Love-Seeking Hearts: Kellie's Take

More and more I just see that we all have love-seeking hearts.

Take one of the local conservatives I met this weekend at the workshop Heidi and I led, a person who triggered a few of the fellow liberals in the room, someone who both Heidi and I were concerned about when we viewed his Facebook page upon his registration for our event, but who ended up revealing a heart as large as any as I’ve experienced. I went from circumspection at first meeting, to a wide open hug at second meeting—this is how I’m more and more experiencing everyone when I regard them from a place of curiosity and openness, regardless of ideology.

And it still takes a huge amount of work. Less so, for me, in maintaining curiosity and openness with the “Other,” but rather more so in holding space for enough light to get through for someone who’d rather react to consider curiosity and connection instead. Work, because I can understand all of the reasons why not. And work because I don’t have watertight reasons for why yes when someone resists being curious about the extremes. Work, because this work pushes people up against their fear and pain and survival strategies.

Take the lesbian high school senior, one of about 120 students we spoke to last Friday at a Shoreline high school. We’d asked the students to write about a difficult conversation they’d had, one that left them feeling bad and reactive, and walked them through an exercise that had them identifying not only their own unmet needs in the interaction, but guessing those of the other person involved.

With a mottled face indicating peak emotions, she referenced a hateful family member in regards to her sexuality—and demanded to know why we expected her to strive for curiosity and understanding of this person’s own experience. Wouldn’t getting to an understanding of this person’s fear and intolerance come at the price of internalizing the hatred and condoning it?

This is the crux of it.

How do we make space for others and their experience while still deeply and uncompromisingly holding space for ourselves? It’s difficult, and most people choose to turn away from the straddle—usually after attempting, unsuccessfully, to mitigate it via changing the other person into a “safer,” like-minded entity.

No, I don’t expect people who feel deeply threatened to lean in to curiosity about those threatening them—it’s not for me to tell them what to do; we all get to decide where our interest and energy lies and whether we are safe enough to engage. But for those who decide they can safely lean in, there are others who have gone before them, people who’ve stayed present long enough with those that spewed hate at them to reveal the humanity underneath—with breathtaking results. Google African Americans Daryl Davis and Ann Atwater who befriended Klan members, and Orthodox Jew Matthew Stevenson who befriended white supremacist Derek Black—and you will see what the power of holding space for those with the most vile belief systems can lead to.

But most opposing people we deal with are not at the extreme ends of the spectrum; their ideas might not physically threaten us in the moment, but they can still make us profoundly uncomfortable. And, for the most part, it’s really hard to change people’s minds—it’s really rare, it takes time, and it usually involves being in deep relationship with them.

So, if people likely won’t change their beliefs, what’s the point of engagement? We were asked this question multiple times, but in different forms at the Town Hall Q&A session after the panel discussion we took part in Monday night on bridging the ideological divide. If I don’t like their stance, and they won’t change to join my team, why should I waste my time connecting with them and asking them curious questions?

Because the end result of not engaging, of taking our ostracism of the Other for not being like us to the furthest it can go is a disturbing prospect. One that we’re getting a taste of now. We expect conflict outside our borders, but with the term “Civil War” bandied about in regards to the level of conflict in our nation right now, we’ve come to a point where not engaging in empathetic dialogue is leading us down a disastrous path.

I don’t expect Heidi to change, she and I have very different viewpoints on several things, and yet my life is so much richer for leaning into an ongoing dialogue with her. I hosted a dinner the Friday night she and her two fellow Christian conservative friends were here visiting from Nashville—I invited a small cross section of liberal friends, specifically selected to represent some of the social elements not commonly accepted by the conservative movement: a gay married couple, a mother of a young transgender daughter, and an older, staunch environmentalist activist couple. I didn't expect these local friends to change the conservative minds, but I knew that just a connection made between them all had the power to affect perspective and understanding. It was rich and heart-centered, and not without moments of tension. In the end, Heidi looked at the gay couple and my friend with the transgender daughter and said “I commit to you that I will say something if I hear someone being hateful towards gays or trans people.” And she asked the same of us in regards to hateful messages aimed at her Christian community.

Did the exchange change how the visiting conservatives will vote? Not likely, but they personally know people now in the communities their votes have worked against—just as I now have relationships with people in her conservative Christian community that I have stood against—and in the way we can, without compromising ourselves, we have become allies for each other. Allies, because we gave ourselves the gift of seeing that we each just have love-seeking hearts.

And that’s a start.

Dinner in the Liberal Lion's Den: Heidi's Seattle Notes

“HATE HAS NO PLACE HERE,” their buttons blared from their jacket lapels as they stood at Kellie’s back door. I recoiled. Clearly, the liberal couple wore the buttons to make a statement against me, the conservative guest who voted for Trump, right? I resisted my gut instincts that told me to bolt and opened the door wider.

They greeted me warmly. “I’m Sheila,” the woman said, shaking my hand. Her husband, Spencer, smiled broadly. “Nice to meet you!” They took off their jackets and joined the others at the table.

My Seattle friend, Kellie, cofounder of Heart Perception Project, was hosting a dinner in her home to introduce me and my two conservative companions from Nashville to her liberal circle in hopes of forging new connections across the Great Divide. It was a bold move. With seats around the table occupied by two Buddhist environmentalists, a Jew, a married lesbian couple, and a woman with a transgender child, the air was thick with my assumptions and the frightening potential for tremendous conflict.

It had already been a taxing day. Our two sessions at a local high school teaching
the principles of civil dialogue, including curious questions and reflective listening, were fraught with tension as students asked, “Why should we even bother talking to hateful people?”

I get it. It makes more sense to stay in our sheltered enclaves and bolster our reified views than to work toward making a heart connection with the perceived enemy. Yet, where has that gotten us? Nowhere. Except to this place where the chasm looms deep, a pit into which once-cherished relationships crumble and communities splinter for lack of curiosity and an honest desire to understand.

But the time has come to do it differently. After Kellie’s visit to Nashville in January where we led workshops and she sat at my dinner table hearing the conservative views of my friends, now it was my turn. However, my friends were a bit wary of me walking into the “lion’s den” (as other people have called it) by myself, so they came along.

It was about to get interesting.

The “how-long-have-you-lived-here” small talk only lasted a few minutes, and then, after a welcome from Kellie, everyone dove into their tostadas and the conversational whirlpool. You know, the whirlpool that’s produced by the clash of “opposing currents, often causing a downward spiraling action,” as describes it.

Or what I expected to be a whirlpool. I braced myself for the accusations, the condescension, suddenly aware of my great need to not be vilified, my need for safety, for kindness, for love.

I braced myself. But the whirlpool didn’t spiral. And the lions didn’t bite. Instead, Kellie and her friends asked curious questions, like, “What do you need?” and we asked curious questions, too. They shared their stories, real and vulnerable, and we shared, too. They listened. We listened.

I saw hot tears run down cheeks, borne of pain, fear, and struggle, longings to not be vilified, for safety, for kindness, for love. And in those tears, I heard a familiar refrain. I suddenly realized- their needs were my same needs, their longings were my same longings. And in that place of shared longings we connected, not as constituents yelling across a chasm, but as people hugging on a bridge.

Before she left, Sheila handed me a gift. “Would you like a button, Heidi? I brought extra.”

I smiled, “I would love a button.” As I put it on, I forswore my preconceived ideas- those ideas, fueled by fear, that tell me others wear their values as an offense to me.

And as Sheila and the others embraced me and said goodbye, I felt it in the warmth of their kindness: hate has no place here.

Not here in Seattle.

Not here in Nashville.

Some Christians may say I’m forsaking the gospel for love; I say I’m loving for the sake of the gospel. The hate coined by political rhetoric truly fades away when we meet on the bridge, see each other face to face, and learn to listen and to love. And when we do, we look below to see the chasm is no more. 

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Kellie's Nashville Notes: Our First Weekend of Collaboration

I’m exhausted.  

When Heidi and I hatched a plan to create workshops where we could facilitate people of differing opinions and belief systems to relearn how to connect to each other’s humanity, I knew it would require effort—I just didn’t fathom how much. 

Not so much effort in formulating curriculum and nailing down logistics (although that was considerable in its own right), but the astounding amount of effort involved in keeping one’s heart and mind open despite being surrounded by people who do not share my world view.  And as hard as I worked, I didn’t have it tough, because really, it was simple to fall in love with everyone I interacted with. Even the mayor of Nolensville (the bedroom community of Nashville where Heidi lives) was lovable—he, an enthusiastic Trump supporter who had attended the Inauguration and happily loaned us his souvenir MAGA hat, Trump scarf, and Trump flag we needed for an illustration during our workshop. He was someone I wish I’d had extra time to converse with to understand more of his world view so very disconnected from mine. I was struck by his desire to come to our workshop due to his stated recognition of needing to learn what we were offering. That I found myself wanting to hang with someone who actually went to the Inauguration (and bought the T-shirt) of a man I fundamentally oppose was shocking enough, and hearing him express a willingness to grow in a way that I never would have expected from such a person gave me grounds for dismantling the boxes into which I had so easily and reflexively put him— as well as others like him.

But, I digress—I’m exhausted.  

And here’s why: endeavoring to stay open minded and open hearted, altering language and metaphor to accommodate the very different evangelical Christian world view surrounding me, and resisting my own unconscious tendency to be guarded and safe over risking personal transparency all took a tremendous amount of psychic energy. It was like running a marathon—one in which I had to pull myself out of the beckoning weeds every 50 yards or so. I really got why our country has evolved to this point where each major geographical area hosts a homogenized belief structure in which people only hang with their own tribe: It’s so much easier. Hanging with different paradigms takes work. 

And, I’ve got to admit it—I trend towards being lazy in this arena. I’m thinking we all do.

But, I pushed it—and I know that Heidi pushed it too.  A self described “turtle” when it comes to communication styles, Heidi admitted to me her tendency to avoid conflict and stay away from triggering conversations. Funnily enough, I have exactly the kind of communication style designed to retract her “inner turtle” head. My father taught me the love of a good intellectual and philosophical tussle—and I got to indulge in one with her husband Brian—a pastor—over a beer one night. However, Heidi is not one to find fun in such exchanges (she shared later that she wanted to crawl under the table while Brian and I gleefully sparred over religious belief)— she experiences them as painful and dangerous and makes her think that the relationship is on the verge of collapse. The way my energy sparks and intensifies in such conversations only adds to her discomfort. So, this weekend required us to push our edges. For her, the learning edge involved staying engaged and persevering beyond where her fear told her to stop. For me—the edge involved slowing myself down, tempering my reactivity, and working even harder to listen when I wanted to steamroll her with my opinion.

Heidi and I met in Junior High when her family moved to my southern California neighborhood. We shared the same world view back then—both of us Christians living in a conservative suburb.  We also shared a love for drama and creative, imaginative play. She’s always been easy to love and fun to spend time with. A new job moved her family away just prior to her senior year, so we tried to maintain contact through letters. 

As a college student at the University of WA, I experienced a falling-away of my religious conditioning. I no longer connected to a world view where a parental Supreme Being rewarded or condemned people for holding specific beliefs. Admittedly I wasn’t gracious about communicating that with Heidi in our correspondences on the subject—my aggressive communication style triggered her tendency to pull inward, and we lost touch as a result.

At our 20 year High School reunion in 2009 we reconnected—so easily—but, our friendship since then was one of courteous civility that avoided venturing into the weeds of our divergent world views. The 2016 Election interrupted our avoidant pattern, and now here we were, at Nolensville Town Hall the day after the Inauguration—treading into the places with each other that we had eschewed for so long. We wondered if we were plum crazy.

The workshop was a glorious mess.  We erred on the side of too much information—rookie mistake—but, despite ourselves, we watched people slow down, open up, and share hearts which contained a complexity of experience. Given, everyone there was willing simply by virtue of signing up for such a class, but intellectual curiosity gave way to emotional presence—and it felt sacred to witness.

After the workshop we sat with Heidi’s husband Brian at a local pub while drinking a celebratory beer. He made interesting points about how his world view made hearing God-language from me in a visualization exercise I led that endeavored to incorporate the predominant religious paradigm in the room a non-starter for him—he needed to trust that the messenger shared his beliefs regarding the message sent.   


Well, we’d just tweak our delivery next time then. 

The world view divergence posed ongoing challenges in navigating fundamental philosophical differences over the weekend. I had forgotten that Christians see humans as essentially sinful, and newly learned they see our hearts as intrinsically deceitful. My own spiritual belief sees us all as coming from Love and returning to Love upon our demise—with evil coming from psychological damage and fearful forgetting of what we truly are. In my world view I trust the higher knowing of the heart; in Heidi’s world view, the heart can’t be trusted unless it’s aligned with God’s love. We had to navigate slowly and carefully, creating and editing our curriculum in such a way to land upon a framework that reflected the Venn diagram of where our paradigms intersected. It was another element that caused exhaustion for both of us—but we both knew it was worth it.

I went to church with Heidi and her family the next morning—for only a portion of the main event—which gave me a snapshot of what it must feel like to be enveloped in such a community where everyone experiences a unity of thought and belief.  I could see the perks.  The music was amazing, providing a lush soul-bath of emotion and intensity, and again, I got how easy it would be to just fall into Jesus’ arms in such an environment—had I been the type to do so. It was a curious experience for me to just be there without putting up an energetic wall around myself. I could have myself without defending against anything—and be there with all of them too. I appreciated that insight.

That night, at dinner with Heidi and Brian’s Christian Community group, I had the opportunity to track my internal process in response to circumstances I’ve historically had trouble connecting to. In sharing my story about how I ceased to identify as Christian, I recounted the experience of seeking a new church youth group in my college neighborhood and of being repelled by the evening’s activity of sharing countless coming to Jesus stories. Fairly shortly after my anecdote, people at the table one by one began to share their own stories of coming to Jesus. Internally I became aware of a choice at hand. The well traveled path for me in such a situation was one of trigger, irritation, and the need to shut people down. But, I was here to travel another path, one that showed me how people at the table were deeply sharing their hearts with me, one that gave me the opportunity to keep my heart open and share it in return. It wasn’t the easy path to choose, but it was richer in the rewards offered, and I came away from the evening feeling like I had made a table full of new, truly dear friends.

The next day had us visiting two English classes taught by Joy Patton, one of the women present at the dinner the evening before. Bless young adults, because they tap into and emote our collective id so completely. A brief journal entry they wrote after our presentation gave instant feedback as far as how well they’d assimilated the material. Heidi’s lesson on asking a “What” question that probes for stories and context instead of a “Why” question that probes for self justification (“What were the influencing factors that brought you to this viewpoint” versus “Why do you believe that?”) resulted in one student writing “What made you such an arrogant jerk?” as an example of a curious “what” question she could ask the person in mind when reflecting on a past difficult conversation. Well, obviously we had more work to do on refining our message. Fortunately, a follow-up email from Joy indicated an overall positive response, which included several enthusiastic statements from her students. My favorite was "Before I heard their speech I had a completely different mindset on the topic. I thought it was so much more one-sided than it actually was." Knowing that at least one kid got the importance of holding complexity in regards to considering another point of view felt like a win.

And — Cece Wilkes! We actually met with Cece on Saturday afternoon, the day of the main event. Heidi had heard of her through a friend who had raved about the amazing dinner Cece hosted between Republicans and Democrats in her community. What struck me was her wisdom in formulating a series of questions designed to create personal reflection and move into collaborative brain storming—“What is a bridge?” "Are you a bridge?” "What people in your area need you to be a bridge for them?"  We recorded our conversation and hope to either post it or transcribe it, because we so want to share her perspective as a bridge builder and as a woman of color.


Many people have called me brave for going into the heart of red state America to do this work. It's a nice ego stroke, but honestly doesn't feel well deserved. Once I decided to drop my anger and step into curiosity, it didn’t feel all that brave to just go listen to people. Besides, people who are on the winning side of the aisle usually have a larger capacity for magnanimity— and as long as my shoulder chip was in check, I was fairly well-assured of a pleasant time with the community there. 

The truth is, I feel much more of an edge around doing a Heart Perception Project workshop in Seattle. My tribe is afraid, they're angry and devastated. Each new day in the Trump presidency brings news of what my community perceives as a systematic erosion of ecological, intellectual, and social values and freedoms-- so extending the hand of understanding and friendship to those who helped put Trump in office is not an easily accessed intention. Triggers and reactivity run high, and as anyone who has ever been in a grief process knows, there's little latitude left for cultivating an open, risk-taking heart.

This was brought home to me by an interaction I had with a close friend soon after my arrival home. She wanted to know how my trip went, and in the course of recounting the adventure that was still swirling in my brain, I stepped on a landmine that triggered a reaction in her, freight train-like in its intensity. Her reaction triggered judgment in me—and soon I was on my own freight train as well, later wondering how I got there given having spent an entire weekend encouraging people to let that train pass them by. 


It ain’t easy work, and it’s tricky business besides. Because, getting on the Love Train carries with it trappings of the shadowy underbelly of intolerance for people who don’t want to ride it too, or who just need more time to feel and express their pain. If I can’t hold that space for my own tribe, and encourage others to do the same, then my efforts are disingenuous. Allowing and witnessing another’s experience in order to deeply understand them, thereby creating connection, means doing that for everyone—and I can see just how much I have to grow to stay in that awareness. I honestly don’t know how such a workshop would go over here, but I take heart in the many local friends who have expressed appreciation for what we’re trying to do, despite admitting to not being able to get there themselves. 

Baby steps.


Heidi's Perspective, First Heart Perception Project Weekend--Nashville, TN January 20-3, 2017

Her eyes are piercing blue, an azure mix of intensity and compassion. I watch as she engages with my tribe- a tribe that holds a worldview so unlike her own, asks, listens, wonders, seeks, probes, gives.

Kellie had arrived the day before, smiling and hopeful, flying in from her blue-state Seattle to my red-state Nashville. It was a brave step. It’s one thing for us to write the goals of the Heart Perception Project on paper, quite another to touch down in the territory of the other tribe and walk among them.

I take her out to dinner in downtown Nashville. We stand in line to order, directly behind a lesbian couple. They kiss. I’ve never seen two women kiss. I’m shocked, but I don’t show it. Kellie is nonplussed. The conservative state the media has painted us to be isn’t exactly cooperating.

We wrestle with our material, wanting it to connect with both liberals and conservatives in our upcoming sessions. At the Town Hall, we look over our outlines one last time, then put flesh on bones and walk to the front to lead others in connecting despite their differences.

Through her eyes, I see the audience, my friends. Concerned over the deep chasm in our country, wanting to learn how to dialogue differently. Kellie asks curious questions. People share stories, shed tears. She shows compassion and empathy, finding emotions of others with which she can identify. That night, she writes a heartfelt post that ripples through both of our communities with comments and shares.

The next morning, we stop briefly at my church. Kellie warmly hugs my friends she had met the previous night. My husband is speaking from the stage about our global and local efforts to train pastors in Jordan, educate children in Uganda, support peacebuilding among tribes in Africa, help the destitute in Gatlinburg – and share Jesus. I stand next to her, trying to see through her eyes, concerned that she may see our love for others as agenda. We talk at length in the ensuing hours and I watch her try to believe the best.

That night, Kellie graciously tidies my house, helping me prepare for 12 of my friends to meet at our house for dinner. Over stir-fry, she shares her journey away from Christianity. They empathize with her emotion and share their own stories with authenticity and tears. She offers ideas how we can be bridge-builders to her community through empathy and relationships.

The next morning, we make the trek to Renaissance High School, where we are guest speakers on the topic of “Allowing Diverse Views” in Joy Patton’s English classes. Before we walk in, we sit in the car, face to face, eye to eye, admitting that our conversation on the way there has triggered each other. Kellie admits she wasn’t as self-aware as she wished she had been. I admit I hadn’t listened as well as I could have. We sigh. This is hard work.

Fresh from walking our talk, we arrive in the classroom. The students are engaged and wide-eyed, asking questions and offering difficult scenarios for us to role-play. It’s rich and rewarding.

And exhausting.

I see it in her eyes. She needs a nap. So do I.

For one last hurrah, we discuss abortion on the way to the airport, sit in the parking lot and discuss it more. Kellie assures me her community deeply values life, and, as she shares her heart, I can see a different perspective through her eyes. Tears flood the blue, and we commit once again to our friendship, to believing the best about each other.

We hug goodbye, and she disappears through security. The next time I see her in person will be when I travel to Seattle, touching down in the territory of her tribe to walk among them.

I walk back to my car and lay my head on my steering wheel before driving home. For a girl who hates tough conversations, the weekend had been terrifying and exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Kind of like someone with an aversion to water who is thrown into the ocean and doesn’t have any other choice but to swim or drown. And so, I swam, sometimes with arms flailing. I learned I have a lot to learn.

This endeavor to see through another’s eyes, to find connection in the midst of stark disagreement, is tough. But the newfound vision of hope it brings for our relationships, our communities, and our country, makes it all worth it.

Kellie's Thoughts After Heart Perception Project's First Workshop--Nashville, TN 1/21/17

Some of you know that I'm in Nashville this weekend working with Heidi on creating connections and fostering communication between people of conflicting viewpoints as a small way of healing the rift that's so apparent in our country right now. I'm a liberal non-theist that has flown to red-state, evangelical Christian, Trump-voting America (on the Inaugural Weekend no less) to try on another viewpoint. Because, as much as I love the progressive city of Seattle I live in, my tenure there has given me not an iota of understanding how we've come to where we're at-- with Donald Trump as our national leader.

I just got back from co-leading a workshop with Heidi, it's late, and I'm struggling with what to write here, because what I have to say is so counter to the story we're telling ourselves in progressive America about who the America is that voted for Trump. I was the only person who voted for Hillary in the room tonight at our workshop. There were two people who didn't vote, the rest of the room voted for Trump- and most of those participants expressed deep complexity and misgivings regarding their process around voting for such a flawed man.

So, what was it like, being surrounded by Trump voters? Deep. Heart-opening. Tapped into love-- the same things I feel when I'm surrounded by my dear progressive friends and we're being profoundly honest and vulnerable with each other. We're all just messy, beautiful, deeply flawed humans after-all.

There's so much to share, and I intend to write more, but I just want to say it's worth second-guessing the assumptions we make about the other side of the aisle. Sure, there are nasty white supremacist MF's out there, but it's a mistake to characterize all of Trump's voters as such. One of the exercises we led people through tonight was having them process their reactions to people wearing "inflammatory" T-shirts. I had a feminist pro-choice T-shirt with me and a Black Lives Matter shirt with me. I assumed the BLM shirt would create the most reaction, but it didn't; people shared that they felt curiosity and compassion in response. I was floored. Where were all of the intolerant racists?

The feminist, pro- choice shirt created more of a response, but not the knee-jerk one that my pro-choice, feminist-self assumed. The reactions were layered, complex, compassionate, and pained. Raw vulnerability showed up in one woman's response, and I responded with raw vulnerability in kind. Two different sides of the aisle; one shared experience of heart connection.

So what's the message here? We've got to stop boxing each other in. Reality is messier, more complex, more layered than we give it credit for. It's so easy to just dismiss a person --or an entire swath of our country -- for something they did that we judge to be reprehensible. The difficult thing is to listen, to tolerate the discomfort of sitting with complexity that doesn't easily fit in a box, and to reach for each other when we want to recoil in fear and distrust. What's the worst that can happen? That we'll fall in love when we'd rather hate? And isn't that what needs to happen if we're to get out of this mess?

If you'd like to follow or be a part of the work we're doing, please follow our Heart Perception Project page:

Kellie's Post After Her First Conversation with Heidi

Last week was a maelstrom of emotions. A week ago Wednesday, like many of you, I woke up to a profound experience of confusion, despair, fear, rage, and hopelessness. From that place I told a Trump supporter Fb friend to fuck off, left snippy comments on the pages of friends who voted for third party candidates, and made posts calling out friends and family who voted for Trump. I felt justified, from a place of fear and anger, in my actions. That day I also read a blog post by my long time friend Heidi Nelson Petak—a PHD educated, red state resident, Jesus-loving evangelical— entitled “I am not a Hater” where she broke down her reasons for voting for Trump. My reaction to her post title was visceral, because everything in me in that moment wanted to believe otherwise about Trump voters. But, I know Heidi and I absolutely know the truth of her statement that she is not a “hater,” so I read her post with as open a mind as I could. I read it with the intention to try and understand her deep motivations that led to an action (voting for Trump) I profoundly disagreed with.

And I had reactions to what she wrote, but took a day to really let everything settle before I responded. Instead of picking apart her argument, I tried to stay connected to her deep motivations that I could relate to—those of coming from a place of love, and responded from there, trying to understand how she connected to love through something that I only associated with hate. My response was met with further thoughtful responses, and we entered into a dialogue from a shared belief that people from opposing viewpoints need to work to connect to each other’s humanity. Because, the way we’ve been doing it, clashing and stopping at the level of issues and belief systems has only led to a growing divide in our greater community where we feel free to dehumanize those who believe differently than we do.

And, don’t get me wrong, there is some seriously scary shit going on that we need to fight against—hard. White supremacists in the White House (ala Steve Bannon, Kris Kobach, and Jeff Sessions)? Incredibly horrifying. A proposed Muslim registry? Completely reprehensible. Having to explain to our daughters why our country just elected someone who denigrates and assaults women? Heart breaking. But here’s the complexity I’m attempting to hold right now: if I want to fight against the surging wave of dehumanization that I’ve witnessed during Trump’s campaign and his subsequent election, then I need fight against my own tendencies to dehumanize, on a more subtle level, the entire swath of people who voted him.

A Pew research poll which came out in June showed that the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans felt afraid, angry, and frustrated by members of the opposite party.…/partisanship-and-political-a…/ Probably a large part of how we got into this mess is that we don’t know how to disagree without turning those on the other side of our beliefs into “The Other”—an Other that on one end of the spectrum we can summarily dismiss as misguided and seriously lacking in better judgment, and at the far end of the spectrum, someone that we’re justified in harming and killing. And we are all doing it—just at different places on the spectrum.

So, I’m channeling my upset into something I feel passionate about: trying to find connections through a common core values, and from there have a more grounded exchange on personal stories and biography that motivate action. I had an amazing and heart centered Skype call yesterday with Heidi—she in Nashville, and myself in Seattle—where we talked about our fears and our loves. We tried on each other’s perspective, and we learned surprising (or not so surprising) data points such as news stories being wildly different in our different regions. For example—in her area there is very little if no reporting on the wave of hate crimes sweeping the nation. Take that in. Can you begin to understand—just on that point alone—why we can have such different motivation and actions? (And if there’s any question in you about why she or others in her area didn’t work harder to listen to news outside of their sphere, ask yourself how actively you pursue news from sources other than the progressive standards of NYT, Vox, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Vice, etc. etc. I can tell you that I’m making an effort to step outside of my liberal bubble now. As such, I’ve found the Real Clear Politics app to be a great way to get headlines from a wide swath of news sources across the spectrum) In our call I tried on the perspective that the last eight years have been a disappointment and uncomfortable for her community. I can’t say that was easy for me to do, but for the first time I really worked to try and get it, instead of reflexively going to my comfortable place of “They’re just wrong.” And, on her end, Heidi deeply took in the pain and fear felt by people on the receiving end of hate crimes, and was profoundly moved. Our conversation was deeply touching, incredibly enlivening, and gave me hope for the possibilities of creating profound connection despite profound divides.

And, I’m not pushing creating heart connection with people you disagree with as “The Right Way” or the “Ultimate Solution”. I can only see things from my particular viewpoint at this keyboard as a white woman in a progressive city, who doesn’t have to worry about being targeted, who lives comfortably, and who can reasonably expect to wake up to the same lifestyle I go to sleep with each night. So, I get how I have a particularly privileged experience. But I’m trying to work harder to understand and connect to experiences that are not my own—and that’s an approach that I want to see seated at the table of strategies for how to move forward from here. I can appreciate that there are very valid times to yell and scream for what needs to be heard—and that we are witnessing those times; and I can also understand how being constantly yelled and screamed at shuts people down from listening to opposing viewpoints. If you haven’t already read the article about how one Jewish man’s overture of friendship to Derek Black, a noted white supremacist, led to the Derek’s eventual exodus from the white nationalist movement, please do…/ed5f906a-8f3b-11e6-a6a3-d5….

Friendship works. Connecting to people’s hearts works. For me, staying in rage no longer does. If spanning the gulf between those of us on either side of the wide ideological divide in this country hasn’t been accomplished by yelling at, shaming, and dehumanizing each other, isn’t it time to try something else?

The conversation between Heidi and I will continue, and we’re working to document the experience, more details soon.

Heidi's Response to Kellie

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this thoughtful post, Kellie. I appreciate how you looked at many of my points specifically and helped me understand your point of view. It saddens me deeply that a child was harmed because he was punched by a white man. There is no excuse for that. I do believe that people will act out of their own hate and resentment regardless of who is in the White House.

 I find it interesting that so many minorities did vote for Trump, which tells me that not all minorities feel frightened and anxious. I'm very empathetic to the situation of the kids who are afraid of being deported. I have supported my Hispanic friends to help them become legal here in the US, and will do the same again. As for Trump's rallies, from what I understand, people were hired by the Clinton camp to stir up violence to try to create the picture they wanted the American tv viewers to believe. And unfortunately, that picture and others created by the media have contributed to the perception that Trump supporters believe violence is justifiable.

 I believe in the rights of all people- and I strive to distribute love equally to those born and unborn and to help feed and clothe those who are in dire need of care. I believe that can and will still happen because we will still continue to love and give to those less fortunate, even while we are finding new ways to empower people to create a better life for themselves. No, the love I choose has not been generated by Trump's rise to power, but the love I choose is despite any political candidate. And I can't speak for WWJD. But I'm guessing He would be more concerned with our spiritual condition and not our political agendas, because that's what He always did. I'm an idealist. You're right. Thanks for wanting to understand. I love you and am thankful for you. Always.

Kellie's Facebook Response to Heidi's Blog Post "I Am Not A Hater"

Heidi, first let me say that I know you are a lover. This has always been what I know of you. That being said, I think you know that I deeply disagree with you on many points about how your vote reflects your love. I trust your intention, but I cannot understand the action your intention created. I do want to understand; I know so much of what deeply divides our country now is the inability to listen to each other, to truly occupy the other’s frame of reference in order to come to a deeper understanding of why they do what they do. As one who was raised Christian, while I’m not longer self-described as a “Believer” of Jesus’s claim to divinity (any more than any of us can claim), I do know much about what Jesus taught and respect many of his teachings. So, I read your post, know your love for Jesus, but still do not understand how that love and being a “lover” translates into an action that I perceive as unleashing so much hate into the collective consciousness right now. 
“Suffer the children, come unto Me.” 

My daughter Zoe goes to a school, the majority population of which is nonwhite, poor, immigrant, homeless and underserved. We have been getting regular reports about how the candidacy of Trump has created a general atmosphere of panic, anxiety and dread among a population that is already on edge from being on the fringes of our society. A grown white man just punched a young black boy in the face at a rally in Portland: There are already reports of the “Trump Effect” in schools across the country as we see bullying and violence on the rise: I do not know how to connect to the love in your vote in regards to this. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” 
I hear your enthusiasm for Mike Pence and his presence on the ticket, but does his evangelicalism really offset the rest of the aggrandizing, shameless lying (Thou shalt not bear false witness), demeaning, hate-filled (The greatest of these is Love), divisive (Blessed are the Peace Makers) of Donald Trump and the rest of his cronies ala Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Ailes, Steve Bannon? I don’t experience any love coming from them. And it’s not because I’m too left-wing to try—I actually felt and appreciated the humanity of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W, and George H.W. I could deeply disagree with them, yet trust in their love and ability to bridge gaps because of it. I’m very concerned by the specter of a president who wants revenge, who cannot control himself when slighted, whose response to criticism is never an engagement on the topic, but rather an attack on the one doing the criticizing. I cannot connect to or understand the love that made you choose Trump in this regard. 

“When you do this to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto Me” 
I hear that you chose love in voting for Trump when it comes to the rights of the unborn. This is long a sticking point between people like us that I know can never be bridged. But, I think I’d have an easier time hearing the love in that choice if the love seemed equally distributed to humans already born and in dire need of love, food, and care—in the way of not demonizing the “other” by deporting people, building walls against people, taking away medical plans that care for people, doing our part in supporting refugees (a major burden on so much of Europe right now), ensuring that we promote a society that treats each other with respect. I know that you personally strive for goodness in these things, but it is hard for me to connect to the love you have when you narrowly choose the rights of the unborn, unformed, potential life over the ones that are already here and deeply suffering. I want to connect to your love, but in this case it is very hard for me to feel your love in the face of so much pain that your vote has contributed to creating. And, as you no doubt know we pro-choicers with any knowledge of the Bible like to point out, Jesus never once addressed the rights of the unborn. 
Nor did Jesus have an opinion on gay marriage or gay people for that matter. Leviticus speaks harshly about a man laying with a man as though he were a woman, but Jesus never expounded on it. And, as the church loves to celebrate, he was a rule breaker. You support your vote for DT in your love for marriage being defined as between a man and a woman. I’m so glad you love your definition of marriage; I love being one woman married to one man as well. And, I love the love I see between my gay married friends. I love seeing how they can rest in the fact that they won’t have to worry about visitation rights should a medical emergency occur, that they will never have to worry about intolerant family members blocking their spouses from having access to them, that they won’t have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to protect what you and I can automatically expect in the ways of those spousal rights and in the full rights of access to our kids. Supporting people to experience more love in the way of marriage feels very loving to me. I wish I could understand how your vote connects to love by limiting access to marriage, but I simply cannot. But I hope you can hear me when I say I’m wanting to understand. 

“By their deeds ye shall know them” 
Voting on ideals and the love of ideals is well, idealistic. But what of the actions of those in this Trump movement? Can you honestly say that the love you choose—LOVE— is generated by his rise to power? Did you hear of people being loving at his rallies, or hateful and violent? Were you ever inspired by his words? What does he inspire? He inspires fear, anxiety, xenophobia, paranoia, violence. Is Mike Pence enough to bring your vision of Godliness to an entire nation? You acknowledge Trump’s deeply flawed character, but chose him anyway in the hopes that his team will bring the love you value to light. Do you really, truly, deeply believe that Jesus, were he to review the history of both candidates—one who spent her life helping the underserved, children and women, whose foundation helps people around the world, and the other, helping only himself—would celebrate and support your choice? Truly? Because, I cannot understand how he would.

I Am Not a Hater by Dr. Heidi PEtak

It’s the day after the election. Emotions are running high. Communication is super-charged with labels and insults, as articles and posts on social media are calling Trump-supporters uneducated, haters, bigots, and racists.

But wise communication and the future of our great nation calls us as American citizens to believe the best about each other and to lace our speech with kindness and grace, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

To give you a window into the mind of one Republican, I voted for Trump, not because I’m uneducated and not because I wanted to reinforce the glass ceiling for women. As a woman with a Ph.D., I believe women have the right to occupy the highest seats in the land. Someday I hope to vote a woman into office who stands on a platform that loves the things I love.

And I voted for Trump not because I’m a hater, a bigot, or a racist.

In fact, I’m a lover. A lover of my Muslim friends, my African American friends, my Hispanic friends, my LGTB friends, and my friends who don’t share my faith. I’m a lover of my friends and relatives who cast their vote for a different candidate. I respect you and your right to be different than me. And I believe we can have civil conversations and listen and learn from each other.

I voted for Trump because I’m a lover. Not a lover of Trump and his arrogant, disrespectful, immoral ways, but a lover of the values of the Republican platform:

I’m a lover of our Constitution, written by our founding fathers as an enduring covenant.

I’m a lover of the distinction between right and wrong, friend and foe, and I long for our country to stand against evil in all its forms.

I’m a lover of future generations and want to decrease the national debt for the sake of my children and my children’s children.

I’m a lover of life. I believe, along with our constitution, that no one, no matter how small, should ever “be deprived of life” in the United States of America. As such, I believe in the inalienable rights of unborn children of all abilities who grow strong and hopeful today in their mother’s wombs.

I’m a lover of the rights of women for unplanned pregnancies. I believe in funding for ultrasounds and adoption and I believe financial responsibility should fall on both the mother and the father.

I’m a lover of wise trade agreements that put America first and wise economic plans that support innovation and keep power in the hands of the citizenry.

I’m a lover of marriage and my freedom to define marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman.

I’m a lover of transparency and believe that all institutions should be subject to accountability, including the Federal Reserve, the IRS, and the person in the Oval Office.

I’m a lover of necessary reforms that put taxpayers first- in healthcare, agriculture, and government.

I’m a lover of the freedom of religion and believe in the safeguarding of that freedom from government control.

Finally, I’m a lover of Jesus, and believe that with evangelical Mike Pence in the second seat, there’s a much better chance that my values will be upheld.

My vote went Red not because I’m a hater, but because I’m a lover.