Monday, October 27, 2008

"Oh, you're one of those..."

I have been avoiding politics like the plague lately. And, if you have a pulse at all, you know how tough that is.

I don't avoid it because I don't care - anything but, in fact. But as you might notice, it's awful hard to have a civil conversation with people about much of any topic these days. And there's one phrase that seems to be at the heart of it.

"Oh, you're one of those...."

It's a way of dismissing an entire person by recognizing their view on one particular hot-button topic. It's a way of saying, "Now that I know that you're 'one of those...', I don't have to listen to you any more, because I know how you are. You're just one of them. "

I've been hearing it for a while, but the place I really felt it like a slap was when I came out to some people that I knew from seminary. One fellow (who will remain nameless), who is now an ordained Lutheran pastor, had been my classmate in multiple classes; had given and received communion from me; had attended chapel with me. He had heard how much I wanted to serve God, and how hurt I was when the whole house of cards imploded on me.

But when he found out I was gay, his words were, "Oh, so now you're one of those Godless queers, eh?..."

Needless to say, that was the end of our conversations, on any topic. Without asking, without even thinking, I became one of them, one of those Queers With A Homosexual Agenda, and that was that. Never mind about how I really felt, what I had experienced (in and out of the church), or what it had taken to get there. I was one of them, and that was that.

Several weeks ago, I was with a couple friends - people I had known for years. One is a local politician, one is a former Marine, and one a philosopher and metaphysician of many trades - although describing them just that way is vastly oversimplifying any of them. They all tend to be somewhat conservative in nature, and I care deeply about them. We have traveled similar roads in a fellowship for several decades.

It was shortly after Sarah Palin had been nominated as the Republican VP candidate, and one of my friends was crowing about what an impact the nomination had made. We were talking - and, as these things often do, it heated up quite quickly. I don't remember what I said, exactly, but one of them turned to me, and said, "Oh, yeah, but you're just one of those tax-and-spend Democrats..."

And I honestly don't remember what he said after that. I remember just shutting down - like someone had kicked the plug out of the wall. I don't know that my younger friend meant to be quite so dismissive - but I instantly had this overwhelming sense that whatever else I said wasn't going to mean anything. And just that quick, I was "done." The conversation was over.

I left them to celebrate their political moment-in-the-sun, and walked off somewhere else. I'm sure they didn't even notice it - the conversation kept on despite my withdrawal. But the question in my mind lingered..."Gee, wonder what he'd think if he knew I was one of those 'Godless queers,' too?..."

(Actually, I'm pretty sure I don't really want to know. I'd rather not ask. Sometimes silence is golden.)

In Toledo, we're close enough to get Michigan NPR stations, which carry the BBC News overnight, and I often listen to them coming home from meetings. (Yes, I'm one of them, too - One Of Those People Who Listen to NPR and the BBC...) . The BBC has been sponsoring the BBC Talking America '08 Bus, traveling across the US talking to people about the nation and about the election. A recurring theme in the reports I've heard from "the Bus" has been how the US has become absolutely polarized over politics - to the point of people seemingly despising other people simply because of who they would vote for. Families divided, not some ways similar to the way the US was over slavery in the 1860's, only with fewer guns (at least, for now). The death of civility, at least on this topic...

Listen for it. Listen for how many times you or others are declared to be one of them. Listen for when you do it, too. I know I'm not innocent, in this area, either.

These are people. Your people. My people. People whom we've many cases, for years.

They are no more one-dimensional or one-issue than you or I are. Like them, I am not defined simply by where I live or who I support politically or whom I live with or whom I worship. I am not just a set of stereotypes. I am not just one of them...

And neither are you.

I pray that we can get back to seeing each other as human beings, and not as simply supporters of issues or purveyors of stereotypes.

We're all so very much more than that.


Hope said...

This post reminds me of Martin Buber's book I and Thou. It sucks to be reduced to an "it" which is what happens when one is put in a category and dismissed.
Up here the category I run into the most is all about where one goes to church and once people find out I go to a Catholic church either they try to convince me of my error or they dismiss my faith as nomninal. There are those who do neither but I tend to remember the extremes.

BentonQuest said...

I don't know if the dismissive attitude is fear, mental laziness, or fatigue. It is just easier to categorize a person and then you don't have to do any real work in learning more about that person or that person's thoughts.

Ed said...

I've been getting a lot of the same type of "you're one of them" things as well. It's usually, "You're undecided? Oh yeah, you're a Christian out of touch with reality. That's why you're not an Obama guy." Huh? Did you not hear me that I was UNDECIDED? Like you, I've had people flat out stop talking to be because I'm not sold on Mr. Obama.

I can't wait for this election to be over. I'm tired of being categorized into one of 2 opinions.

Michael said...

My favorite short version of the gospel is "God loves us ... and there's only us, no them."

But I have a hard time remembering that all the time.

Steve F. said...

Oh, Ed, this is such a flashback. Chad Allen, who starred in End of the Spear, told GCN Radio how he got a whole bunch of raw sewage because he was a gay man portraying Christian missionary Nate Saint (as well as portraying Nate's son, Steve, later in the film). He said that early on in the filming, he got the sense of lines drawn between "the stupid rube Christians and the Godless queers."

It was funny that as the real Steve Saint (son of the martyred missionary) got to know Chad, he grew in the belief that Chad was the right man to play both him and his father in the movie. And as the two of them interacted with both the largely-gay movie crew and the largely-straight religious community, the Christians lost their "stupid rube" image, and the gay people of faith lost the "Godless" label.

And isn't it funny how it works? Even the truly Godless gays among the movie crew were impressed by the civility and friendship of the Christians - once they got to know each other..

wilsonian said...

I have to admit, that when it comes to politics in particular, I am terribly judgmental. I have a long way to go to find the road of grace here. Sigh. At least I usually keep my mouth shut... usually... lol.