By Mandi Donohue
“She’s baaaaack.” Contrary to popular belief, I was not in Hawaii with my sister. I can’t even wrap my brain around where that rumor started but I will say I do like piña coladas! Lliam and I drove down the coast to Los Angeles to visit friends and are now happy to be home. We got in to Mazama the night of the election. I’m not sure we had a second to breathe before the political tornado hit, ripping apart society, dividing family and friends. Since Wednesday, I’ve been playing civil mediator on my Facebook page trying to create discussion rather than division. It’s exhausting but important.
I was raised a born-again evangelical in a conservative Christian household. I was as culturally a Christian as a 16-year-old girl could get. Our youth group took trips to Brooklyn to feed the homeless. I was an R.A. in an all-girls’ dorm on Gordon College Campus. I went to prayer meetings and attended Bible studies. I’ve even gone to Elizabeth Elliot’s house for tea.
I was raised to be loving and kind, to be of service to the world around me as an example of Christ’s love. But, for me, there was always the underlying question of “how could this be the only way?” — when I knew, despite the proof of God’s existence in my life, that I was raised born again because I live in the United States and Hindus are raised Hindu because of their respective countries. And therefore, “How can I believe that this fasting Buddhist monk is going to hell when I know he is more devout about knowing God than I am?” I always had questions.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I met people different than me. My sister sang karaoke at a gay bar so on Sunday nights we would go and sing. The gay and lesbian community were hands-down the most welcoming group of people I met in Los Angeles, church included, and every Sunday night, they were absolutely my second family. I began to see them as not just a group of people but as real people. I began to care whether or not my friends, in a gay relationship for over 20 years, could get married.
I vividly remember my sister singing, “He’s Alive!” on Easter and seeing a few of the boys in tears. For starters, my sister can “sang.” But more importantly, these men had been kicked out of their churches or grew up ostracized pastor’s kids who still very much believed in God but also knew in their guts God made them this way. I couldn’t believe they wanted to hear it.
I remember my sister singing the old hymn “It is Well With My Soul” when this family was especially down about a particular political event that would take the wind out of everyone’s sails. You could be gay. You could be a Christian. You could be whatever you wanted to be, and at the gay bar, everyone lived to tell the story.
When I began to see the gay community as human beings, my need to be right spiritually and politically went away. I began to recognize that equality is the backbone of our Constitution. I began to realize that for them to have equal rights actually didn’t affect my faith or religion in the least. If anything, I felt my views had been chaining them to a life they didn’t want. I was embarrassed I’d ever thought otherwise. I was embarrassed about the amount of fear I had in regard to something I knew so very little about. And I began to see my own lack of Christ’s love in “the world is going to hell in a hand basket because gays can marry” mentality.
As the years have progressed, I’m aware of how very little I know and I like it that way. I prefer not to be labeled whether it’s politically or spiritually. I don’t believe that life is black and white but a very human gray. That grayness, in my personal experience, allows us our humanity as individuals. It allows us to be open, to be present with each other, to see and be seen. I believe that, in the gray, we can be taught compassion and experience less judgment.
Why am I writing about all of this? Because I know the only thing that changes hearts and minds is conversation and getting to know people different than you. This column isn’t about whether you believe in gay marriage. It’s about both sides. It is about how we speak to each other, how we view and judge each other. It’s about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about Trump supporters and Hillary supporters. It’s about you, and your mom and your dad, or your neighbor. It’s about dropping our egos, dropping our fear and judgment, and fiercely, bravely, standing in the gray so we can recognize ourselves in each other.
I attended the Veterans Day flag raising at the Mazama Store on Friday. There was something in the air … everyone looked a little bit war-torn and exhausted but there was a determined spirit of community; even more so now, a great gratitude for our freedoms. I looked around at our little community, snapping pictures, listening to Bob Spiwak play “Taps” on his harmonica and it was a collective energy that resonated saying, “We can agree on this.”
On my Facebook page, I asked my friends and family to crave understanding like water. Have conversations. Be open to seeing the other side as human. Be open to being wrong. Stand in the gray. We did it on Friday. It’s not impossible. In fact, it gave me hope.