A few years ago I traveled to Boston for a work trip. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled alone and it wasn’t my first time visiting Boston. My last night of the trip, work was over and I took a walk to go to dinner and take in a few more sites before heading back to the hotel to pack up. It was summer and still daylight and I was in the middle of a public park with people walking about and I took a seat on a bench to check a few points on the map using my phone.
As I sat there, I was approached by a man who asked, with a foreign accent, if he could sit on the bench with me. Being a girl raised with Southern manners, I nodded to him that it was fine, not thinking too hard about the fact that there were many other free benches around. He preceded to start a conversation with me. At first I answered his general questions, again being nice. But I quickly became uncomfortable as he started asking more personal questions and would not stop talking. I calmly got up and told him I had to go and started to walk away.
At that time, he started speaking with increasing volume to the point he was yelling. I turned back and as I did I saw him motion to another man who was sitting on another bench close by. They both got up and started following me. I picked up the pace, looking back a couple of times to see where they were. Each time, they were behind me also walking at a fast pace and talking loudly at me. Not enough to draw much attention from others though.
I managed to quickly maneuver through some pedestrians and traffic and lost them in a crowd several blocks away. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Being targeted. Being harassed. And, had I not had God’s protection and the perfect timing of traffic and passersby on my side, potentially something worse. I was a female, alone in a big city, and became the point of focus for two men as they plotted to take advantage of me due solely to my gender. Did I deserve such an experience? Should I have been basically chased through the streets because of a few outward characteristics I hold?
Most any woman I know can identify with similar struggles. We all face some sort of degradation and discrimination simply because we have less testosterone pumping through our veins and we have some different physiological parts.
As a woman I have been underestimated. I have been perceived to not have the capability of protecting myself or making decisions or even repairing my car. I have been spoken to with condescension. I have been discounted to be suffering from PMS, while trying to express myself. I have been ignored. I have been treated unfairly. I have been misunderstood. And this has occurred in every facet of my life, from household maintenance and responsibilities, to personal relationships, to work, to church.
My female ancestors were thought of as property, only homemakers who bear children with no rights to vote or own property or hold certain jobs. They were expected to hold their tongue, have no opinions and follow direction. They were raped and used for another’s pleasure without consent. And this still happens throughout the world today to women in all walks of life from all cultures, countries and backgrounds.
While I and my sisters all around the world, along with our female ancestors have been discriminated against because of our gender, I still do not claim to understand the plight of anyone who has found themselves the target of another’s ignorant or spiteful judgement and hatred. Because while I am a woman, and subject to my own stereotypes, there are a greater number of classifications of which I am not…
I am not black. I am not a cop. I am not Muslim. I am not an immigrant. I am not the top one percent. I am not living in poverty. I am not disabled. I am not homeless. I am not yet considered old. I am not thin. I am not obese. I am not a parolee. I am not a soldier. I am not a politician. I am not gay. I am not divorced. I am not a parent. I am not a celebrity. I am not unemployed. I am not… any of another million divisive descriptions that seem to invite the same prejudice and judgement of others.
My point is we have all been discriminated against in one way or another. Despite this truth though, we can not fully grasp the complexity of each person’s experience based off of our own situations. We are all different and so is the discrimination we experience.
Am I guilty of my own prejudice and judgement? I admit it to be true. It is shameful. However, this is due to something that I share with everyone… I am human. As humans, we fail. We make mistakes. We lose control over ourselves. We allow misinformation to become our own personal truths. We create barriers or tear others down to make ourselves feel better or stronger. We are greedy. We are impatient. We are fearful. We grieve. We are too self-important. We want more than we need. We hate…
But there’s something else we all have in common… we are all God’s children. He loves us equally and fairly and He made us all in His image. He sent His son to die for us all. He instructed us to love our neighbor and forgive others as He has loved and forgiven us.
Can we do this? Not on our own. After all, we are only human, fallible and imperfect. But can we do this? Yes. Since God is love, if we have and rely on Him to guide us, teach us and use us… then we will become his vessels, carrying His love to light the world. We desperately need more vessels; we need more love and light in this dark world. Imagine if we responded to adversity and hate with more love. What mountains could be moved? What hope could be restored?
It is love that can deliver meals to those who are hungry. It is love that can educate those who have no opportunity. It is love that can build friendships and relationships. It is love that can build community. It is love that can heal broken spirits and broken hearts. It is love that can see beyond the stereotypes, the ethnicity, the sexual orientation, the social class, the gender, the religion, and the nationality of others. Love can do this because God is love.
With the state of our country and our world, the heightened race issues, the lack of strong and trustworthy leadership in our government at all levels, the control of big business, the lack of respect for life (of all species)… we need more vessels, we need more love. And God, who is stronger in our weakness, is love.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:34-35