What it’s like to be marginalized

Or, Why I’m not offended by #TakeAKnee

Disclaimer: Being hard of hearing is not the same as being black in America. I’ve never feared for my life when being pulled over by the cop (though maybe I should be?). If anyone’s ever called me an unkind name because of my hearing loss, well, I didn’t hear it. And it’s entirely possible that I’ve been hired at a few places because of my hearing loss and the company’s commitment to inclusion. That said, when I read about the black experience and the emotional toll it takes on an individual and a community, I think, “This sounds familiar. This sounds like what hearing loss has been for me.” I don’t fully understand all the nuance surrounding Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, or not standing for the national anthem. Mostly because unless the Royals or Chiefs are winning, I don’t know much about the sportsballs. But I do understand that #TakeAKnee, in the minds of the protestors, is taking a stand against racism. Those who disagree with the protest are speaking out in defense of the flag. “How dare they disrespect our soldiers?” You can google elsewhere for an analysis of either argument, but over here, I want to talk about the lack of a common American experience. Whites and blacks have lived in vastly different Americas. Some of us have had it easier than others, and we ought to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) with those whose experiences have been for the worse. I do not know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it feels like to be marginalized. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Being marginalized means other people and/or institutions make decisions for you. I am considering going to seminary next fall. I looked at several different institutions inside (and even slightly outside) my faith tradition. I originally considered moving, but my parents aren’t getting any younger, and my nieces and nephews are getting older. I don’t want to miss out on either, so I asked these institutions about the format of their online courses. Were they delivered via video? Did the videos have captions and/or come with a transcript? Are students required to participate in conference calls? Two of my top prospects said, “No” to videos being captioned. That’s it. Just “no.” They weren’t sorry to lose me as a prospective student. They didn’t offer to look into it, or suggest any alternative solutions. Just straight-up “no.” They’re no longer on my list, and the one currently sitting at the top is the one who said, “Yes, we have captions, and if those don’t work, we’ll work with you to figure something out.” Bless them, but note that both the “no”s and the “yes” ultimately make my choice for me.
  2. Being marginalized means that your experience and feelings often go unacknowledged. I posted something about Deaf Anxiety on my Facebook page the other day. I shared some personal thoughts before linking to a video from Ai-Media, featuring Artie Mack. I wanted my hearing friends in particular to understand a little better why I act the way I do in certain situations, and I hoped to spark further conversation about hearing loss with people who may not know much about it. My post to date has 25 reactions (likes and loves), and all but five, or 80 percent, were from family, Deaf/hard of hearing friends, or friends in the Deaf/hard of hearing community (like sign language interpreters). I heard NOTHING from my hearing peers—people who go to church with me, who grew up with me, who have worked with me, who live in my community. Now, Facebook has some weird algorithms, so it’s entirely possible that due to the nature of the video, more of my Deaf/hard of hearing friends and community members saw the video than my hearing friends did. The slight may or may not be personal, but if Facebook is to blame, the slight is then institutional. Facebook thinks only my Deaf/hard of hearing friends—aka, people who more or less already know about Deaf Anxiety—would care to know about my experience, rather than assuming the topic was of interest to a broader audience.
  3. Being marginalized means always observing, rarely participating. I have lost count of the number of times when I’ve been in a group setting and said something out loud, only to be totally ignored. No one looked at me when I spoke, or responded to my question. This may not be anyone’s fault—I suspect I lack sufficient hearing to determine whether my voice was loud enough to be heard. It’s very possible that no one heard me, literally, but it also means that I feel powerless to ensure they do. I may be able to follow some of the conversation, fake a smile when everyone laughs, or nod in agreement now and then, but my voice is not there. My opinions and feelings aren’t brought to light. My passions and interests gather dust. I feel unknown and unseen. James K.A. Smith recently tweeted a quote by William James detailing what happens to a person who remains unknown:
    The depths of despair can be a real place for the marginalized. If I, a white woman with all the privileges that affords, feel this way regarding my hearing loss, how much more must my black brothers and sisters feel, who testify to tangible threats against their lives and dignity? So no, I’m not offended when someone takes a knee. After a while, you run out of energy to muster the fake smile necessary to stand for a symbol of an America that has been unkind to you.

When life is not what you wanted

I didn’t write as much as I thought I would last year—I count exactly four posts in 2016—but a common theme among those and all the posts I didn’t write is loneliness. I wonder now if I was trying to prove something, like, see, Lord, I have learned All the Lessons, so please relieve me from this pain. Because we tend to do that, don’t we? We think God gives us trials and suffering and unwanted life circumstances to teach us lessons, and the sooner we learn them, the faster the pain will pass, and we’ll be rewarded for hanging in there.

But life is—God is—not so transactional. We are not characters in a video game—shoot enough poison flowers, get an extra life. Gather enough coins, get a new weapon. Defeat the Big Bad, free the princess. A good theology of suffering is not about what we do, or how well we bear it, but about what God is doing with it. Who can know exactly why he does what he does? The Sunday School answer, of course, is “for my good and his glory,” but why sickness for this person and health for another? Why singleness for this one and marriage for another? Why this, why that? I am tired of asking such questions, for they offer no answers, and possibly never will, because despite my best efforts, I’m actually not the one running the show here.

Ecclesiastes says that even wisdom and knowledge are ultimately meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I don’t think that means it’s wrong to be wise or to know facts, but that answers are not the goal. Job didn’t get any; why would we?

Sometimes I think, I did not sign up for this. This life feels arbitrary, or like I got gypped, or even like God has forgotten me. But a few things the Spirit keeps impressing upon me:

  1. God loves me the most—not that he loves me more than he loves others, but that he loves me more than any person ever could. So whatever he does must be borne out of that perfect love, and be good.
  2. He will bring us to a place of abundance. A few verses that I have meditated on over the last year, sometimes through tears, are from Psalm 66:
    For you, O God, have tested us;
        you have tried us as silver is tried.
    You brought us into the net;
        you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
    you let men ride over our heads;
        we went through fire and through water;
    yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. (v. 10-12)
  3. Better this life, with all its aches and pains, came from God than from Satan, or from myself. Many words have been and will be spilled over God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, and Satan’s role in suffering. This isn’t the place to rehash all of it, but my hot take is that I am more at peace believing that my suffering comes from the hand of God himself, because he loves me and wounds to heal, not kill. If suffering came from Satan or my poor decisions apart from God’s direction, then God would merely be a paramedic who rushes in after the damage has been done, not a wise, trustworthy, in-charge Father.

Rolling into 2017, exactly zero things in my life look like I thought they would at this point. I can’t analyze the one I want into being, or learn the right lesson in order to move on to the next level. All that’s left to do is to just live my little life—the one I’ve been assigned, my portion.

Life is hard. God is good. Let’s roll.

Call it suffering

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I have a weird threshold for pain. Pinch me lightly and I will scream bloody murder. But break my arm and I will tell you it “feels a little sore.” It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I was writhing in pain on my living room floor over what I would find out a few days later was  gallstones and would require surgery, that I finally conceded an important principle of pain — if it severely interferes with your ability to enjoy an episode of Parks and Rec, something is capital-W Wrong. It’s time to call the pain “pain,” and go to the doctor.

Up until that point, I was stubborn about physical pain and sickness. I showed up to work sick. I powered through migraines and more than one asthma attack. I thought I was being noble, but really, I was just being stubborn. Not acknowledging the pain didn’t make it better — it made it worse! I should have been home resting and drinking lots of fluids instead of going to work and passing my cold along. Trying to go about my business with a migraine — answering emails, watching TV, carrying on a simple conversation — only prolonged the migraine and affected the quality of my work.

I have a weird threshold for suffering, too. The light pinches — changing plans, miscommunications, a torrential downpour the same day I’ve schedule a pedicure — set my mind racing and put me on edge and invite all manner of first-world problems! admonitions. But the arm-breaking stuff — ending a relationship, hearing loss, depression — I deal with it by essentially trying to shame myself out of it. I think of all the ways something could be worse, or I think of people who I know have it worse, and scold myself for feeling any pain at all.

Why should I be sad about being single, after all, when so many marriages around me are struggling? What right do I have to days where being hard of hearing is draining, when there are people whose disabilities limit their very mobility? And maybe I’m not really depressed — there are people with actual problems out there, so just get over it, self. This isn’t really suffering.

But in the middle of one of these rants to myself recently, it occurred to me that by not calling my suffering “suffering,” I was missing out on the blessings of suffering. Yes, the blessings.

Consider what God tells us suffering is for:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. — 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. — 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… — 2 Corinthians 4:17

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. — James 1:2-3

If I don’t understand my circumstances as suffering — if I write them off as unlucky, or just a part of life, or if I determine they can’t possibly be suffering because other people have it far worse — then I’m only hurting myself. Refusing to acknowledge the pain keeps me from going to the Physician who heals. Not calling suffering “suffering” robs me of hope, glory, comfort, steadfastness, and blinds me to the power of God himself. How tragic would that be, to completely miss out on God because I’m too stubborn to admit that I’m hurting?

Our suffering isn’t just for our own selves, by the way; it’s for each other, too, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our suffering helps us to comfort each other, to help each other make it home. Not only do we need to stop dismissing our own pain, we ought to be extra wary to not dismiss each other’s. We’re all in different places in our own walks with the Lord and what seems like suffering to one person may seem like nothing to another. But we bear with one another in humility and gentleness and love (Eph. 4:1-3).

So let’s be slow to say things to each other and to ourselves like, “At least your pain isn’t this,” or “at least there is this good thing about it.” Let’s be reluctant to compare our pain to someone else’s, or each other’s pain to our own. Let’s not play the “Who Has It Worse?” game with each other at all. Instead, let’s be quick to call suffering “suffering” in all its different forms and trust that God is using the suffering for good in each other’s lives, for his glory, and for the building of his Church.

Call it suffering. Press in to it. Be blessed by it.

Return

Would you indulge me as I make a return to the blogging world, cold turkey, word vomit, say whatever’s been on my mind lately style?

Please and thank you.

1) On being content: When my birthday and Christmas roll around and various relatives ask what I want, I’m slow to respond. I don’t really know, I’ll answer. I don’t really need anything. I thought I was content. Happy with what I have. Not jealous for material things. A gold star for me dodging one of the seven deadly sins. But lately, I’ve been convicted of all the ways that I’m really not content. I’m constantly comparing my circumstances to everyone else’s. Oh, I have a tiny apartment and they’re buying a house. They’re more social than I am. She’s prettier. He’s smarter. They’re married. They’re pregnant… again. And the list goes on. And on. And onnnn… and I realize how very discontent I am. There are a lot of things I am learning, though the lessons aren’t fully fleshed out. The value of a grateful heart. Trusting in God’s sovereignty. Evaluating idols and becoming more and more aware that at the root of my discontentment is a longing to be liked. I’m more concerned about fitting in than about embracing the story God has written for my little earthly life. I’ve been mulling over a Tweet from he-whose-last-name-I-can’t-pronounce I read a while ago – “The gospel frees you from your addiction to being liked.”

2) On addictions: My church is going through a series on suffering. We only just started, but so far the theme has basically been along the lines of, “Even if you lost everything, Jesus would still be enough?” I always thought my answer would be yes. I thought I knew all about suffering. Hearing loss, while not on the same level as, I don’t know, starvation or cancer, has been lonely and I know the Lord has definitely used that in my life to bring me closer to Him. But when I think about really suffering, like being given over to the ravages of cancer or losing a child or having a hole in the ground for a bathroom, I’m less sure of my answer. I often think of the verses that say that discipleship means hating your family, means dropping what you’re doing and following Jesus. I’ll probably be going back to this sermon by Mark Driscoll (linked to a transcript, but you can also watch a subtitled video of the same sermon here.)

3) On emotions. A few posts ago, I lamented my propensity to be emotional, to let my feelings make decisions for me. Since then, it’s not that I’ve become less emotional, but more aware of a God who never changes despite my feelings to the contrary. You know what I am talking about. One day, you have the Jesus warm fuzzies and you’re delighted in the Savior and oh look, bunnies!!! The next day, you can’t stop growling and snapping at everything that crosses your path and you wonder if maybe the Holy Spirit has come down with a bad case of PMS. Or maybe that’s just me… anyway, my other natural tendency in those kinds of situations is to berate myself for letting my emotions get the better of me. “Silly girl, shame on you for not being more in control of your faculties. I mean, you are going to be 28 this year… grow up… manage yourself better, woman!” But that gets me nowhere. Instead, the Lord has been gracious in bringing to mind more of Him – how even when my feelings change, He does not. Our changing moods and emotions are really enslaving, so God being immutable is really freeing.

Okay, people, that was like three posts in one. I’m out. Leave comments. Please and thanks.