Someone once accused me of bigotry.
It wasn’t someone I knew. A friend had posted a question on Facebook. She asked whether it was a good idea for people of different religions to marry. I responded that while I would never condemn someone for doing so, it seemed to be not ideal. For those who find a specific expression of faith central to their lives, companionship with another who does not share that same faith can be difficult. Another way to put it is that either that person will start drifting away from their faith or will start drifting away from their spouse.
This other commentator responded by decrying my bigoted response. He said that while people of different political views may find marriage difficult, since the various religions are ultimately not that different, an interfaith relationship is viable. Any misgivings of such unions can only be animated by simple bigotry. I explained that I would not condemn anyone for marrying someone of another faith, but that it did not strike me as wise. We left it at that.
I do wonder what he was trying to do by calling me a bigot. Was he trying to get me to change my mind? I certainly don’t think it was an effective approach to accomplish that goal. That sort of shaming technique isn’t particularly useful, especially with complete strangers.
But for my own part, I needed to decide how I would respond. I confess that I was somewhat cheesed off with his comment. But I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to what the other says. If I’m too busy feeling offended, I’m not listening. If I’m too busy trying to defend myself, I’m not listening. Rather than focus on my own angry heart, I needed to focus on his words and what he was trying to communicate.
Today was garbage pickup day. Last night, I put out the garbage and recycling bins, along with some cardboard boxes.
I got home from work today and saw the bins and boxes still out front. I also saw a young woman standing next to them. Her clothes were dirty and worn. She was standing near a cardboard box full of stuff. There was trash everywhere: paper cups, newspaper, bagels. She was tearing into a stuffed animal, pulling the stuffing out.
I dropped my bag off inside and thought of what to do. I thought of calling the police, but wasn’t sure if that would help. “Well, at least I can go and get the trash bins back in.”
As I started collecting the cardboard boxes, the woman saw me, and started gathering some of the trash. The two of us started cleaning up the street, tidying up. I introduced myself. I asked if she needed anything. She asked if I had any shoes, as the ones she had were wearing out and too big for her feet. I gave her the sandals I was wearing and some socks. I also gave her some fruit and some cashews.
She looked tired, so I brought out some chairs so we could sit. She started telling me stories about how her dad went to prison when she was young and her mom was addicted to drugs. She talked about having a drug problem herself. She talked about her friends and wanting to help others (she offered some fruit to other street She was a bit jittery and agitated, but overall she was clear.
As she was getting ready to leave, I asked if I could pray for her. She asked that I pray that God keep her safe. I prayed for her, blessed her, and we parted ways.
God didn’t tell me loud and clear “Go talk to her.” There was no specific call. But I considered what would it mean to love someone, even if I can’t solve all their problems. I’m excited to use my legal training to be an advocate for people in need. But I can’t see people as just their legal cases, as exam questions in which I try to spot the issues. Part of being an advocate is being present with other people, listening to their stories. May God continue to teach me how to love.