There’s Always Been a Rainbow Hangin’ Over Your Head.

Last week, we delved into biblical rationale defending homosexuality and the church. This week, it gets personal.

I never thought homosexuality was a sin, and because I was brought up in a climate that believed that very fervently, I bucked against the idea pretty hard. My theology was lazy. I didn’t do a good job formulating my arguments. Instead, I relied on the old classic, “God is love, God loves everybody. I think God has bigger fish to fry than worrying about who we’re sleeping with,” or some version of that. You can read more about my beliefs and my grown-up reasonings here. 

 A few weeks ago, the United Methodist Church got together at General Conference to decide whether or not it was going to double down on its stance about gay people and their dealings with the church, which you can read more about here. Ultimately, their decision was that the opinions they’d already held were the right ones. Not everyone felt this way, but enough people did. 

Apart from my biblical reasonings, I wanted to talk about this as someone who is both a person of faith who believes in the important of scripture AND a person who is very close friends with a lot of gay people.  

And y’all, I honestly don’t know where to start. There’s a lot on my heart. So here are a whole lot of things from all the corners of my brain. Which I guess I can do, since it’s my blog. A warning that you are going to get non-sequitur whiplash!

The first time I ever knowingly met a gay man was when I was 10 or 11 years old. My parents were close to a man and his partner and they invited us for dinner at their house. My younger brother Parker was 7 or 8, and as we sat around the table eating cheeseburgers, he put down his food, looked up, and  asked, “So, are you guys related, or what?” 

He was trying to make sense out of why two grown men lived together.  

The men looked at my parents, at each other, and then one of them answered, “No, but people do say we look alike!”  

That satisfied my brother completely and we all went back to eating. It wasn’t awkward at all - we just kept on trucking.  

Later that week, on our way home from school (we were without Parker, so I felt comfortable talking more candidly with my mom), I asked, “Are ______ and _______  gay?”  

She asked me why I thought that might be true. And I told her it just seemed like that might be the case since they lived together and neither one was married to a woman. So she told me that they were.  

I remember that my first reaction was to feel a little shame creep through my chest. It was totally involuntary, and was probably the result of growing up the Deep South where homosexuality was very taboo and certainly not accepted socially or in church. It almost felt like I knew something I shouldn’t know; like I had walked in on someone naked. That shame had nothing to do with the way I was brought up, which was in a house where, even in the South, all people and all lifestyles were treated and discussed equally and fairly. I don’t feel that shame now, but that experience showed me that even if you aren’t aware you’re carrying it, shame is a powerful thing.

Over the next ten years, I would become even more deeply involved in my church, First United Methodist in Decatur, Alabama. I was a regular part of the Council on Youth Ministry and attended Annual Conference as a delegate. I went to Camp Sumatanga every time the doors were open and to this day cite it as a cornerstone of my spiritual and social belief system. I was borderline constantly surrounded by gay men, whether it was younger friends at Camp, older friends in the CoYM, men from church, or kids at school who would eventually come out as gay. Gay men have been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. 

— 

For some of you reading, gay men and women may seem very foreign. What you know of them is what you’ve seen represented in movies and on TV, but you don’t know them personally, and because of that, all you can go by are the stereotypes you’ve been exposed to: gay men are promiscuous, girly, fashion-obsessed, over-the-top scream queens; lesbians are butch-y, masculine, and wear sensible shoes. 

But the real men and women who live their lives identifying as LGBTQIA are much more complex than those old tropes. These are individuals, no two stories alike. They’re academics, they’re coaches, politicians, doctors, teachers, librarians, choir directors, realtors, stay-at-home parents. They’re around you every day whether you see them or not. US Weekly could do a segment on them: “Gay people - They’re Just Like Us!” Maybe the key to de-mystifying the topic is to simply get to know the gay men and women in our lives.

There’s always room in our hearts to un-learn the things we thought we knew for certain.

— 

When I worked for Teach For America in Memphis in 2014, our manager led weekly check-ins. There were 7 or 8 of us on our team, with diverse sexual orientations, races, and ages, from all different places in the United States. Our manager asked that for the first 15 minutes of our weekly meetings, we rotate around the group and allow each person to bring in what he called an “artifact,” or something that represented our lives.  

On the week I was supposed to share, I remember walking around my room in Memphis for a long time deciding what to choose. I ultimately went with a stole that used to be my dad’s when he was an associate pastor at the church where I grew up.  

When I put it on the table that Friday morning, I felt my heart pounding. I said something like this: 

“So this is my dad’s stole, with one color on each side for whatever time of year it was per the liturgical calendar. And to tell you the truth, I’m really nervous to share it with you because of all the things that people who aren’t from the South look at Christianity and think. I feel like you may have a negative association with Christianity based on how you’ve seen it represented on TV or what you’ve read. I feel like I need to qualify right away that I am not a bigot, I don’t hate gay people, I don’t....”  

 ...and on and on I went like that, telling them all the things it DIDN’T mean about me. 

After I felt I had done a decent job telling them what I wasn’t, I went on to say that the Methodist Church has been hugely influential in who I am. All the things I care most deeply about were formed and reinforced by my involvement at church. But I feared my co-workers didn’t know that part of the story. They only knew the scary Christians who frighten everybody to death. 

It was the first time that I had ever acknowledged out loud to them that I was a Christian, and it made me nervous as hell.

We don’t have a particularly good reputation in certain circles. 

 —

Here’s the thing about gay people and the church. The line that’s often repeated to them is that the church “hates the sin,” but “loves the sinner.”

So many Christians who I’ve talked to over the years have compared homosexuality to lying, cheating, or lusting - also things that are identified as sinful, and usually things the person doing the comparing has been guilty of at one point or another. “Homosexuality is equal to all those sins,” it is said, “so I don’t have any judgment about it. I’m a sinner, too. God sees all sins as equal.”  

The trouble with that rationale, for me, is that it never really seems to be true. No one “identifies” as a liar, or chooses a life partner based on the fact that both people are cheaters. These smaller sins, the benign ones that we can admit we’ve been guilty of, don’t seem to equate to the way a person loves.  

I completely understand that using that logic is meant to be generous and open-hearted. It comes from a tender place. The reason this “hate the sin, love the sinner” thing was invented at all was to service a well-intended Christian sentiment, delivered in all sincerity: “I want to be clear that I do not approve. My faith tells me I must communicate my disapproval in order to be true to what I believe, but I will try my hardest to love you fully in spite of the fact that I believe this is wrong.” 

But for gay men and women, the idea that their gayness parallels telling a lie or cheating on an exam doesn’t track. To think that homosexuality is a tendency, one that could be a periodic mistake akin to telling a fib from time to time (as in, “Oops, I accidentally thought that man who I’ve chosen to spend my life with is attractive again!”) seems outlandish to the point of silliness. 

I’m a white woman, so this is the example I’ll use: it would be as if someone from my church approached me to tell me that while they don’t personally support that I’m white, and they never will, they will accept me anyway. That they hate my whiteness, but they can love me in spite of it.

LGBT men and women don’t see their homosexuality as something that can be corrected. It is intrinsic to the fabric of who they are. To “hate the sin” is to hate the person. 

— 

The problem with Christianity is that if we really wanted to follow Jesus - and I mean really, really follow him - it would look so radical that we wouldn’t be able to live our lives “normally.” I am bad at this. I spend lots of time justifying my choices on the ways I’ve chosen not to radically love people on any given day. 

There are a few people I know who understand true Christian living, and their lives do not look like my life. They are constantly, constantly, thinking of and serving others. Their free time is spent tutoring or volunteering at low incomes schools. They recycle any and everything in order to be stewards of God’s creation. They take up donations or collect items for people they overheard in someone’s casual conversation who might be in need. They don’t care about what they’re wearing or who liked their Instagram post. Their eyes are the eyes of God and they see everyone the way God sees them: perfect, equal, precious, worthy.

Let’s say you believe homosexuality is a sin. Let’s say that you can’t get on board, no matter how it’s presented, with the case that it’s not sinful. Okay.

Wouldn’t the radically Christian thing to do be to love the gay person in your life exactly as you’d loved them before they told you they were gay? Because, you know, they were gay. There’s always been a rainbow hanging over their head (thank you, Kacey Musgraves). 

To radically love them (really opening your arms and heart, not polite or “tolerant” love) wouldn’t be a betrayal of your belief - it would be the embodiment of it. 

If a gay man has never looked you up and down and lovingly said, “Sweetie, no,” go back to the starting line and begin again.

—  

There is room for doubt. I think saying, “I don’t know,” is one of the most important things we can do as Christians. No one is supposed to have all the answers. But we are called to be in constant pursuit of those answers, and to follow the Holy Spirit wherever it’s leading. And the Holy Spirit is TRICKY. Constantly up to something. Never still. Leading into places where we don’t want to go. Bending our rules and breaking our hearts. When we said, “Yes,” to Jesus, we might as well have set the roadmap on fire. This life of faith isn’t about having one opinion and one set of reasons for a lifetime, I don’t think - it’s about living into the truth that God shows up where we least expect it. Are we humble enough to say, “I don’t know.”? It’s hard for me.  

— 

I was watching an episode of Queer Eye the other day. In it, the guys had a conversation with a young, black, lesbian woman who was finding her footing. They talked about how a person’s “chosen” family can end up being the most meaningful. This young woman’s parents had thrown her out of the house - literally told her never to come back - after she’d been outed as a lesbian by someone else, and the guys were trying to explain that she can build her own family made up of people who love and support her.

While I was watching this episode, my 15-month-old son, Mac, was playing in the floor with his race cars. His tiny hands were turning the cars over and over again, his fat little legs were carrying him from one end of the room to the other chasing after them. His laugh bounced off the walls as our dog tried, unsuccessfully, to escape from the car onslaught. This baby, who I carried in my body, who is beautiful and perfect in all the ways that matter. I imagined this young woman as a baby Mac’s age; the pride and wonder her parents must have felt when they looked at her. And how somewhere along the way, they pledged allegiance to a set of beliefs that had them reject, or at the very least, hold at arm’s length, their own precious baby.

Before long, big, hot tears were welling in my eyes. I imagined Mac coming to me years from now to tell me that he’s gay. I imagined the party I would throw in our tiny conversation; the leaps of joy from the deepest parts of my heart. If we’re destined for that talk, I thought as I watched him, then he’s gay right now. It makes absolutely no difference to me. My job as his mom is to love and support and celebrate. To guide and provide bumpers when I need to. To have him see my eyes light up every time he walks into a room, just like my mother did for me. Just like Maya Angelou said we’re supposed to as parents. He’s the family I was given and will always be the family that I choose.

— 

Between the years of 2004 and 2018, five of my close male friends came out to me. 

The first time a friend came out to me in high school, I told him I’d always known. He knew I knew. We hugged and celebrated, and it was a beautiful moment.  

The second time a friend came out to me in high school, he sat on the couch in the upstairs of my parents’ house in Decatur. He was shaking with nerves and choked out the words. He told he he’d kissed a guy for the first time that weekend and was so racked with guilt and shame that he immediately threw up. I tried to make him laugh and squeezed him tight. 

I wish I could tell you I had perfect responses for these guys. I didn’t. I felt nervous and was trying so very hard to say the right thing, just in case my words were the only affirming ones they heard. 

Last year, I got a phone call from a very close friend of mine who I’d always thought might be gay. He confirmed what I’d long suspected. Even though we were states away from each other, I felt like I was hugging him through the phone. I full-throat sobbed with relief at the knowledge that my worst fears for him - that he’d never fully embrace this part of him and live a life that wasn’t authentic - were assuaged. He is now an even more perfect specimen than he was before, which is saying something. These days, when I hold his hand, I am totally electrified by him. It’s like standing near a firework and having a spark land on your skin. That’s how powerful it is to watch someone be who they are.   

Multicolored and beautiful.  

Dazzling. 

I hope, whoever and wherever you are, you have the chance to bask in the glow of just such a person. 

Because WOW.  

Fetch or Wretch: Oscars 2019

Here we are again, friends, at the precipice of some major decision-making. The Academy’s decisions have been made (*ahemBradleyCooperwasrobbed*), but we’ve yet to hand down our rulings. Walk with me as we judge this year’s fashion, which includes a new category called “Girl, I GUESS...” because there were simply so many underwhelming fashion choices this year. 

First, let’s bathe our eyeballs in the gloriousness of  

FETCH.    

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Gemma Chan.

Gemma Chan is a person who looks like she was created in a lab to be an example of a perfect human specimen. She was on that show...what was that show...where she played a robot, and it was extremely believable. Because SHE IS GORGEOUS. Anyway, pink was having a moment last night and I absolutely loved every second of this. And speaking of pink... 

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Kacey Musgraves.

 Fresh off her Grammy landslide, this chicken was ready to rock and roll. She is never afraid to take a risk and be playful with what she wears, which I love. This dress is ethereal perfection and so is she.  And if Andy Cohen, with whom I’m normally aligned 100%, wants to come for Kacey’s hair one more time? He’s gonna have to go through ME, Y’ALL.

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Michelle Yeoh.

Both bold and ethereal and perfectly proportioned. For anyone who still questions my Wretchest pick from the Grammys (Katy Perry) and is curious about what a well-executed neckline looks like, this is it. I feel like this might get panned as being the tiniest bit age inappropriate, but if you got it, flaunt it. And she got it. 

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Lady Gaga.

I mean COME ON WITH THIS. It is so movie star, so glam, so elegant. But it’s also so her. The hip details, the opera gloves, the fact that she wore Alexander McQueen (a designer who dressed her when she was coming up in the music industry and whose clothes she’s worn in many a music video), and that big ol’ honkin’ Tiffany diamond around her neck that’s worth $50 million - all these things scream Gaga.  LOVE the understated makeup. NOW WILL YOU AND BRADLEY COOPER JUST PLEASE DATE ALREADY THANKS BYE. That performance. I cannot. I have died. Gootbye.

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Ashley Graham.

This is very simple, but a master class in dressing for your body type. That silhouette is BEYOND.  

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Amandla Stenberg.

Completely stunning. The drape of this and the color and the head styling...so beautiful. Very 20’s without being too kitschy.  

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Tessa Thompson.

This is so beautiful and SO old-school. Love the length, the embellishments, love the hair.  

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Melissa McCarthy.

Okay y’all. Honestly, this isn’t a full “fetch” for me because of her head styling. But we’re including her because Melissa McCarthy looks IN.CREDIBLE. The outfit is so gorgeous and the colors are beautiful on her. We’re just going to ignore that her hair is...not what I would’ve chosen.  

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Laura Herrier.

This dress is ALMOST too tight. The bust is problematic. But the color and the embellishments are really pretty. It squeaked into this category, but it’s here.  

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Danai Gurira.

So cool, so different, LOVE the color, she looks like royalty, I know I can’t say it because I am #thewhitest but will someone else please scream, “Wakanda Forever!”??  

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Elsie Fisher.

Absolutely LOVE THIS LOOK. She is serving young Diane Keaton and I am here. For. It. This girl is living her 14-year-old truth and wearing something that she feels comfortable in. I think it’s deeply fabulous.  

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Regina King.

It doesn’t get better than this. And she won, to boot! 

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Emma Stone.

Went back and forth on this about a thousand times before I finally decided on “fetch.” Her dress looks like an actual cobra. It’s snakeskin-y and the shoulder pads are the cobra’s hood. But even with the snakiness, I think it’s great. Fits incredibly and I like what her head looks like. 

 

Now, a new category. There were so many “almosts” or “not quites” this year that they needed their own category. Some of these are perfectly pretty, they’re just so BORRRRRING. So, here we are, with a little blurb about why each one didn’t set my wig on fire.  

GIRL, I GUESS.  

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Emilia Clarke.

Certainly lengthens her, but that bunching detail by the hip gives me bugs.  

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Glenn Close.

Everyone else is freaking out about this. She was definitely dressing for the job she wanted (AKA dressing like the Oscar statuette itself), but it doesn’t feel like “her” and it clearly weighs 1,000,000 pounds.  

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Constance Wu.

It’s beautiful but this was such a MOMENT, and her co-stars were BRINGING IT. This just feels a little prom-y.  

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Billy Porter.

I mean gender bend all you want, henny, but those weird Victorian sleeves sticking out of your well-tailored tux jacket are killin’ me. Everything else is kind of flawless.  

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Brie Larson.

Everything works except for the weird low cutouts under the arms. That’s a part that no woman wants to really feature. So...I guess.  

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J Lo.

Look, we all know that J Lo is the pinnacle of human beauty. She ages in reverse. Time has no effect on her. And yet, this is just so...expected. She could do anything with that face and head of hair and body on one of the biggest fashion nights of the year. Why this?  

 

Okay, congregants. Now, for the reason you all came today. 

WRETCH:  

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Sandy Powell.

Girl, I’m not gonna lie - I absolutely love this. You had me until we got to the shoes. It’s what my icons Tom and Lorenzo call a “scrolldown fug:” gets uglier with every minute down the page. SO close. 

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Rachel Weisz.

Cherry flavored condom mixed with Camelot.  

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Laura Dern.

*You’ll love David’s Briiiiidal!*

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Charlize Theron.

Look, this woman can almost do no wrong. But unless she was photographed from the perfect angle, this dress made her look droopy and badly proportioned. I see where this was trying to go and it was ALMOST there, but the weird fit plus the dark hair...it’s just a miss. 

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Allison Janney.

AJ is suffering from a familiar affliction for all us girls who dye our hairs that I lovingly dub, “Skunk Head.” Girl, those bangs are a fully different color than your head. They gotta go.

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Sarah Paulson.

I LOVE me some Sarah Paulson, but she looks like she’s trying to protect her chest from wind or water damage. Doesn’t that look like some kind of furniture cover?? It’s bad. She’s great, but this is bad.

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Molly Sims.

Those cutouts draw our attention immediately to them and when we get there, I’m betting that’s not the look Molly was going for. It’s just a fit issue.

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Hannah Beachler.

That shoulder detail looks like some kind of exploding mushroom on the forest floor. She might need to breathe through some sort of protective mask to avoid inhaling the fungus.

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Linda Cardellini.

Another one I went back and forth on a dozen times. I LOVE so much about this, but the high/low skirt eventually killed it for me. It’s just too much on a dress that is already too much.

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Angela Bassett.

Now BEFORE YOU COME FOR ME, hear me out. Angela Bassett is a queen, a goddess among mere mortals. SHE herself is not deserving of this category. But her team? The team of stylists that allowed her to get into a limo, sit down, and then stand on a step and repeat with a dress full of horrible wrinkles that totally distract from the impact of the look?? THEY ARE WRETCHED. She needs to surround herself with people who bring her to the fullness of her FABULOUSNESS. Sashay away, Angela’s team. Y’all have messed up.

AND NOW…FOR THE WRETCHEST OF THEM ALL….

ZOOEY DESCHANEL!

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Oh man oh man oh man…let’s start by saying that this woman is adorable, stylish, and normally really cutes-y and on point. This is SUCH a departure from her normal aesthetic and I think that’s probably why it stands out so much. The top half of this dress looks like a swimsuit coverup/what your friend Stacy wore to the club in 2004. It also reads as wildly casual for the occasion. Yet another otherwise fashionable woman taken down by a troublesome neckline that skews her proportions so violently that it is physically tic-inducing to look at her standing next to another person. Sorry, friend. Whoever recommended this to you led you astray.

An essay on the power of empathy.

In writing this Valentine’s Day post, I liked imagining that I was standing in a circle with the fifty or so people I love most in the world. Those people span the spectrum of religious and political beliefs. They voted for lots of different candidates. They care about a range of issues.

But I’ve been troubled lately, and for a long time, really, by the way we’ve failed to talk to and love each other in a real and practical way, across our various lines of difference. The way we’re supposed to as good people and (certainly, if this is what you believe) as Christians.

Put simply, we have forgotten how to be empathetic.

Since you’re reading this, will you stand in the circle with me?

Let’s put the ugliness right in the center, addressing it head on. Everybody just stand here for a second, okay? No one leave. You can go to the bathroom later.

The problem is tribalism exacerbated by social media. Does everyone have a good view from their position in the circle?

First, let’s acknowledge that tribalism on its own isn’t necessarily insidious. It’s a biological human predisposition to crave identity and community, so it makes sense that over millions of years of evolution (insert dirty joke about homo erectus here!), we’ve honed ourselves into particularly social animals who surround themselves with like people. Some will try to argue that this affinity for similar peers in and of itself is an evil, and I’d disagree. I’d say that’s pretty much just biology at work. And sure, ancient man disagreed, came to blows, beat each other in the head with sticks (I’m assuming), but those people in a tribe all had something in common: they needed each other to survive. And so, despite their differences, they learned to live together. The human penscient for tribalism is old news - ancient, even.

What’s new, and what can cause tribalism to quickly become insidious, is our unique ability to connect. Through the magic of the Internet, we now have access to people all over the world. And, weirdly enough, as though we were all in some kind of giant Zuckerberg-ian social experiment, we have used this never-before-held power of connection to do the same damn thing we’ve always done: seek and reach out to people are like us. We can friend or follow whomever we choose. We have found “our people” - those who think like us, talk like us, and want the same things we want. We are comforted by their existence. We are energized by their like-mindedness. We feel validated, affirmed, and (maybe most dangerously) celebrated by the having our beliefs supported.

But the moment they post something we find unsavory, or politically problematic, it takes one click to “mute” that person forever. Never again will we be faced with the ugly reality that we know someone with whom we disagree. And in doing so, we have created as many echo chambers as there are Facebook/Twitter/Instagram users. It’s as though each of us has fallen down our own specifically curated well, deepening with every new think piece and article we consume. I daresay that mine is the most ideologically self-congratulatory generation of all (regardless of what the ideology actually is).

(All the millennials just closed the browser. STAY WITH ME, PEOPLE! I promise I’m getting to the point!)

So, okay. We see the problem.

Now what are its effects?

Put simply, it’s that we can no longer seem to communicate with people who don’t share our viewpoints. It’s like we’re all trying to have a conversation by opening our front doors, screaming our opinions, and then slamming the doors closed just after we’re finished talking, retreating into the familiar with slaps on the back and handshakes from all those who agree with us, telling us what a good point we just made. And if you’re inside the house and dissent? Please. You’re shoved out on the front stoop to fend for yourself like those poor bastards in Bird Box (which I give a solid B, because it stressed me out so much I cried blood).

Being reaffirmed by strangers makes us uniquely confident that our opinions simply must be the right ones. And, sincerely, who can blame us? Public affirmation breeds certainty in our assertions.

In fact, that is exactly what happens every day on Twitter. We publish our opinions (the snarkier, the better), blast our opponents, and then feel self-satisfied for having generated such a sick burn. The more entrenched you are in your camp, the better you fare. There is no room for moderation. There is no room for nuance. It’s black or white, this or that - fraternizing with the enemy is verboden. We live in a time where even our elected leadership hops on Twitter to sass it up, counting on the fact that we’ll love it because it’s novel that someone who’s supposed to be buttoned-up can hang with the cool kids on Twitter. And we do love it. That’s very troubling to me.

Solution?

My humble submission is that we have to toss our phones into the center of the circle and LOOK AT EACH OTHER IN THE EYEBALLS.

How many stories do we know of people who had very strong anti-gay opinions until their son or daughter came out of the closet, opening their hearts to the reality that gay people are people, deserving of love and respect like anyone else? That’s because when we know someone - when we start to think of someone as a son or daughter or friend or someone’s mom or dad - it’s much more difficult to hate them, or mute them, or call them an ignorant racist or a baby-killing socialist.

In thinking about how to practically talk about empathy, a kind of amorphous concept, one concrete example came to mind.

I hope you’ll indulge me, because I promise that I am not a self-inflated ass who thinks she’s good at everything (for examples of my many flaws see: my weirdly long toes, math, confidence that I am right 100% of the time when arguing with my husband). Normally I’d share a story of someone else doing a good job because I think talking about other people’s strengths is a lot better than talking about my own. But I think it’s important to tell you that it was me, because I want to explain my in-the-moment thoughts and reactions in detail. So this is a good example of putting radical empathy into practice in a way that helped me and (I think) helped X, who you’ll meet in a sec.

In 2012, I was completing my second year of Teach For America in Huntsville, Alabama. Trayvon Martin’s case was all over the news, and George Zimmerman was on trial for murder. The hearing was televised as his verdict was handed down on this particular Friday night. I was visiting Birmingham, sitting in a bar in Homewood with a few friends of mine, one of whom was X. X is a white Republican male, my age, raised in a very conservative Christian denomination. X and I are about as different as it gets when it comes to politics or theology, and I, to be honest, was nervous to be sitting with him as the coverage rang through the bar. We knew what the other thought about this case and the tension was palpable.

My stomach did flips as the judge declared that Zimmerman, who’d murdered a young man that looked like the students I was teaching at the time, had been acquitted.

But I saw, in this moment, a gift sitting before me. X was a person who I knew thought Zimmerman was 100% in the right; who sided with him unequivocally; who would, in four years, vote for Donald Trump. He and I were on opposite sides in this moment and would be in many others to come. But I’m not good at ignoring the elephant, so I started asking (not peppering him, but genuinely asking him) why he felt the verdict was just.

His first, and understandably defensive, impulse was to joke around and toss out a couple of remarks that he knew would press my buttons. But I wanted to show him that I was genuinely interested in his opinion, not as some kind of self-righteous case study, but because I cared (and still care) about him as a person. Once the walls were down, he explained his rationale. And I agreed with exactly 0 of what he shared. Some of the things he said made me have a physiological reaction - I felt a heat start spreading through my chest when he described his version of the Trayvon Martin shooting. And I responded and continued to ask questions.

At the risk of making that story sound like I, a progressive-leaning moderate, descended on this “poor dumb Republican” and showed him the light, let me say plainly that he would not remember this conversation at all. It was a fleeting moment in his life. But in MINE, it was a revelation. It was a rare window into the heart of someone I love but deeply disagree with, and a chance to exercise the empathy muscle that would need to be strong for the rest of my life. I wasn’t trying to change X’s mind - I couldn’t, frankly, even if I’d been trying - I just wanted to understand where he was coming from. This single conversation laid the groundwork for many future conversations between X and me. Once, at a wedding reception, a few good ol’ boys were razzing me about having voted for Hillary Clinton. And even though I knew that X voted straight-ticket different-from-me, and agreed politically with the guys who were giving me a hard time, I was comforted by his presence there. Because of that one conversation in the bar years before, I knew that X knew that I wasn’t just a set of opinions. He knew my heart and my intentions and, most importantly, that I’m just a person, after all. And so is he.

Waiting to respond. Swallowing our maybe-hateful first impulse. Pushing ourselves to see deeper into someone. Asking a clarifying question. Saying when something has hurt our feelings, but being willing to move on and accept an apology. Extending grace. Asking for forgiveness. Assuming the best about other people until proven otherwise.

Really, empathy is about understanding. If anyone wants anything done in this country - if we want to actually MOVE THE BALL - we’re going to have to examine why we stop considering someone worthy of our time when we find out we disagree with them. I think it’s because it’s safer to do that. Less scary. Less risky. Really, though - what’s the worst that could happen?

At the very worst, our worst fears will be confirmed. Some people really are racist. Some conversations aren’t safe to have because of that very fact. And with those people, it is our job (or the jobs of our colleagues in this work - AKA allies rather than the subjects of the hate themselves) to continue trying. Not one single person ever changed their mind because someone else yelled at them about how stupid they were for a while.

At the very best, we discover that the person across from us at the bar whose opinions give us the hot-chests is a guy who is actually up for talking to us about a hot-button topic. And up for listening, too. And in that case, our job is to both talk and listen, to be honest, and to hang in there beyond the inevitable clash of beliefs.

Cultivating empathy is something very concrete and something very hard to do. It takes discipline to train your mind and heart not to balk at something someone says that turns your stomach. To move beyond ourselves. Accepting that we will probably be offended and also inadvertently do some offending throughout the course of a conversation, and deciding to stick with it anyway.

So, anyway. Thanks for standing here. Why don’t we stretch our legs? Like any good meeting, there are snacks, so grab one of those tiny bags of Oreos or Cheez-Its from the snack basket. Maybe pull a slip of paper from this hat of hot-button topics and dive in with whoever goes for the same snack you do.

What’s the worst that could happen?