blind spots.
We have to start trying to understand why many of us view this election as another example of how racism and sexism continue to go unchecked, overlooked, or downright condoned.
At the same time, we have to start trying to understand why many of us view the ability to consider racism and sexism in this election as an absolute privilege.
I can just hear the working class voices right now: Wow, must be nice to be able to be upset about racism and sexism. I’m furious that I can’t pay my rent every month. That I can afford even Obamacare. But, you know, sucks to be you.
When we say “let’s come together,” God, I hope we mean, let’s compromise.
God, I hope “let’s come together,” doesn’t mean, “Just accept that you’re wrong already and come over to the good side. The ‘American’ side.”
But we can only hope to recognize the importance of compromise if we find those spaces in our lives where we connect with people who are different from us. Different in education, race, religion, social class, and on and on. We need to hear different voices. Many different voices. And if we can’t hear them in our immediate communities, we need to seek them out.
The other day, I went to seek out how some of my more conservative family members–aunts, uncles, and cousins–were responding to the election. I looked up a few on Facebook and read through their recent posts.
When I got to my uncle, I did a double-take.
Do you know this person? Facebook asked me. Then it showed me a green button to Add Friend.
My uncle had unfriended me on Facebook.
I thought it was a mistake.
But no. He had definitely unfriended me.
Did I say anything to him to offend him? Did I like or react to something that he didn’t like? What did I do?
I still don’t know. Other than being a left-leaning family member.
My heart ached.
To be fair, I didn’t grow up with regular contact with this uncle. We lived in different states. We might have met a few times at family reunions. But just two years ago, he drew close to me and my siblings when my father, his brother, passed away.
He started sending me and my siblings weekly remembrances of my father, who had just then died. Every week or so, he would email some thoughts and memories that he had of my dad. He opened a window into who my father was as a young man. In time, he fell out of the practice of sending us those stories. I didn’t begrudge him of that. We’re all busy. Grief remains, but time marches on.
Our connection to each other became his occasional pictures in my Facebook feed. Fishing and flowers, lakes and his shadow on the ground. Picture of his wife, my aunt.
No more window into my father’s life.
What this election is doing to families is sad. Just plain sad. Politics shouldn’t override family relationships. Family should be sacred. We might disagree with each other, but families shouldn’t decide to cut each other off because of political disagreements. Just because what we say to each other makes us uncomfortable.
So I will sit in this discomfort.
I won’t walk away from the table.
I’ll keep going to church.
Even though we are a divided country, I will continue to show up. I will continue to represent the groups to which I belong.
Millenial. Mother. Liberal. Academic. Lutheran.
I’ll keep showing up. I’ll listen to you.
I hope you’ll keep showing up. And that you’ll listen to me.