Befriending Bigots – The Power of Presence.

Befriending Bigots – The Power of Presence. September 30, 2019
Tough guys need help. They need the help of other guys. Dudes, this is guy-talk, man to men.
In particular, I’m reaching out to my fellow white, liberal, cis-gender, progressive Christian, straight men who’ve “done our work.” Guys who aren’t intimidated about dating a woman who makes more money than we do; guys who are willing to surrender some of our privilege so that historically oppressed peoples might do better; guys who believe that black lives matter as much as blue ones; guys who are cool with sharing this country with people with brown skin seeking asylum from horrible situations; guys who don’t mind hearing people speaking in the languages of their families at the grocery store or at the lumber yard. This includes white guys who would totally be friends, and share beers, with the proverbial “Afro-Hispanic, Muslim, lesbian, trans-woman who has a physically handicapping condition.”

My intended audience are liberal guys who aren’t threatened by the idea of working for a female boss or having a woman serving as POTUS and Commander in Chief. Men who believe that hard work should pay off, and yet also see the need for single-payer national health care. Guys who, while perhaps not perfect, have shed much of the toxic forms of masculinity and have owned and integrated the healthy kinds of masculinity – including embracing and integrating our inner divine-feminine sides. Guys who’ve done all of this and still love: rocking out to heavy metal, riding motorcycles, camping, fishing, hunting, pumping iron at the gym, getting our hands dirty – putting in a hard days work, enjoying a good pour of suds, rooting for a favorite sports team, enjoying action movies; cussing like sailors, and who laugh at fart jokes (well, not necessarily all of that, but you get what I’m saying). Healthy liberal guys who provide the “polarity” (energetic drive and difference) that many cis-straight women crave.

While I may have earned some advanced degrees and have more books on bookshelves than the national average, when it comes down to it I’m just a guy. Having grown up with two college professors as parents, I value education – and anti-intellectualism and lack of nuance disgust me. While I may inwardly smile when certain sports teams lose, I don’t in fact follow sports that much – though a shout-out to the Minnesota Twins, who frequently defeat teams with much higher salaried players. Rah. I’m bored by superficial conventional water-cooler chit-chat about sports and weather, and I, drive a Subaru. …Yeah, I know. Hey, it’s a sensible vehicle that has AWD and doesn’t require frequent servicing or repairs.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to roll my eyes, or at least avert them, in disgust when a “white trash redneck Trump supporter” pulls up next to me at an intersection. You know, the dudes driving those jacked-up pick-up trucks, with oversized tires, and oversized exhaust pipes — and don’t even get me started on those “losers” who intentionally modify their diesel engines to spew out black soot, “rolling coal” saying “fuck you!” to us “lib t a rds” who care more about the environment than we care about them.
Wait. Did you hear that?
They are acting out because they feel we don’t care about them. And let’s f’ing be really honest here, too many of us don’t care about them. We wouldn’t even flinch if they just fell off the face of the earth overnight. In fact, we secretly wish that would happen. Come on, admit it, you’ve wished it. But that secret wish? It’s f’ing fascist. It’s genocidal. It’s full of the same hatred that we think they have for women, people of color, and gay people. Jesus said, “even if you think a sinful thought, it’s pretty much the same as doing it,” (paraphrased) and by that measure – we’re just as bad as we think they are. We’re f’ing na zi a-holes.
And, you know why they think we don’t care for them? Simple. It’s because we don’t. They see us rolling our eyes when they pull up. They notice when we avert our eyes away from them not even give them the time of day. They may have hatred in them and act out in ugly ways, but they aren’t stupid. They feel our disdain and loathing. And the more they feel it, the more they double down and act-out.
Look, hurt people hurt people. And these conservative brothers are hurting. Many of them don’t have college educations. They’ve devoted their lives to jobs that we dismiss and think less of – and humans tend to respond to such dismissal by dismissing others in turn. Think: “Egg-head boss berates worker, worker comes home and berates wife and kicks dog,… watches FOX News and finds schadenfreude-ic relief in seeing that there are others who are even worse off than them, and lower on the social ladder/pecking order, and so they displace their frustrations and scape-goat and dehumanize those “wet-backs” who “don’t belong here.”
Bottom line: Liberal brothers we’re complicit in the hatred our conservative brothers are spewing out and projecting into the world. We’re complicit in the deaths when some of them resort to mass-shootings to express their rage. We’re complicit to the extent that we FEED the sense our hurting brothers have that we don’t care about them. We’re complicit to the extent that we avoid befriending them and learn how things are going in their lives. Shame SHAME on us for being so f’ing judgmental and elitist about who we choose to associate with and be seen with.
I realize I sound preachy here, I am a preacher after all, but damn you and damn me for keeping our “evolved, enlightened, indigo, spiritually woke, Christian” selves – to ourselves and not offering them of service to the world. Damn us for not using our privilege for the good – as society needs straight, white, men holding straight, white men accountable. And One of the best ways to do this is through caring friendships with other straight, white, men. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I will tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to start caring about men with smokestack pipes and lift kits, and hats and bumper-stickers that offend me.
Every Saturday afternoon, for years, I taught college students who volunteered to feed un-housed persons the importance of at least looking such persons in the eye and nodding our heads and offering a gentle smile whenever we come across them when we’re out driving and seeing them at inter-sections. And I’ll be damned (perhaps literally if I don’t repent), I’ve come to see that I’ve been treating homeless guys better than I treat dudes who likely make as much or money than I do but write-off as “uneducated, red-neck, hick losers who stupidly support Trump.”
Enough.
I need to sleep at night. I have a son who needs to know how to be a man. No longer will I avoid associating with these men who I’ve arrogantly loathed. No longer will I ignore them. No longer will I not care about them.
Fact: Even if the House of Representatives impeaches Trump; even if the Senate convicts him – and VP Pence – and giving them the boot; our nation will STILL be in trouble and face the real and present danger of men who feel increasingly ostracized, shamed, and shunned for wearing hats and t-shirts that support certain political views and affiliations, and being in trades and vocations that are in fact in harms way due to ill-conceived governmental policies (ironically including ones imposed by Trump) and the shifting of societal values.

I for one am going to befriend some dudes who I otherwise wouldn’t. I for one am going look them in the eyes and offer a brotherly smile when I see them pull up next to me. I for one will give a nod of recognition —

— “I see you man. I meet you. We’re sharing this moment, this life, together. I care.”

I for one will firmly shake their hands – silently telling them that I’m a pacifist they want on their side in a bar fight.* I for one will go out of my way to talk to them at the fuel pumps, stores, and bars. I for one will banter with them about sports and the weather. I for one am going to seek to befriend them and hear about their lives. I for one am going to learn the names of their pets and children. I for one am going to learn about their joys, hopes, fears, and dreams. I for one am going to attend the funerals of their aging parents when they die. I for one am going to give a damn. I for one am going to start being the Christian (and just plain ol’ upstanding civilized citizen and good neighbor) that I’ve been pretending to be too long.                                                                      

Sure, they could mistakenly misinterpret things and wrongly assume that I’m conveying approval of their political stances and values. That’s possible, but the thing is, what humans really need is the sense that people see and notice them – a sense that they matter. Let’s just let the inherit goodness of social recognition work its magic. And, as I get to know them, they’ll get to know me – and my stances and values. Remember that black man who befriended a KKK clansman? Remember how introducing a bull elephant helps rouge adolescent male ones chill out and regulate? Heard about the political art of “beer summits”? People tend to behave better if they’ve had someone hug them, or smile at them, or at least have a meaningful interaction with them, at some point in the day. And a common denominator among those who engage in mass shootings is that they are loners who are socially isolated, rejected, and disconnected. I’d like to add conscious contributions that create favorable conditions for meaningful connections and healthy transformations (including my own).
You think I’m a dreamer? Perhaps, but I’ve seen people change. Including bigots. A former member of a church that I used to be a pastor of informed me that he used to be a “Rush Limbaugh-listening, patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic jerk” and that due to my influence in his life, he’s fully repented from all of that. He’s since joined a conservative mega church – to “try to help them move toward embracing LGBTQ people.” Note: I didn’t have any agenda to change him. I just went over to his home a few times and drank beers, and was myself – my best caring self, with him in his garage as he tinkered on his car. And, yep, Rush Limbaugh was on the radio every time. What he felt was my presence and care. God took it from there.

Yes, I’ll continue to canvass for the candidate of my choice (for one of the women running); yes, I’ll show up to vote in November 2020; but this is the work that matters.

 

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
– Jesus, Matthew 5:44
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”    – Paul, 2 Corinthians 18-20

[Photo above of me and my brother-in-law doing some “manly” work recently helping out my parents. He and I don’t share much in common theologically or politically (though surprisingly more than I originally assumed). We have more in common than not and we can work together to make the world a better place.]

* homage to Stanley Hauerwas, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Tex Sample.

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

Click here for the Kissing Fish Facebook page

Click here to see Roger’s past blogs.

** If you would like to become a patron of Roger’s work as a spiritual writer, please click here to learn more.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment