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 dictionary.com 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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