of chicken, gay rights, and cool shoes

So as it turns out, Truett Cathy opposes gay marriage. Was anyone actually surprised? Or did we just have to find some drama somewhere? Really, America, have we nothing better to do than to freak out over everything? When life is calm for 2 seconds, we start freaking out that there’s nothing to freak out over, and we immediately have to find something to freak out about. And this time, people began to freak out over…chicken. I guess it was mostly about gay rights, but everyone used chicken nuggets as their megaphones: attention America, if you boycott chicken on August 1st, you’re gay. If you eat chicken, you hate gays.

But because I prefer not to stir up controversy, and I’m pretty chill and love everyone, I went to Chick-fil-a without a political agenda that night. I went because my friends were going and I wanted some chicken and a chocolate-cookies-and-cream milkshake. (They charge extra to mix the two, but it’s so worth it.)

While we were there, the protestors began to line up with their signs. Some of them were about gay rights (“Gay people like chicken too”), but some of them were blatantly offensive (“There is no God”).

The problem with huge rallies like the Support Chick-fil-a night is that they are a breeding ground for anger. The “there is no God” dude shouldn’t have even been there. The only reason he showed up with his sign was because he knew there would be huge crowds of conservative Christians there, and he wanted to seize the opportunity to piss them off. I mean, let’s be real. He wasn’t even standing for gay rights. He was standing for controversy and immaturity.

Nobody changed anybody’s mind that night.

The huffy Christians tried to argue with the picketers, which fueled their anger.

The stuffy Christians walked by with heads high, blatantly ignoring them, which made them want to be even louder.

And the fluffy Christians tried to tell them, “God loves you, and I’m praying that you have a change of heart”, which was complacent and utterly unhelpful.

I wanted to be none of these.  So as I was walking out, I told a guy, “Dude, your shoes are awesome.”

His serious face lit up in a smile. “Who, me? These shoes?” I smiled and nodded.

He turned to the guy next to him and exclaimed, “Dude, I told you these shoes were cool when I bought them!”

He turned back to me and said, “Thank you.” It could have been an expression of gratitude for the compliment, but I think it meant more than that.

Why did I bring up his shoes in the midst of a heated controversy? Because he’s a person, and I’m a person. And people buy shoes. It’s what we do. It’s an essential part of being human. So is eating chicken. I wanted the picketers to know that I was eating chicken not because I hate gays but because I am a person and people eat chicken.

Because we both appreciate cool shoes, we had something to share in that moment even while there was tension all around us. Even while culture was telling us that we should be enemies that night because I ate chicken and he didn’t. Even while all these silly people were letting chicken divide them when they could have made friends over a cool pair of shoes.

Really, shouldn’t our humanity be what defines us? Shouldn’t it be what unifies us? Buying shoes and eating chicken are fundamental aspects of being human. But even more fundamental is this: we are all broken. And when you understand that, it doesn’t matter as much why people are broken, or how they are broken. Because in some way or another, we are all broken. And then anger turns to empathy, and division to solidarity. Because it’s not just them. It’s not just us. It’s us and them, together.

It just depends on what your eyes see. Everyone else saw that guy and automatically stereotyped him based on the circumstances. “Not eating chicken — must be gay. Not like me.” I saw him and thought, “He’s a person — like me. And broken — like me. And he has cool shoes.” And when you begin to see people that way…

…peace is only a glance away.

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