Cathy is Interfaith Leader of the Living Interfaith Sanctuary in Vancouver, B.C. Whether or not we’re a member of a congregation, what she is speaking to is pertinent to all our human interactions.

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January 4, 2021

Our real voices
by Cathy Merchant, Vancouver, B.C.

A few weeks ago, the most politically conservative member of our congregation left. No one told him to, but he said he’d been feeling less and less welcome and like he’d be better off finding a different community for himself, going forward.

He is a very difficult person, so in that way I was relieved. But in another way, I’ve been feeling sad about his decision. It’s been my hope that, over time, our community would grow to be politically, as well as religiously, diverse. We’ve had more religiously and politically conservative speakers than before, and I have lots of conservative friends. Yet our community is mostly progressive, and I was wondering if, because of how politically divided we’ve become, my dream to truly bring folks from all different walks of life together wouldn’t fully happen after all.

I kept thinking about this person’s specific complaints and how he said he didn’t feel welcome to share in our group. Yet the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that he never actually tried to share about himself. If he had, I think he would have been warmly received. He’s lower income, has experienced homelessness, lost his main income because of the lockdown, and has truly suffered a lot in his life. I think our community would have been open to hearing from him about these experiences and how he’s been shaped because of them. We could have supported him more (and tried to financially, earlier on).

But the trouble was, he never wanted to share about those things. He only wanted to share his opinion of others (many of whom he blamed for his situation). And he didn’t even want to tell stories about specific times people from these other groups caused his suffering. He just wanted to complain about them in general, to vent his anger. We weren’t okay with that, and he took that as us not caring about his suffering and thus not wanting his voice in our community. So he left.

But why was that his voice? Or rather, why did he believe that was his only voice? In my opinion, his real voice is those experiences and that pain he has suffered and is suffering, as well as his dreams for a better future. And I think our community would have benefitted from that voice. I regret we never fully heard it.

But maybe that’s a helpful lesson for the rest of us. That our opinions are not the same as our experiences. That they aren’t who we really are; they don’t tell the real story. But because of that, maybe it is still possible for us to meet and grow together in community with people who are wildly different from ourselves. If only we’d have the courage to share our experiences more and the compassion to open ourselves up more to what those around us have experienced.

That’s where I believe we can still find each other. And I hope beyond hope that we do.

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