by Ashley Legere
Pax Christi Little Rock member
I’m 27 and a white woman. I have disappointed myself. I have disappointed others. I have exemplified Jesus at times, but often I have fallen short. I believe in God, a much higher power than I can comprehend, and I believe in the example Jesus set for each of us—an example of inclusivity and love always and in all ways. I believed this even before I could articulate it. In my heart I knew and know that love sets hearts free and hate imprisons them.
At age 5, and while I couldn’t name most of these terms, I had a much clearer sense of injustice in all its forms—racial, gender, orientation, ethnic, cultural, age. I was continuously confused as to why people were treated with such hate when they were very simply being exactly who God created them to be. Our lives are a celebration of God’s creation in all their uniqueness. What a gift God gave each of us that we aren’t like each other! I don’t know everything. I have so much I need and want to learn from those who aren’t like me.
Then I went to school. A private Catholic school to be specific. There I saw a system that perpetuated the idea that we should all fit into a box, curated not by God, but by man. If we don’t fit, we are no longer “good”. If we aren’t “good”, we aren’t deserving of love, compassion, or mercy. I was never going to fit in this box and I really didn’t care to. Much of what I learned in school was to be fearful and ashamed, causing a lot of confusion in my heart and mind. I found myself questioning how to apply Jesus’s example of love in my own life and in a way that fit the “good” system. Only to see I can’t follow Jesus’ example and the “good” system. Jesus didn’t follow the “good” system. Jesus modeled that every human being in all of their unique brilliance is deserving of love in its purest, truest sense.
Despite my own understanding, the “good” system remained my school’s god of choice. I learned what “good” meant by how I was treated and how I was expected to treat others, both by verbal statements and through osmosis. I’ll use recess as an example. I had two options. Sit with the girls and talk poorly about people, which I didn’t want to do, or sit by myself. I didn’t have the option of playing soccer with the boys—believe me I tried and that resulted in me sitting in timeout by myself. Why couldn’t I play with boys? It wouldn’t meet the “good” standard. I, as a girl, was a “distraction”. Their words not mine. I, as a girl, needed to change my wants and my behavior, none of which were wrong, in order to accommodate the boys. The boys were not asked or expected to treat me with respect, they weren’t expected to include me. I was instructed and expected to know my place and live in it, and that was “good”.
What I learned: I am a girl. Girls have a place. Girl is a label. People with labels have a place. Fear. Shame.
This is one example of many and it speaks to a lack of perspective, a lack of modeling, a lack of accountability, a lack of representation, a lack of compassion, a system of silence. I recognized all of this as a child. What I didn’t recognize until recently is how much this type of education affected me, silenced me, silenced Jesus’s example of love in my life, silenced my ability to support and affect change for those who are oppressed in our world. I literally knew better and I still let the “good” system get to me.
But we can change the system, we can love one another as the unique individuals God created us to be, as equals, regardless of our differences. Jesus did not love only those who fit in the box. We must create a system where the model of Jesus’s love for all people is central in guiding all of our interactions. We can do this by asking how we can lend our support instead of wondering why we are different. We can do this by listening and holding space for others’ pain instead of thinking about our own pain. We can do this by acting when people share exactly what they see and what they need instead of walking away, thankful it doesn’t affect us. We can do this by taking accountability and own our mistakes instead of staying silent. In the face of injustice, we cannot allow silence, fear, or shame to fill the space. We must speak truth in our words and show love in our actions. We can create an inclusive environment where gender, race, orientation, creed, ethnicity, and age can connect us in love instead of dividing us in hate. Only in this way can we truly embody Jesus’s model of love.