A couple of Christmases ago, I met someone who helped me understand what it means to embrace others for who they are.
It was the year I met Patricia. Patricia was a college freshman living in a dorm at the university my youngest daughter was attending. Winter break was approaching, the dorms would be closed, and Patricia had nowhere to go. My daughter learned of the situation and asked if Patricia could stay with us for a few weeks. Patricia was a transgender girl. Her family had said their son could come home, but they “did not have a daughter.”
My thoughts were racing. Could I share my home at Christmas–a holiday full of family traditions–with someone I didn’t know and didn’t really understand? Could I retrain my stubborn brain and remember to use her preferred pronouns? What would we talk about–or not talk about?
I couldn’t imagine anyone without a family, especially at Christmastime. So after discussing it with my husband, we knew we had to make room in our home and our hearts. I made a Christmas stocking with her real name PATRICIA sewn across the top and hung it by the fireplace with the rest of our family’s stockings. We bought a few gifts for her to open on Christmas morning. We went to church together, played board games, assembled jigsaw puzzles, ate at the same table, laughed together, and remembered that people are people. Looking back, it was silly that I was so nervous.
The word “tolerate” implies that you put up with something, even though you’d rather not, like anchovies on pizza or frigid weather. To say you tolerate another person suggests that there’s something inherently wrong with him or that you actually don’t like him. Tolerance isn’t good enough.
Saying “I don’t have a problem with” people with a different gender identity or sexual orientation than mine isn’t good enough. Am I loving and embracing others? Am I advocating for the inclusion of all people?
Saying “I’m not a racist” isn’t good enough. Am I speaking up when I see injustice? Am I willing to take a stand and do something to make a change?
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last week we started a new discussion group at church to talk about social justice and to move toward understanding and action. In one activity, participants listed ways they identify themselves, with examples such as race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income level, or religious affiliation. Then we talked about which identities we think about most and which we think about least. Those who were white thought about their race “hardly at all.” Those who were black thought about race “every time I step out of my house.” Understanding that peoples’ identities vastly affect the way they experience the world is the first step in seeing (and ultimately changing) the power and opportunity imbalances that we all participate in. It is a process that starts with having real conversations with people who are different from us.
I’m still learning to seek justice, and I hope people will give me grace when I mess up. I’ll probably use the wrong words. I might neglect to act when I should. But I want to try to help make the world a better place. Tolerance of others is not good enough. Honestly, making stockings and buying presents isn’t enough either. Let’s love others, embracing who they are as children of God. And let’s find ways to work together to bring about justice everywhere.
The Lord God has told us what is right… “See that justice is done,Micah 6:8 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.”