Tables or Sides

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all safe tonight and are finding moments of peace and hope in these challenging days. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to this season of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about tables. 

I used to naively believe that there never had to be “sides.” There never had to be choosing who to stand with because I thought we could learn to stand together. I believed in tables…I believed in conversations. I believed in being a lifelong learner and being willing to hear another person’s voice, to understand another person’s life experiences.

For example, I’m not a farmer, but I can come to the table with a farmer and hear their joys and their struggles and grow from that…find ways I can be true to who I am and still find ways to help farmers be successful in their lives. 

I’m not black, but I can come to the table with black men and hear their fears and cry with them over the racism they have faced. I can still be true to who I am and find ways to stop racism, end discrimination and senseless deaths, and help black men fulfill their dreams and raise their families and be successful in their careers. 

I’m not transgender, but I can come to the table with a person who is and hear their life story. I can still be true to who I am and find ways to help them feel safe and loved and respected in this world. I can make their life better so they can find hope and follow their dreams. 

I’m not a child about to age out of the foster care system, but I can come to the table with them and see the struggles they have faced. I can hear their fears and see the worry in their eyes. I can still be true to who I am and help bring changes that will make their future brighter. 

I don’t have to give up any of my dreams to make this happen. My dreams have a place at the table, too. We talk it through at the table. We bring hope and love and respect to the table. We listen to each other and find ways to make a life of hope possible for all people. I was taught that nothing is impossible with God, so this is what I thought could happen. I didn’t want it to be about choosing sides. 

But then life taught me that some people are unwilling to come to the table and listen. They not only refuse to sit with some people, but they try to take the chairs away from the people on the way to the table. 

I first realized this when I faced domestic abuse. There were people who didn’t want to hear or believe me. They judged me harshly, and some still do. They sided with the abuser and took my chair away from the table they sat at. 

Then I saw the members of the LGBTQ community try to come to the table to talk. I first saw this in the 90s during the AIDS crisis. Churches closed their doors. Families cast people out. Too many people refused to sit at the table with a gay person and try to share love and hope in the middle of a tragedy for the world and for our nation. Without a shared table, I had to choose sides. I chose to stand with the LGBTQ community. I led a funeral for a dear cousin who died of AIDS. I presented his square to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I lost my seat at many tables, but I found much joy and love with the people who were willing to share their table with me. 

Then I met wonderful people who are transgender. I happen to have someone in my family who was accidentally assigned the wrong gender at birth. I learned what nonbinary means and queer and bisexual and pansexual. I came to the table and listened. But then I realized again that too many people refused to come to the table. Our table, instead, was spit upon and cursed at and judged by people who refused to join the conversation. So, I had to choose sides. I chose the table full of love and respect. We help each other dodge the rocks thrown our way. We hug through the tears of rejection. But we find joy and love. 

Then I heard the cries of black men dying from police brutality and from white vigilantes declaring it their right to kill anyone they are suspicious of. I saw black mothers crying. I looked around and realized that again too many people were refusing to come to the table and hear their cries and find ways to stop the deaths and the racism causing them. I had to choose sides. I stood with the people declaring that black lives matter. I chose justice and love and respect for all people. I chose to stand with people who want to live their lives without fear of being killed for no justified reason at all. And I found Jesus standing right there next to me. And I found people praying that I could kneel with and pray. I found people who heard me and who shared their stories and their tables with me. 

I still believe in tables. I believe that we can learn to hear each other and stop declaring that we have to choose sides. Humanity does not have to be divided up into sides. We can come to the tables with respect and love. We can listen. We can stay true to who we are and allow others to be respected for who they are. We can see the beauty in the diversity around the tables. We can learn from the gifts and talents and stories of others. We can share our gifts and talents and stories with them. 

I heard a preacher this past Sunday ask the question, when you use the word “we,” who do you exclude? When you say “we” are joining at the table, who do you refuse to sit with? The transgender teen? The black man? The impoverished single mom? The one on welfare? The domestic abuse survivor? The crying mother? The gay man? The married lesbian couple? The Native American? The Mexican family? The immigrant? Who do you exclude from the table? 

It hurts to lose your seat at the table. We all want to be loved and included. I want to love and include you…all of you…but I tell you this…if you exclude someone, you will force me to choose sides. And if I have to choose sides, I will always get up from your table of privilege and stand with the person you refused to sit with. I will walk with the ones being discriminated against. I will work to stop racism and hate crimes and transphobia and homophobia and bullying of all forms. I will willingly give up my seat at your table of privilege if you are unwilling to listen to the voices of others and respect them. 

Stop making us all choose sides. This is humanity…all of us together…the diversity of skin colors and genders and sexual preferences and gifts and talents and life stories. It’s a beautiful view from my perspective when I picture us all coming to the table for significant conversations that will bring so much love and joy to us all when we work for peace and hope and justice for all people. I will never give up this hope. I no longer regret the times I’ve lost a seat at a table for being true to this hope…for being true to who I am and what I believe and what I stand for…

Come to the table…join the conversations that can be so hard to hear at first…bring love with you and you will be loved in return…there’s laughter and joy on the other side of the tears we will shed when we realize all the unnecessary losses that have occurred when we excluded people from the table. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of my Look To See Me podcast. I love you…you are worthy…you are strong…you are beautiful…never let another person define you…join me at the table, won’t you? 

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

The Circle of Words

We protest in this nation because it makes us stronger. . . We voice our hurts. We point out injustices. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be a democracy with a document that calls for us to hear each other, to work together to be strong in our diversity. When women were left out of the conversation and the voting process, people protested (some peacefully and some violently). Now women can vote, own property, and hold political office. When prohibition was debated, people on both sides voiced their opinions strongly. Many businessmen broke the law and served alcohol even when it was prohibited. Eventually the law banning the sale of alcohol was overturned. We fought to end slavery and are still fighting to end serious injustices plaguing our nation such as unnecessary brutality, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, sexual predators pursuing children and the cover ups of all of these crimes to protect those with power, wealth or influence.

I’m a history geek, a listener, and a life-long learner. I want to know where we came from—honestly, not just a cute story that makes us look good. I want to understand people and their perspectives. I take public transportation and listen on subways and buses. When I am at the store, I listen to people on the aisles with me. I listen to people sitting near me at public events. I tune in to podcasts on subjects I had never thought about before and read editorials from opposing viewpoints. I want to hear people so I can understand things from their lives and their experiences. That’s the only way I can write from the perspective of different characters, and the only way I can be in conversation with others in my daily life—people in my neighborhood, my community, my city, my state, my nation, and my larger global family.

Here’s what I hear from many acquaintances right now: “I’m angry because I love this country and someone else won’t stand for the anthem of my homeland.” You are hurt because something meaningful to you is not being respected. You are angry because your values and traditions are not being upheld by others. It’s easy to feel personally threatened by these actions because your values are a part of who you are. You have the right to be proud of this nation, it’s flag, and your own religious beliefs that you tie into your patriotism. You have used your right to call protestors SOBs and other names. You have called for them to be fired, signed petitions to force them to stand, etc.

But your words have come full circle, so you must hear your own voices: We are a strong nation because we can express our opinions and hold our own beliefs. You can call someone an SOB who disagrees with you. Oh, but wait, can’t they express their beliefs? Isn’t that what our Constitution says? If you can ask people to stand, can’t someone else ask others to kneel?

I hear some protestors say they are kneeling because this country has not protected the lives of their brothers and sisters, their cousins, their friends, their mothers and fathers. A deaf man was shot at his house with neighbors yelling that he was deaf. A man was shot for complying with the law and acknowledging he had a legally concealed weapon. An autistic man was shot for not understanding the instructions. Men with their hands up were shot. Teens were shot by police as they legally drove away from a party to head home. They had no weapons and were not drunk or high or in a stolen car. They were just going home to respect the values their parents taught them about leaving a place if you felt uncomfortable with what was going on. An innocent man was killed when the police burst into the wrong home because of their own error. The protestors are hurting and protesting out of their hurts and over these injustices. It’s their legal right as an American to find a way to shed light on social issues that are keeping us from truly being a nation where all people are free.

You are using your constitutional right to voice your opinion that you want the anthem respected. They are peacefully using their constitutional right to ask you to hear them. It’s a peaceful protest—a cry to this nation to try to find a solution to this crisis.

It’s what we do because we are Americans. We protest. We speak out. We cry out to others to hear us. On taxation issues. On women’s rights. On prohibition. On repealing prohibition. On the rights of children to be educated. On gun rights. On gun limits. On the rights of all people to be treated with respect. About the rights of all people to be safe in this nation, to be equal under the law and to be treated justly.

This will not be our last issue to protest. We are a nation of fallible humans who will keep hurting others as we try to force others to live by our own traditions and political and religious beliefs. We will cause harm. Someone will find their voice and bravely stand up for those being harmed. Someone will find the courage to hear and join the chorus calling for love and justice to prevail.

It’s what we do. It’s called growth, and it make us stronger when we listen and join the conversation. You can be heard and still hear others. You don’t lose your rights when you give rights to other. You don’t lose your nation—you watch it come to life even stronger than before.