Peace Between Polarities

I often myself in the crossfires of dueling polarities.  Here are a few.

  • I’m a working mother who stays at home with her kids as much as humanly possible.
  • I’m a feminist, LGBT-inclusive biblical scholar who usually worships at evangelical, nondenominational churches.
  • I’m a white suburbanite who has often found herself visiting family in an inner-city, black neighborhood.
  • I’m an academic who thinks first with her heart.
  • I’m a Democrat who’s deeply unnerved by the rhetoric that most of my party leaders have about abortion.
  • I’m a Christian whose piety has been deeply informed by time in the Muslim world.
  • I’m an introvert who often functions as an extrovert.
  • I’m a white mother to two little brown girls.
  • I’m a self-respecting woman who has also been known to watch The Bachelor(ette). (SHAME.)
  • I have strong and passionate opinions about many issues, but I hate debating.

Because I live within the crossfires of these polarities, sometimes I feel like a bit of a chameleon. For example, I’ve often avoided talking about my church attendance to my academic friends.  And I’ve often avoided explaining my academic work to my church friends. I think I’m pretty good at “passing” in whatever context I’m in.  I often internally cringe at myself in my chameleon moments, willing myself into a more “don’t-give-two-cents” stage of existence.

Sometimes, in my bolder moments, I feel like a bit of an interpreter.  I try to explain to my secular friends why I love the Bible and worship Jesus. I try to explain to my church friends why feminism helps me love Jesus and read the Bible.  I try to explain to my politically conservative friends why I oppose the death penalty.  I try to explain to my politically liberal friends why my views on abortion policy are complex.  I try to explain how I can relate to folks whose life experiences have led them to quite different positions than my own. Mostly, these efforts fall flat (as in the last point in the bulleted list, I really don’t enjoy debate).

Sometimes I wish that it were a little simpler to place myself in a box.  My fellow box-mates would be my people, and the people outside the box would be those people.  But I believe that there’s a gift to nuance, to being, at times, a flesh-and-blood contradiction to those polarities.  There’s a freedom in resistance to simple definition. There’s a freedom outside the box.

Maybe there’s a peace between the polarities.










“She Looks Just Like You.”

“She looks just like you.”

In nearly 2.5 years of motherhood, I had never heard those words before from a stranger.  Most people don’t see the resemblance.  They notice first the fact that my girls’ brown skin is many shades darker than my white skin.  And then the comments and questions often come. As I’ve written about before, they ask things like, “Is that baby yours?” “What is she mixed with?” “What’s her daddy?”  “Is she Indian?” or other queries, which run along the spectrum of simply tactless to downright offensive.

But never, never has a stranger (and only very rarely a friend or family member) said the words, “She looks just like you.” Until today.


The source was unexpected. We’ve been visiting a pretty small nondenominational church (I hail from Presbyterian origins, Will from African American Baptist traditions, and by mutual agreement, nondenominational churches with an orientation towards diversity have been where we have landed as a family) that is about 5 minutes from our new home.  It’s in a small town, and going in, I admit I was more than skeptical about the reception our interracial family–along with our political affiliation, perspectives on certain social issues, and educational backgrounds–would receive. But the comment of an older lady in her 70s undid my prejudices.  As Will and I carried our daughters out of the service, she stopped me and said something that changed everything:

“She looks just like you, doesn’t she?”

I thought for sure she must be talking to Will, who was holding Debbie (our older daughter). But no, she was looking straight at me as I held Gabby (our younger daughter) in my arms.  And she was still talking:

“I didn’t notice at first. But then I saw Baby’s face as you were holding her hands to help her walk. Her expressions are just like yours…big ole smile. Big sister looks like Daddy, though. That’s fair…you each have one who looks like you.”

Frankly, I was floored. I didn’t know how much I’d wanted, need to hear those words until I heard them coming from the mouth of a white, rural, Southern person I’d honestly had expected to judge the heck out of us. Someone who, statistically, potentially might have voted for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

“Thank you so much,” I told her. “That means so much to me. No one has told me that before.”

Since church this morning, I’ve been trying to figure out why I was so moved by the comment.  Here’s what I’ve concluded. Hearing those words for me is an external affirmation of what I inwardly know to be true, that I “go with” my daughters, that I don’t have to share their skin color to be the mommy that God chose for them. That the beauty that shines through them originates partly from me, too. My soul had been aching to hear those words.

God, in the form of a person whom I now realize I have unfairly stereotyped, provided.