Because I attended an ecumenical seminary, the memories I have from my first few weeks of school involved a great deal of categorization. Who was a Presbyterian? Who was a Methodist? Who was a former Mormon turned United Church of Christ guy? That last one is a real person. He’s an Anglican priest in Canada now. God is weird.

By and large, we sorted ourselves out and found our kind. People were accepting, affirming, and all of the other words we use in religious circles. Save for this one guy. He was there from an Anglican denomination that had broken away from the Episcopal Church. And I had been warned about him.

Based on everyone’s description, he sounded like an actual monster. He was from one of those churches that “tried to take our church from us” (always said as though the speaker personally owned the church). I was told this guy was essentially an unloving fundamentalist. He sounded scary.

So when I was leaving my Old Testament class one morning and someone pointed him out to me, I was surprised to see an actual human being staring back. Also, I learned that his name was Josh. Which is also my husband’s name. This was a real problem for the Hatred Barrier that I had firmly put in place.

Then, something terrible happened. As I was standing there staring at him, God pushed me. I am not kidding. God shoved me toward this other Josh. And then I looked and felt dumb. So I stuck out my hand and mutter-shouted, “HIMYNAMEISSARAH.” And he shook my hand. And after that initially awkward meeting, we became friends.

It is a difficult thing to live in a place where the lines of conservative and progressive/liberal are fiercely drawn. And it can be a very dangerous place to be standing in the stream of the Gospel. Sometimes it feels like a refreshing, merciful place to be. But much of the time it feels like desperately trying to ride a surf board on an ocean of rage, having never surfed before.

With the upcoming election for Senate, Texas currently feels like the epicenter of this fury. People are yelling at other drivers’ political bumper stickers and spewing opinions on to one another at every given opportunity. And the front yard has become ground zero for proclaiming which side you are on.

You do not have to guess who is for Beto or who is for Cruz. Those claims are staked right in the grass. I often drive through our neighborhood and see people on one side with a string of political signs and people on the other side in direct opposition. It feels a bit like a vitriolic silent argument. 

The sinner in me cheers on the side I like. But the redeemed in me wonders if those opposing neighbors even speak to one another. And I also wonder if their relationship will weather this politically grueling moment. Or if Beto and Cruz will be their unnecessary undoing.

There is an odd morning practice that has developed in our family over this school year. Our son loves to ride the bus. Every morning at 7:14am EJMST (East Jesus in the Morning Standard Time), we walk down the block to wait with our neighbors. Our children are all of elementary age and the bus does not stop at any one specific house. We actually meet in the middle of things.

All of the children look ready for school. All of the adults look unshowered and tired. “How are y’all?” we ask one another or “We made it!” when Friday finally rolls around. It is a moment of encouragement and a time to check in with our neighbors. And it has begun to feel prayerful.

We have neighbors who do not vote the way we choose to vote. I know this because they have signs in their yard that tell me. But I cannot let that reality become a part of how I see them. Because I know how God sees them. 

We talk a great deal about how, politically speaking, things are so difficult and hard right now. And that is true. But I do wonder about how our current situation reads into scripture. I wonder about how we are loved by an Unexpected God who did Unexpected Things, like supping with sinners and dying with the accused. 

Primarily, I wonder about how this unexpectedness plays itself out in our own lives. Because the expected thing to do right now is to swim in righteous anger, to alienate, and to turn our neighbors into people marked as not like us. So what is the unexpected response for the Christian?

All those years ago at seminary, when God pushed me into Josh, I believe He wanted something seared into my experience: Relationships are worth more than being right. And even more than that, our emotions and righteous anger are often a way to keep true relationship at bay. Because people are all different. And relationships are hard. 

When I came back my second year of seminary, I was a full six months pregnant with our first child. At my academic seminary, people did not know how to process a pregnant student. I did not see another pregnant student on campus the entire time I attended there. I did not fit into their desks. And the first person I saw when I walked onto campus that September asked me if I was pregnant or if I just had a tumor.

But not the guy I was told to be weary of, ‘Anglican Josh.’ The guy I was told was too conservative to talk to. Not him. The first time I encountered him that fall semester, he saw me across campus, rushed over, and put his hands out towards me. And with great love and joy in his eyes, he said, “Can I please pray for you and your baby?”