Purple Boots, Still Walking
After I attended the Women’s March in January of 2017, I made up my mind to search for events and opportunities where I could step outside of my own familiar comfort zones and normal contexts. The crowd at the 2017 gathering, an estimated 70,000-100,000 participants of all ages and stages, was the initial uncomfortable step outside of my zone. Not only because I’d never participated in any sort of demonstration in my then 45 years of life, but because I’m an introvert at heart. The march was a deep dive into a humongous pool of unfamiliar.
What I learned that day, way outside of my normal environs, was that I didn’t want to avoid being in gatherings like this. I wanted to be in person, in the context of another, to look humans in the eyes and hear their voices telling their own stories. I stood jammed packed and then walked, less jammed, alongside older women and younger women, men, children, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ people, Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, Democrats, Independents, and even some Republicans. What I gained in those moments, those few hours, was the sense in my being of shared humanity.
A few weeks later, during that February, I went to the local Mosque. A friend came with me. We took a bundle of miniature white roses, a sign of peace. I tightened my head scarf, tucking my bangs behind the material. We climbed the stairs and lingered by the doorway, not wishing to intrude in the worship space.
I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. I turned and met the face of a woman, and the kindness of her expression gave me welcome. With a gentle whisper, she told me that the seats lining the back wall were for visitors. “Please,” she insisted, “go and sit.” I thanked her, and she hugged me. We held onto one another for a bit. Tears welled in my eyes. We had exchanged something holy.
After the words from the Imam and the prayers of the people, we stood to leave. Women—hijabs framing their faces of creamy beige, soft pinky-white, warm brown, and more—walked sock-footed toward the door. One woman caught my eye as I saw her smile and tilt her head just so, as if she knew me. She introduced herself and asked if this was our first visit. I wondered how obvious it was. She looked from my friend and back to me and leaned into us.
“Are you Christians?” she asked.
We nodded and told her we were.
“Me, too,” she said. She went on, “My dad is a pastor. I come here often. It’s very peaceful.” She encouraged us to come back again, and we three headed downstairs to the shoe shelves.
I put my purple boots back on, and I turned and discovered that another friend was also in attendance that day. I’d not seen her in some months. We embraced. That was the day I went to a Mosque and met two Christians.
Beyond the march and the Mosque, I sought out many other contexts last year. Most of those places indeed made me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t trade the discomfort, because I learned important things about myself and about real people, the humans beyond the caricatures I glimpse on the news and in my social media feeds.
As I processed the various events and conversations, over the course of the entire year, what I found was a persistent nagging. It pertained less to my discomfort with the supposed non-Christian nature of a thing and pertained more to my discomfort with the lack of Christians in the places where I found myself.
I don’t mean that Christ and Christ’s love was not there; to the contrary, I saw the love of Christ in and on people around me. I also don’t mean to imply that Christians ought to make way to these spaces with pious intentions of bringing God to the people. God is there, was there, perhaps much to the surprise and even dismay of what I have been taught to anticipate.
This lack of Christian support, and even the fear in me to acknowledge to other Christians that I had been at these various gatherings, gnawed at me. My brow furrowed, my thoughts spinning, I tried to pinpoint the source of the irritation. I came to two conclusions. First, I am not to bow to fear of Christians and what I think they may be thinking of me. Lord, have mercy. Second, if the love of Christ compels us, we would be the love of Christ smack in the middle of whatever it is that aches.
I don’t know that what hurts in our times is that much more or even different than what has been cut and bleeding in times past. A hope somewhere inside me tells me progress has been made. On the other hand, we know more, we know better, and because the accessibility of images and stories is greater, I believe the level of accountability must rise.
We are not all called to be at a protest, rally, march, demonstration, parade. I don’t mean to imply such a thing. However, I sense deep within my core that we are all called to listen to understand, to love without condition, to be present to the pain of another.
The Saturday morning of January 20, 2018 found me back in downtown Denver with 40,000-50,000 people gathering for the second Women's March. I went to walk with two of our closest friends who are also Christians. I discovered later several of our friends were there. I went to listen, to talk. I went to observe what motivated people to stand and then walk together. I went as a act of prayer.
Capturing my own snapshots of the day provides just that, snapshots. These moments in time remind me that we belong to each other, that we are better together, that being with each other in person is more important than ever. These photos call me to the gigantic pool of the human story, as messy and complicated and glorious and good as it is. These photos tell me why I choose to live in the tensions, as uncomfortable and lonely as it is. These images ask me to be brave in my identity as a follower of Christ, to live and love like he does in every context in which I find or place myself.
Here’s to another year of living in the green wilderness, of conversations at the #scuffytable, of asking better questions, of learning to listen, of being transformed by the radical love of Jesus. May God guide us to the broken places and show us how to join in the healing.