Church and State: A Community Divided

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I've walked by it countless times and avoided it. Controversy has never been something I do well. The last couple of weeks have proved difficult to stand back and ignore. Yesterday, a group of adults were talking about the high school football coach and religion. Church and State, and I found myself walking away. Most of the time, I find that I play better in the sandbox with teenagers than I do adults. Maybe that is why I have avoided this topic, steered clear. I don't really trust what the adults are talking about. It doesn't feel good to engage in the conversations they are having. I've started to wonder if they know how to play nice in the sandbox. During a conversation with one of my students the other day, I finally decided to ask it. "What do you think of all of this?" Simple question. Her response is what finally made me decide to step in the circle and give a voice to this. Her response made sense. "I think we just need to move forward". "The kids and the community are losing out." Simple answer, yet it captures what we are all missing.

You see, I live in the middle of the town that is home to one of the most talked about controversies right now. A public high school coach who prays on a high school football field. Both sides have weighed in and no one is getting any closer to understanding each other. I was born and raised in this town. Bremerton, Washington. Kitsap County is my identity. I know every road, neighborhood, store, and school. It is the place I have called home for 41 years, and I am not so sure I know it anymore.

My dad was a recognized business and community leader in Kitsap County for many years before he passed away in 2007. He worked fearlessly to teach others about kindness, compassion, and listening. It seemed that he always leaned in during conversations, not out. I grew up watching him greet everyone that crossed his path with graciousness, respect, and acceptance. My brothers and I always joked that there wasn't a town, a business, or a community that dad couldn't go into and not make a difference. He empowered the people in those groups to join hands and work together. Build something as a group that was bigger than what they could do as individuals. He grew up on a farm in North Dakota during the Great Depression. There wasn't anything that could get in his way of bringing people together during difficult times. Community, that is what my dad was about. Building community through kindness, togetherness, listening, and acceptance. We've lost that. Our community has become divided.

My opinion about this issue that has consumed our conversations, social media, and local and national media outlets, has remained neutral. I try not to answer when asked. When I do touch on it, I keep it factual. Talk about school board policy, my role as a person in a position of power, etc. Usually it falls on deaf ears, so I stop. I lean out. Today, I realized it's time to start leaning in. Time to start treating each other with kindness, compassion and acceptance. Time to start treating Kitsap County as a community again. We are stronger as a group than we are as individuals. If we really want to teach our kids something valuable, let's teach them how to play nice in the sandbox. Lets show them what community looks like. Lets do things they will talk about as adults, make them proud to have been a part of something bigger than themselves.

The way I see it, we have two choices. Keep going down the path we are on or change direction. It's easy to keep doing what we are doing. It is serving a purpose for many. It's allowing people a reason to lean out and have hatred towards anyone who doesn't share their opinion and beliefs. Changing directions takes courage. We have to be able to look at our own behavior and judgement of others. Put our personal agenda aside and listen to what someone else has to say. Maybe even acknowledge what they believe in. We have to be willing to take ourselves as individuals out of the equation and begin working as a group with different opinions and beliefs, to empower change.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? Absolutely. What you need to ask yourself is the lesson we are teaching our kids the one we want them to learn?