My Cross is Bigger than Your Cross…

cross_closeupFor the first time in a long time, I wept as I sat in a room while working on a new project. The odd part is I didn’t cry because I was sad. Nothing directly hurt me, nor did I suffer a loss. I literally broke down because I was overwhelmed with emotion for everyone else. It’s a feeling of helplessness where you want to be part of a solution, yet no one is really looking for an answer. A state of the heart where I am really unable to offer sensible explanations to my own children about why things are the way they are in the world. We have grown into a period of existence in society where the only thing that seems to matter for those who are experiencing turmoil or struggle is defined by the statement: “You don’t understand what I am going through because my cross is bigger than your cross.”

Division and separation continue to be perpetuated by the ideology that unless you know my pain, or can relate directly to what causes me angst because we are of the same race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality, you cannot possibly relate to the overall issue at hand. In our nation we have recently experienced the senseless, vial and despicable murder of 9 African American Christians who were doing nothing more than spending time to be community and honor the Lord. Even more shocking is that the shooter said in his confession that he almost didn’t go through with his plan to kill them because everyone was so nice to him at the AME Episcopal Church. What continues to ensue next is not a tale of white and black standing together to mourn the victims or be one, rather it is a race fueled debate which is served with a side of gun control lobbying and perceived bigotry represented by a flag; the confederate flag. Yes, while these are real issues of things we don’t talk about in the bubble based white majority suburbs of America, it doesn’t mean that when it is brought to the forefront we don’t desire as a community to figure out the plan to make it stop. I almost find myself wanting to apologize for being Caucasian because I am made to feel my opinion doesn’t matter because I don’t carry the cross of knowing what it is like to be oppressed as a minority.

What you may not know is that my family has experienced first-hand the tragedy of gun violence. I remember the phone call which came in the middle of the night back in October of 1984 which sent my mother into hysteria causing screams of “Why?” I will never forget. My uncle had been murdered by an assailant of African American descent because he and my Aunt were the target of a robbery attempt gone wrong. Now, over thirty years later I can look back and tell you I honestly don’t remember feeling hatred for the assailant because of the color of his skin; it was a distain for his actions. We almost want to ignore the fact that if you do wrong, regardless of skin color, religious beliefs or immoral action wrapped in the umbrella of our right to free speech, it is WRONG! You see, it isn’t a tit for tat society unless we make it that way. Life cannot remain a comparison to what you have gone through and thinking that someone else cannot possibly understand. My own experiences could have led me on a path to categorize what I had gone through as a generality against every set of persons who resembled anyone who did me wrong. However, I choose to look beyond the moments of senseless rage or hate and search for a way in which I am able to spread kindness to all those I meet.

I usually stay away from the verbal fights which go on in social media or the public realm. I’ve always tried to be the peace maker my entire life (whether it was a family argument or a couple in public in the throes of a domestic argument.) So, there have been a number of times lately when I have wanted to scream, but took a moment to breathe and let my own passions subside to not fan the flames in one direction or another. We continue to struggle with a public outrage over those who have abused their power or made the wrong split second decision as police. However, in the process, we direct violence AGAINST those men and women who protect us who are not in the minority of those who have dishonored their badge. In the midst of protesting wrong doing, we sit back and do nothing as a nation to honor the lives of five marines who were shot to death in an act of terrorism; marines who survived threats over-seas only to come home and become the target of a murder of hate. It seems somewhere along the way we have made each other the enemy because our cause is more important than any value placed on the overall value of human life as a society.

People debate over what “group” is being oppressed more: race, gender, sexual preference, religion type. Everyone wants others to know that their cross is bigger than anything you could possibly be dealing with. Fact is, nothing will change till the acceptance we desire and the rights we believe we are entitled to, are looked at across the board to respect ALL people. If that’s the case, than if I marched with you for reform of government local or otherwise for your rights, can you walk with me to do the same for the religious freedoms of what I believe? We must become attentive that the evil one, Satan, the prince of lies, who relishes our separation more than anything. As a divided people, we no longer work for the common good, only our own selfish agendas. Coming together is the only way we remain strong enough to be our brother’s keeper, not because of what we want, but because it is what we need to do to take care of each other.

At every point in history when we have been faced with an opponent bigger than one group, we seized the moment and stopped pointing fingers, without self-serving ideology and took a stand to do what was right. I wish I could have shaken the hand of Martin Luther King Jr. and spoke with him for hours about how we could live together to share our dreams not because they made us better, but because they made the world better. It would be amazing to sit with Harvey Milk to hear the struggle of being ostracized because one is gay and what we do about it in order to support the pain experienced for being what the world calls “different.”  What must it have been like to understand the courage in the heart of Oskar Shindler who risked it all to save everyone he could from the hands of a monster who wanted a superior race at any cost necessary; he didn’t do what was easiest but instead of sitting back he did what was right. Despite what it cost all these people in life, they knew their cross in the journey wasn’t any bigger than any of the crosses others were carrying, but rather than compare, they decided to carry the crosses of others as well.

To be clear, there can be confusion as to how much an issue is relevant or how widely publicized something is for it to become a major issue. It doesn’t have to be about the colossal events of the world, it can be everyday living and the day to day struggles which become bigger than we feel we can handle. Each and every day, people experience despair because their heart is broken in some realm. It might be a life threatening disease, or the hunger pains of poverty, or the man who isn’t sure how to tell his family he is now unemployed. Possibly it’s the child who is bullied in school with no friends to stand by their side, or maybe even a person whose personal anxiety and mental illness controls their every thought to a point of a debilitating lifestyle. Things do not need to be in the public eye in order to become a major cross which society should empathize with. In working to understand how we help each other and solve the crisis which creates distance between us, we must empathize that every cross being carried by another cannot always be seen. If this is the case, it is impossible to understand the magnitude and size of the burden someone else is feeling by comparing it to your own hurts. Big, small, wide, narrow, smooth or splintered, it doesn’t matter, a cross is a cross and everyone is carrying one. So now, how do we take turns lending a hand to share in the walk together rather than letting anger, jealousy and perceived hatred rob our focus from the goal of humanity through faith?

Let us seek to embrace our unique differences, understanding God created all of us with various interests and backgrounds, but still He gave us the commandments to journey together. The only answer I have to offer may seem too simple to say that it will solve our problems; love, acceptance and compassion. If we spend all our time looking for what is owed to us or wondering why someone else doesn’t have to deal with the same issues we do, we miss the opportunity to put down our own cross to recognize the weight of our neighbor’s.  I guess I just want us all to stop and think before we speak and act to realize we are not each other’s enemy, just each other’s hope.

In the end, yes, I am a Catholic Christian who loves my gay friends unconditionally, desiring nothing more than their happiness, but you must respect I hold true to my faith’s belief relative to the definition of the word “marriage.” I stand up for my African American brothers and sisters when they are wronged because of their skin color, pray with other Christians regardless of the “church” they are associated with and have sometimes held the hand of the dying to comfort them in their final leg of their journey home without questioning the path of life they chose. None of this makes me a hero, just a human being who wants what is best for others and who knows his cross is NOT bigger than anyone else’s. I also know one other thing: I will always do what I can to help you carry your burdens and place them on my shoulders if I have to… can you say the same for me or others you encounter?

It’s time for us to stand together and I will pray it happens sooner than later.