Chaos marks our contemporary political and cultural landscape. The noise is loud, distraction enriched. We are collectively caught in cycles of defense and attack. Attack, defend, attack, defend. We are covered in armor so rigid that nearly nothing can get in or out. We are reactive. We sense danger, lack of love, a warning of attack, and as quickly as the snap of one’s fingers, we descend into anger, defensiveness, or avoidance: fight or flight. The more we witness defense and attack, the more our inner landscapes change, too. Without care, we become internally hard, like the armor we think we need to survive in the world.
We live in a fractured and divided society. We should seek neither tolerance nor coexistence, for both are simply veils that dress up the division we face. We should, rather, seek wholeness. Wholeness is not found through reactivity. Wholeness requires new creation, healing, and flourishing. Not assimilation, but compassion.
I grew up in Ohio, a purple state, which meant that, growing up, my political consciousness and convictions were welcomed in some spaces and hated in others, namely, my church community. People were, and continue to be, either shocked or delighted, to learn that my family was (is) not Republican, though considering our racial makeup and shared values, this fact should, in my opinion, in this climate, be glaringly obvious. When I visit my parents, I see the division between the liberal, educated, and diverse neighborhoods, where herb gardens are planted, and the conservative, less educated, and homogenous neighborhoods, where Tea Party flags still fly. We live literally on the border of two wildly different counties, one always blue, and the other so staunchly red, there was no Democratic field office in it until 2012.
Over the years, I have overheard in the nearby grocery store and local coffee shop iterations of, “Why can’t we all just get along? We don’t have to believe the same things…” or prior to the 2016 election, “Well, I’d choose anybody but HER.” My skin crawls when I hear statements like these. I’ve found myself countless debates with fellow Ohio natives in the red county defending pro-choice rights and the prevalence of racial injustice and police brutality, such conversations have too often ended with me either being called Pontius Pilate (yep) or being hung up on.
My skin crawls and blood boils and heart races like an audience of thousands clapping when I hear the principles of “tolerance” espoused or the wishy-washy conservatism that takes no responsibility for the brutality it engenders. Why? Because, without fail, those making such statements have nothing at stake with the issues they would rather not debate. “Our country is over racism,” only makes sense to white people who know no people of color. “Abortion is the greatest evil of our time,” only seems uncomplicated to those who do not witness far greater injustice and those who are either male or wealthy with secure healthcare. Apathy – disguised as love and truth – only works for certain groups of people, people whose life and flourishing are not actively threatened, people who do not understand what oppression looks and feels like.
Individuality and lack of interest are gifts given to those who swim in the normative majority. James Baldwin wrote, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of humanity and right to exist.” Love and oppression cannot exist alongside each other. They are mutually exclusive. This is not to say that people without direct experience of injustice cannot actively participate in the healing of our society. Quite the opposite: empathy is the bridge. Those many bridges, in need of construction, maintenance, and repair, are essential to redrawing our society’s broken map.
I ask myself nearly daily, do I want to be a fighter or a lover? Some days this question has great weight and ontological significance. Other days, it is really just a magnified version of, do I want to be a lawyer or a therapist? Sitting with this dichotomy, the seeming split between fighting and loving, has revealed to me that indignation and compassion are not diametrically opposed, but rather, fundamentally inseparable. Love and justice are two sides of the same coin. Love expressed is radical. Justice sought is love.
Love and justice are active forces, both seeking greater good. We can all get along no matter what we believe, Americans are tolerant, we are a melting pot, Coexist bumper stickers – are passive contributions. Justice is love’s backbone, not its armor. Love has to be soft. By nature, it pervades things and changes those of us open to receive it, but love also has to be strong or else it would accomplish nothing. No one would be transformed by it. Everyone with an empathetic bone in their body knows that love transforms.
Wholeness within and without means the balance between softness and strength. We must use our hearts for good: to soften while facing the world, to become more sensitive to others’ pain, to hedge against fight or flight. We must also use the strength within us for good, to build or rebuild, to lift, to clear the path for new life.
I hear our camp’s call to resist and persist, and I understand this motivation. It is an active call toward justice, but it is a call for reactivity, not for relationship. Our values – the virtues of love, mercy, justice, peace, community – should be like light. Light floods space. Its presence makes darkness impossible within the space it can reach.
So be a fighter and a lover and stand for a strong love, a love that holds justice at heart.