The Faces

My roommates often tell me how much they hate turning on the news. It reminds them of the terrible things happening in the world—the sad, unsettling, divisive parts of life. And while I understand where they’re coming from, I love the news. I like to feel informed about the things happening in and around our country and so I consume a lot of news from a lot of different outlets representing a lot of different sides. So even when it’s hard to take or difficult to process, I read, I watch, and I prayerfully try to form an opinion about what’s happening in the world based on a combination of my beliefs as a Christian and my position as an American (regardless of what anyone tells you, the two are not mutually exclusive).

But lately, even I’ve had to turn away from it for a second. The things happening in our country these last months have weighed heavily on my heart for some time now. The hate speech, the divisive language, the harsh actions taken out of fear, the general lack of listening—all of it makes me sad.

Someone told me once that when you’re trying to understand a viewpoint or make sense of something you truly don’t comprehend, you have to make it personal to you. You have to give it a face. Because sometimes giving something a face helps you really try to understand it. Giving it a face somehow softens your heart and opens your ears. It makes it real. And even if it doesn’t change your opinion, it does help you walk away with a little more empathy (and who couldn’t use that?).  

So this morning, I tried to do just that. I took my coffee to my room, shut the door, and settled in to the chair in the corner where I do most of my reading and praying. And I tried to make what’s happening in our country right now personal to me; Itried to give it a face.

I thought about the faces of the people in Syria that I’ve seen suffering and dying in their war torn country on the news for months now.

And then I thought about the faces of people in other countries who lost their lives after offering asylum to people they thought were in need.

I thought about the faces of my friends who stand passionately on the side that I do and how grateful I am to be able to talk with them about it.

And then I thought about the faces of my friends who stand just as passionately on the other side, but whose faces (and opinions) I value just as much.

I thought about the faces of the American friends I know living in predominantly Muslim countries and wondered how being American may impact their safety in the places they now call home.

And then I thought about the faces of the people in those countries who they’ve come to know—some as neighbors and friends, others as those who have tried to deter or even stop their work completely.

I thought about the faces of the refugee families I served in Clarkston, Ga. during my time working at a mission agency and how grateful they were to be welcomed and loved in our country after what they’d left behind in their own.

And then I thought about the faces of the people I met in New York during that same tenure at the mission agency—people who lived in the city during 9/11 and still suffered the effects of the trauma in their lives.

I thought about the face of a teenage girl I meet with regularly who passionately opposes what’s happening in our country and is trying to make sense of what she can do as a teenager to help those she sees being hurt, marginalized, or oppressed.

And then I thought about the face of another teenager I see weekly at the dance studio where I teach who just as passionately supports what’s happening in our country and believes it will ultimately be what is best for the nation.

I thought about the faces of the many pseudo-nieces and nephews I’m lucky enough to have, the children of my friends (all incredible parents) who I want to grow up in a world that knows no prejudice, oppression, or hate, but who I also want to live in a country that protects and keeps them safe.

And then I thought about the face of my nephew (the cutest face in my opinion), born only a year ago. What will it mean for him to grow up in this world as it is now?

I thought about the faces of the people I sit with at church every week and wondered how they make sense of what they know to be true about God and Jesus alongside what they see happening in our country.

And then I thought about the faces of my friends who I don’t sit with at church, who believe different things than I do. And I wondered what things like, “Christians will be given priority,” sounded like to their ears.

I thought about the face of my grandfather who fought against religious oppression in Germany during World War II and again against segregation in the South as a business owner in the 1960’s. He told me at Thanksgiving that he’s lived a lot of life watching other people follow leaders who led them by fear. “Where did it get them? Nowhere good if you ask me,” he told me.

And then I thought about the faces of others in my family who are loving, wonderful people that really do believe the person leading our country now is going to help assuage our fears, not play in to them.

I thought about my own face and how it’s reflecting what I believe is truth and freedom and life to others around me. How is my own face showing the face of Jesus to everyone—no matter who they are, where they come from, or what stance they take?

If you’re still with me after this long diatribe, thank you. I promise it’s almost over. I wish I could tell you that after all that thought about the faces I love and value in this world—faces that represent so many sides to a complicated situation—I had some kind of epiphany to share with you.
But I don’t.

I still know how I feel about what’s happening in our country, and I still know why I feel that way. I still also know how other people feel, and that they know why they feel the way they do. Their opinions are just as valuable to them as mine is to me. Other than fervent prayer, constructive conversation, overall kindness to others and maybe a time machine, I don’t have any immediate answers for what’s best for our nation as a whole (that’s why you’ll never find me running for President. That and those terrible photos they show of every President aging as their term goes on. No thank you!).

But here’s what I did take away from my time this morning and hope you’ll take away from your time now: don’t forget to see the faces. Don’t forget that the people you oppose so strongly have real faces and real stories. Don’t let your agenda or belief or political party or differences stop you from seeing the faces around you. Remind yourself that every opinion has a face. Every face has a story. And maybe, if you could stop and see the faces around you, you’d find your ears and heart more open to their stories. 

Sara Shelton