Yesterday we went to the small Texas town where my husband's mother was raised. 3 of the 4 siblings still live there along with their spouses, children and grandchildren. They are so committed to family that even the city slickers passing through merit a meet up. They greeted us warmly and were so sweet and welcoming to us. The kids played with their 2nd cousins and the adults visited.
It was a foreign cultural environment for me, this small town Texas scene: aesthetically, culinarily, politically, socially. But we are family and they were so loving to us.
The conversation was difficult to navigate. There were offensive racial slurs, a mention that everyone should carry side arms, an insistence that there is a reliable list of 35 people who Bill and Hilary Clinton have had murdered, and a moment where someone said that "those people" crossing the border should learn English like our ancestors did.
So what am I to do? Do I remain silent and unspeakably uncomfortable? Do I go blow for blow with counter arguments? Do I alienate my children's relatives and insist we leave? In the end I did mention that Lutheran church services in Texas were still held in German long, long after the first Germans came over. And to the Clinton death list I said "Well, the internet is dangerous". Matthew said "hey, come on now" to the not-printable racial slurs, but mostly we just tried to change the subject to the kids or the weather. On the ride back to Austin Matthew and I had an interesting conversation.
Here's the deal: I was having a hard time feeling gracious about his relatives, but felt conflicted too because they obviously are nice, loving folks. I wanted to extend some grace, but instead kept thinking they were just idiots to believe such nonsense. But that's ultimately a dissatisfying explanation. I kept coming back to why do they believe what they believe and why do I believe what I beleive?
We believe who we want to believe.
I want to believe that the super-duper smart people with graduate degrees who travel the world and work for NPR (National Public Radio) for the most part are a reliable source for information. Why do I believe this? Because they reflect who I am, just more so. Matthew's relatives want to believe that local conservative talk radio personalities who are rural and not some fancy intellectuals are reliable sources for information. Why? Because they reflect who they are, only more so.
That's possibly one part of it, the other part of it is that we believe what we want to believe.
The want to believe that a black man with a name like Osama is a Muslim who wants to infiltrate the US government and bring us all down. They want to believe that guns make people safer. They want to believe that everyone gets a fair shake and that if you are in a bad situation then it's your own fault. They want to believe that Whites are supperior to Blacks. They want to believe that Jesus would agree with
I want to believe that a black man can be president and bring hope and renewal into the corrupt power structure of the US government. I want to believe that political conservatives are just basically selfish and more than anything want to horde wealth and power for themselves. I want to believe that liberals want justice for the earth and other people. I want to believe that Jesus would agree with me.
We all just believe who and what we want to belive and then we tell ourselves it's The Truth.
Thanks for being more gracious than any of the rest of us. We're a mess.
In Jesus' name,