A Baptist and a Lesbian walk into a bar…
Oh wait, it was actually the Families in Global Transition Conference in Bangkok.
There, Jerry and Cath gave a joint, ground-shaking speech to a pumped-up crowd of hundreds. They shared their unexpected journey of friendship and discovery with the audience.
Jerry and Cath’s story is one of two individuals that each spent their life (until they didn’t) deliberately dodging “people like them.” For many reasons — mostly invented and none of them good — they each clung to their one-size-fits-none clichés: Hers about Baptists, his about Lesbians.
Then, through a chance encounter of forced proximity, Jerry and Cath enjoyed a conversation with an open mind. The friendship floodgates opened, and it resulted in the kind of swoon-worthy deep connection we see in movies and wish we had for ourselves.
The attendees at the Families in Global Transition Conference agreed. Jerry and Cath’s speech ended with Kleenex being passed around and a standing ovation. Proof that love and acceptance happen despite ingrained, conflicting labels that say it shouldn’t.
…OK, fine. Then, Jerry and Cath probably celebrated at the bar.
What You’ll Discover in this Episode:
- The mercy umbrella
- Fostering change in our unsettled, angry world
- Forgiving yourself for the bully you once were
- Fitting things into the buckets we’ve built
- The damage of microaggressions
You’ll be shocked what becomes visible once you switch your “righteous” lens out for one filtered with empathy.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Authentic intercultural connection is where stereotypes go to die. My heart is racing, and we’re going to ride the momentum, together. I want us to create more success stories like these for expats everywhere. Be the first to know about what’s next — exciting news is coming very, very soon!
- Watch the video of Jerry & Cath’s performance at FIGT Bangkok.
- Families in Global Transition (FIGT) is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. FIGT promotes cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
We’re delighted by our recent nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 10am in New York, 4pm in Johannesburg and 9pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
Polarization is defined as the division into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions and beliefs. When I think of polarization right now I think of screaming matches and preaching to the choir. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of fed up with that, it feels so futile, like we’re getting nowhere, we’re just listening to ourselves speak and pointing our fingers at others. And I don’t care what camp you’re in and what you’re talking about or what you’re thinking about when you imagine polarized conversations are going on, we’re all guilty of it, we’ve all been there where we’ve had our way and we were stuck in our belief and that is right and they are wrong, be honest, you know you’ve been there.
I really feel like it’s time for something different.
There’s this crazy vibe that I’m watching happen across the US and Europe and into other areas that I’ve loved and lived. And I’m looking for new ways of doing things, new conversations to have, so we’re left not feeling angry or righteous but left feeling new perspectives, understood, maybe even empathy and a fresh perspective.
I believe there is a better way, I believe we can do better. And today I am honored to have two very special guests who have shown us one way to do better.
In this episode of Expat Happy Hour we are joined by Cath Brew, artist and author behind “Drawn to a Story.” You might know her from her book “Living Elsewhere” or from my podcast number 68; Living Elsewhere with Cath Brew. Cath is amazing at using illustrations to help us process the ups and downs of global living.
We’re also joined by Jerry Jones one of my favorite expat writers, trainer and coach behind the culture blend, you might remember Jerry from episode 23; Life Transitions with Jerry Jones.
Cath and Jerry stood up in Bangkok in front of hundreds of people at the Families In Global Transition Conference, we call it FIGT for short. They walked onto the stage, captivated our attention, moved me to tears and brought the crowd onto their feet in a standing ovation.
Today on Expat Happy Hour, I am proud to be able to share with you the audio of that event which led to the standing ovation and them role modeling how we can do better.
I’m going to let you listen to their presentation of “Unlikely Connections” now and afterwards you’ll hear them give the back story that led to this event.
Jerry: So my grandfather was a general Baptist pastor for 60 years and by the time I was 15, I knew that I was going to follow in his footsteps by the time I was 18 I became a youth Minister, by the time I was 23 I was ordained and for 7 years after that I was senior pastor the church that I grew up in.
Cath: This is my wife Bishop Angie, she’s an Archbishop in the liberal Catholic Church International for the province of Great Britain and Ireland and she’s commissary Bishop for Europe and Israel. In 2014 we were the first same-sex couple locally to upgrade. I say 2007 civil partnership to marriage.
I met Jerry at FIGT last year, when he mentioned his church I was instantly wary, with headlines like these you learn to not out yourself to Christians until you know what flavor they are. I liked him, but he’s still a Baptist. So I continued to use gender neutral pronouns when referring to my spouse.
Jerry: But it slipped out and so I asked for a mercy umbrella which simply means this. “Hey, I’m a recovering Baptist pastor, and so let’s just assume that whatever I say next is probably going to come out wrong, so can we just start with mercy.” And we did and we went deep for four hours, it was intense. Everything was on the table, we talked about God and faith and politics and sexuality, and it was awkward and weird and rich and so good because on the very first night that we met we laughed and cried like we’ve been friends forever.
Cath: Jerry didn’t talk of love the sinner, hate the sinner or pray for me, which can often feel like a veiled threat of judgment or pray away the gay. He was a refreshing change, he listened, he genuinely listened, he didn’t apologize for his faith either and he didn’t need to, but he did say he was sorry.
Before Jerry I didn’t rate Baptists at all highly, you can try to ignore the “God hates fags” from Westboro Baptist Church as it’s so extreme, but you’d still hear chats in cafes and you read news. I had no time for Baptists who for me often use a little reading of the Bible to bash us, kids commit suicide because of this stuff.
Jerry: For all of our lives we’ve been looking at the same thing and seeing it through different lenses and it’s like the anthropologist of the 1950s as we break things into three categories; scenery, machinery and people. We do it with countries, we do it with cities, but we also do it with each other. We keep people out there just as something to look at or something to talk about until we need them and then we pull them in for our game. But if we’re not willing to make them people then we keep them as less than human.
Cath: At the end of the evening I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “You can tell your wife now kissed a lesbian.” And Jerry replied “And you can tell yours, you’ve kissed a Baptist.” This set the tone of our friendship. The magic of the conversation stayed with me for the rest of the conference and I was itching for more.
My life is now divided, before Jerry and after Jerry, this is the night after I’d spoken to him. My spiritual friends relish the blending of our opposing camps, my gay friends are pleased but seem not quite convinced by my relationship with the Baptist as though I’ve been fooled and they wait until he shows his true colors, but I know.
Jerry: So the next day I bought her book and she signed it and I said, “I’m gonna need you to talk to my wife and convince her that you’re a lesbian because I can’t come home from the Hague with books that say thank you for a wonderful evening.” Which made me laugh too, but it opened up a whole new avalanche of “What are they going to say?” The other people, my people, my wife. My wife handled it really well, but traditionally my people are much better at judging a hard situation than they are at interpreting it.
We started to email each other sharing deep vulnerabilities of our histories, poles apart, but also lots of points of similarity. Whilst labels can be harmful, by standing it out we own them. We defined our label this allowed us to be vulnerable and explore without fear.
Jerry: And our emails broke me because they stirred up memories of this kid who was a good kid, but played smear the queer and tag the fag on the playground and at 14 wrote a horrible dehumanizing song about homosexuals that ended in violence.
Cath: Our emails have unpacked a lot of subjects, but also only just scratched the surface. We both behave within our own cultural reference points but there’s also a great richness in exploring its cliches. I see the ripples which emanate from my thoughts and I greatly cherished the exquisite liminal space that exists between us.
Jerry: For my whole life I’ve been afraid of conversations that would break my faith but this one didn’t and can I just add that maybe if you feel like that, that if loving someone who sees the world from a different perspective from you breaks your faith, then maybe your faith was cracked to begin with.
Cath: My chats with Jerry have strengthened my shamanic spirituality involved with the Australian desert because words are so powerful and permanent I also had to reflect about my own position before I started to inquire about his by grasping his faith. It’s affirmed mine and inspired me to speak up more for the marginalized.
Jerry: And there’s something rich about this place where conservatives and liberals, people of great faith and people of no faith, hundreds of lovely people and just a few jerks all come together under the banner of a cross-cultural experience. And the potential for mercy is epic.
Cath: So make a friend.
Jerry: Open an umbrella.
Cath: Go deep and get awkward.
Jerry: Say it wrong and then try again.
Cath: Get it right or don’t.
Jerry: Learn something that you don’t know.
Cath: See people in a different way.
Jerry: See yourself and wrestle with that and if you need to then say you are sorry.
Cath: Forgive and love someone that you didn’t used to.
Jerry: On your mark.
Cath: Get set.
Sundae: So it’s obvious after listening for yourself about these unlikely connections, why there was a standing ovation. In fact today I re-watched it again for probably the 20th time and it brought tears to my eyes.
So again, thank you to Jerry and Cath for being here and for sharing your story and time with us because it is of supreme importance in the climate of polarization that we have right now. But tell me, I want to hear from you, we heard your story, we got a succinct picture of the message you’re trying to send, but tell me what moment led to this. Cath let me hear from you.
Cath: Well the moment really was sitting at FIGT in The Hague and suddenly realizing that the man that I was next to was a Baptist and all my worst kind of biases and thoughts came out as a gay person, we are generally quite wary of Baptists and Christians, but I was interested in the man that that was was the Baptist and we just started talking and then he suggested that after an amazing evening we take this further and do something with it because it was such a profound evening for both of us.
Sundae: Okay Jerry, Cath is totally glossing over what really happened, tell us what really happened.
Jerry: Yeah, I was sitting there and I had the realization that this woman next to me was a lesbian, which like that’s fine, but I also realized this is the first conversation I’ve ever had, and just I’m just kind of outing myself here a little bit, with a married lesbian woman. Second time I had met one and the first time was earlier that day, and so that’s just not lost on me. I’m really aware of who I am and where I come from and all of that and it just seemed like a like an opportunity to have a good conversation. And so we were just really transparent with each other, and I said this is where I’m coming from and who I am and my history and I introduced the idea of the mercy umbrella, which is something that I had heard from a friend of mine who is African-American and has used it extensively in racial conversations. And it’s working, it’s just the idea is “Hey, we’re coming from different places here, let’s start with mercy and let’s go.” And we did that and I asked Cath if she was up for that and she jumped in, like absolutely, and so we went we went deep quick, it was really good.
Sundae: It’s really cool, it sounds like you saw an opportunity, like I’m sure you were just curious and wanted to ask more or what was going on. Like what made you offer or ask for the mercy umbrella?
Jerry: I think there was clearly a connection before that. Like we liked each other before we ever started digging around.
Cath: I will just butt in and actually say that’s what kept me intrigued in the conversation is that I was aware of my own judgment coming in, but actually I really like Jerry and I liked the kind of sparkle in his eye and I wanted to know more and I wanted to see where it went because it felt right.
Sundae: Hmm, that’s beautiful. So here’s the thing, this all happened at the Families and Global Transition Conference in The Hague in 2018. And I was there, but I wasn’t there during the conversation. I don’t know what I was doing and I rocked up to where you guys had just been talking and I actually ran into Naomi Halloway from I’m a Triangle. And she was like “Something big just happened.” And I didn’t know why I didn’t get the details, but I knew it was something transformative, I knew that and I knew that something had shifted deeply because of your conversation and I wasn’t really privy of what happened. I didn’t understand the implications and I was kind of mad I wasn’t there for it. But I also know that would have also influenced it and then it wouldn’t have happened. It sounded like it was this amazing connection that you two had, were you both dropped your guard and we’re able to have a really honest conversation.
Cath: Yeah, and I was just going to say too that Naomi was there and that was one of the influential things for me and wanting to listen, is that I was very aware that my guard was up instantly knowing that that he was a Baptist, but I knew that he knew Naomi and I knew he was her friend and I trusted her judgment and I thought “There’s more to this man if Naomi is willing to have these conversations and invited me to sit at the table.” So that was a big help for the introduction and then we started talking and then Naomi disappeared and went off to a dinner or something she had to go to and she came back and we were still talking and she couldn’t believe it, so she recognized something big had happened as well.
Sundae: So from the intercultural side, I’m recognizing three things that were important for this connection to actually happen.
The first was there was mercy, that you kind of create a framework to say “I’m going to ask some questions that might seem naive or forward that would fall under the mercy umbrella.”
The second one is trust, you were introduced via a third party, both of you trusted her and I sort of I call it the dotted line triangle of trust, you trust her, he trusts her. So there’s like this dotted line triangle of trust between the two of you that was there.
And then the third thing was a personal connection. There was this seeing each other as human and not demonizing the other based on all the other things that you can draw from when you look at the media and how things are demonized in this polarized space.
Before we move on, you guys can decline this question, but I’m really curious what needed so much mercy? Like what were some of the uncomfortable questions that you asked?
Cath: Isn’t that what what happens on tour stays on tour? I’ll let Jerry answer that because he was opening the umbrella not me.
Jerry: Yeah, no, I just I just think In the current climate, people are not having this conversation well and we’re all having this conversation about other people with our circles. And so it just felt like even coming into it, it’s not that I wasn’t ready for it or that I thought she wasn’t ready for it. It’s just like “Hey, I realize this world that we live in,” and so just the just the beginning of the conversation already comes packed and loaded with all kinds of potential ways for it to go wrong. But then as we got into it there was plenty that needed mercy there was like that. We started that night when we kind of started digging into where I had come from and where I had been and I’m not putting this on my circles or my people, there were things in me that I didn’t like and they were they just, I mean yucky is a nice word, they were sick. And so that’s that’s a conversation you can have when everybody else around you kind of pats you on the back and says “Yeah.” But when you’re sitting with someone face-to-face and actually developing a relationship and I’ll say this, kind of falling in love with that person, it’s a whole different thing and so like the mercy was coming face-to-face with who I was and just being able to go ahead and ask questions anyway.
Sundae: And you can’t otherize or demonize people that you care about.
Jerry: It’s really hard.
Sundae: I mean I’ve seen that in my own, I have a very multicultural family and I’ve seen that it’s really hard to stereotype someone that you love and is eating dinner with you at the table is from the continent that you used to stereotype or you used to demonize like when they become family and become flesh and blood. It’s pretty hard to do that.
Cath: Can I just say though, I think too that we had a level of honesty very quickly in the conversation and to me that was very different, that I really valued Jerry’s honesty and just saying who he was and where he came from and very early in that conversation we cried together, I mean Jerry apologized for things that the church had done and I didn’t need that apology and he didn’t need to do it, but even just doing that went a long way to thinking “Right, I want to explore this more.” And it was very important to me that nothing is going to change if I shot him down, so if he asks questions, if I shut him down, he’s never going to ask again and I’m prepared to have a bit of awkwardness and a bit of difficulty.
Jerry: And like jumping in there it was just really rich that like I’ve never had this experience where I did apologize for things that church has done. I apologized for things I had done and at the same time she allowed me to hold the space of not apologizing for things that people believe and a belief system and we could hold those things separately. And because I’m not apologizing for anyone else, I’m not putting this on to anyone else, I’m acknowledging the impact that my actions have had and where my actions were wrong. And so it’s not about trying to get everyone to believe the same thing, it’s about people who may believe different things or may discover that they don’t believe as differently as they thought they did regardless coming into the same space and shutting up and listening and having a conversation and that’s when it gets really really really rich. It’s not about agreeing on everything, It’s about just kind of encouraging and respecting each other regardless.
Sundae: I find that hard to do, like when I value something and I think something is right, it’s really hard emotionally to stay in that space.
Jerry: I think everybody finds that hard to do which is why we don’t do it and why this argument when this conversation starts with an argument generally and typically speaking because we do bring an emotion to it and it’s high values and that’s it’s really hard to get past, but I think there’s potential for that to happen.
Sundae: Okay, so one of the things that Cath did well here is not shut Jerry down especially in the context of politically you can hear a lot of negative news around that what does it the Westboro Baptists with messages of hate so how Cath stood in an openness despite that bigger political climate is impressive, especially when you’re coming from a minority identity that is struggled with oppression and labels your whole life. So let’s let’s fast-forward, you had this night, it was fun. We heard in the audio about you know, thanks for the good evening and everybody laughs and it could be so easy to just really go home and have it be that but the journey continued, so what happened next?
Cath: Well actually before we left the conference, Jerry said to me, “How do you feel about public speaking?” and I said, “Well, I’m absolutely fine, no problems.” And he said, “I’ve got an idea for next year.” And so we had a very brief chat about what that could be but no real form to it. And then we just started emailing each other and the depth of the conversation continued massively and I created a file on my computer that was called “The Baptist and the Lesbian.” And we started emailing each other and there was no strict routine to it, it was just how and when we felt like it, but we covered some really important subjects about sexuality, about politics, about religion, about faith, all kinds of stuff. And there was something, I don’t know about how Jerry felt, but for me there was something beautiful about having the written word because it gave me time to really think about what I wanted to say and actually have it recorded and have it there to re-go over and see how my views changed over time as well.
Sundae: What about you Jerry? What happened afterwards for you?
Jerry: It was deep and we would, like she said not on a schedule, but these emails would come back and forth and I would get really excited when an email would come from her. But I also knew that I was going to have to cut out a part of my day because the email is going to be long, would write these volumes, but also just the processing that goes along with it and then to respond to it, like we’re responding to all these different pieces and we would go deep. And it was just really really really refreshing to have a space there was nothing that I couldn’t ask, that I couldn’t say, there was no way for this to go wrong because I knew that if I did the mercy umbrella was still open and we could clean it up later, and that continues for us.
Cath: Yeah, I agree.
Sundae: So maybe I’m wrong, but when I hear this story I hear that there’s a lot of undoing of ideas from the background of religion and making sense of that. and I’m wondering for you Cath what changed for you when it came to understanding religion?
Cath: I guess up until meeting Jerry, I’d be honest and say fairly intolerable views of Christianity and I’d had some experience of local churches. But in my head the idea of a Baptist was the worst because to me it was like Westborough Baptist Church. And by talking to Jerry and having these emails it allowed me to realize the layers that exist within these various denominations and that it was very easy just to lump everyone in together. And even though Jerry, and we kind of put these labels on ourselves and Jerry was the Baptist, within that there was a lot of multitude for mercy and also for realizing that there are so many different variants of whatever someone thinks someone is. And actually it just comes down to people and whether he was a Baptist or whether he was whatever, to me he was just Jerry and I enjoyed the conversation. So almost the religion didn’t come into it, it just to me it became an intellectual, kind of almost an emotionally intelligent conversation that I thoroughly enjoyed because I wasn’t having that conversation with other people.
Sundae: You dropped the lump and label. I’m going to speak from my perspective, one thing that happened to me, I remember when I was in my Master’s program for Intercultural Communication. The principle of Intercultural Communication is to look at people’s values with neutrality and not judge Etc. And that’s what I was training in terms of my profession. And I remember the day when I realized I’m going to be open and accepting of everyone unless you’re like a Republican and a missionary and I’m like, “How does that work Sundae?” And I say that because I understand how silly that is, but I realized that, because one of my best friends during my Master’s program was a Republican who was becoming a missionary. I was like, “Okay, you’re not the other anymore. I can’t be open to everybody else except people like you.” That lump and label felt really good, like that righteous indignation. “I am right and you are wrong.” It feels good.
Cath: It’s a very safe position to sit in and to kind of project yourself into this position of comfort where you can put like the pegs in the ground and hold yourself steady in that view. But I think also what I find as someone in a marginalized group, is that we so often have labels thrown at us that actually. what I really enjoyed was this this was the reclaiming of our label and actually we had quite a lot of fun with just the Baptist and the lesbian and we still joke with it now and I have no issue with the label because we gave it to ourselves.
Jerry: Right and the labels themselves don’t, I think even Cath had this in the speech, we’re more than that. We’re like, Baptist is my heritage, I haven’t Pastored at a Baptist Church for years, I haven’t attended frequently a Baptist Church for years, but for us it embodies and it embraces and it puts some parameters around a group of people that I connect with in my heritage, that I still connect with, the circles that I’ve lived in and continue to live in, those people are broader than just the term Baptist. So in fact some of them would hate to be called Baptist because they’re not, but it gives us a space to come together and to have the conversation and certainly lesbian doesn’t sum up Cath. There’s so much more to her, but it just gives us a little bit of a bucket to put things in so that we can we can carry things for a little bit and and then get into the broader scope of who we are.
Sundae: So tell me why did you do it?
Cath: Because he asked me, I’m not someone, as probably what Jerry alluded to, I’m not someone that sits back and is quiet, having had my own issues with coming out and receiving people’s responses and various things, I’m now in a position where I’m a hundred percent comfortable with myself and who I am and actually what anyone says isn’t going to be a real problem, but there’s an awful lot of people that aren’t in that position and there’s kids that commit suicide because they can’t be who they are and there’s a lot of stuff thrown at people that’s not healthy. And I feel that I have a responsibility to be visible, because you never know who needs to hear you and it can be the minutest thing where I’ve often been in conferences or in rooms where I’ve spoken up and someone, they won’t say anything at the time, but they then come to me later and say, “Thank you for speaking up my sister or my brother’s gay and it was just really nice to hear that that viewpoint.” So for me, it’s about being that visible person.
Sundae: And it’s not about, I mean this is what I know from our broader conversations Cath, is it’s not about the topic of sexual orientation, it’s about the topic of marginalized identity. And this is only one of many marginalized identities that has these daily microaggressions have real-life implications and someone’s self confidence, safety, so many things. So this podcast, the video, all of that, it’s bigger than accepting sexual orientation or it’s bigger than opening up to a religion. It’s about let’s look at this dynamic that goes on.
Cath: Exactly and that was something that Jerry and I discussed that I hadn’t expected at all, was that in my eyes Jerry’s kind of background was the majority but actually we realized that there were similarities that we were both different poles of the ends of the pole basically and that actually we both had marginalized experiences in different ways through different judgments and I would never have said that once about the Baptist.
Jerry: Well, yeah just jumping into that part of the conversation, I think there’s this reality that’s oftentimes missed is that yes, there’s marginalized and there are marginalized, but then we lump both of those into massive groups and then just stereotype both of them. And so when there is opportunity for people, and it like I represent and I get it I represent The marginalizer in this particular conversation. I am straight, white, American, Christian, male, that’s like a cross, that’s all the checks, that’s everything. But what that means though, is that typically speaking when I come to a conversation like this, because of where the marginalizers have been, I don’t have a space at that table, I don’t have a voice in that and I get it and it’s fair and I realize we have to earn that back and I see the fuller narrative. But what the beauty of what happened here, and this is what’s different than the bigger conversation, the beauty of what happened here is that Cath gave me the space to go ahead and talk and to go ahead and listen and we found that, but it happened one on one and it like I was just thinking as an illustrator is almost like you have a match, and you can light the match and there’s so much potential in that to do something really good. You can start a campfire, you can cook some things. There’s really good opportunity there and you can bring two matches together and it’s good. But the broader conversation is kind of like taking a match to a forest fire and trying to throw it in, it’s already burning, it’s out of control, you have no influence or say and you just get burned up in the process. And I think what we did was come together with our matches and put them together and come out with something productive
Sundae: And it had a massive impact, I mean, I want to hear more about the impact that this conversation had, one at the Families and Global Transition Conference in Bangkok where it went live first and since. So Cath, will you tell me an example of impact that you’ve noticed it’s had either on yourself or others?
Cath: Yeah, I guess for me the impact was incredibly immediate. After we’d spoken someone came up to me at the conference who I’d had lunch with the previous day and he was a Christian man who worked in the Christian organization in Southeast Asia and he came up to me and he said, “I’ve just realized that you spoke in non-gendered specific language when you talked about your wife.” And I said, “Yeah I did.” And he said that he just couldn’t believe it and he just said, “You’re awesome.” And he said “This is amazing and thank you.” And he was just really moved by it all, so for that immediate impact that’s been the biggest for me and I didn’t expect the standing ovation at all. I mean, I was completely gobsmacked, but since then it’s been kind of quiet. I’ve had quite a few interesting conversations with people but I think probably the impacts been bigger in Jerry’s circles, I’m not really sure.
Jerry: For me like yeah, like I don’t know exactly what gobsmacking is, but I think probably what it was. It was instant, right after the speech people came up to both of us. And I think what was the most was the most powerful piece of that it was universal. There were very conservative Christians who were moved by that, people came up and said, “Hey, I’m an atheist, but wow, like what you just said was powerful.” There were Christians, non-christians, missionaries, and researchers and we found that space and that’s what we looked for. That’s what we worked hard to get there Cath and I did, like talking through this and we knew the space that we wanted to land and it wasn’t gender driven. It wasn’t to to have a speech that was one side or the other it was to say “This is beautiful and this is what happened.” And I think we found it and since then the amount of really really powerful conversations that I’ve been able to have, and again with people of faith and people who reject any of that, that any of that exists even, it’s been a really amazing. I’ve never experienced something that put me into a space to be so well set up to to have really life-changing conversations and that continues and I love that. That’s what I’m about and that’s what I hope for and it’s what I’ve always hoped for but this created that space in a way that nothing else ever has.
Sundae: I know the impact on me, besides like the snotty mess right after the standing ovation. Is just this hope that we can have different kinds of conversations. You know, this idea, I mean rhetoric in college, and the whole point is to win a debate, we’re trying to win and we’re trained to have good arguments and for me, it was like, “Let’s do this differently.” And what possible when we do dialogue, when we are opening the mercy umbrella and are standing in a space of humility and curiosity. So that’s what’s really inspired me, and since then I’ve had conversations with my own family and outside of my family circle that have been distinctly different because I was able to tap back into that space. So I’m even showing up differently in situations that would normally trigger me and I’m noticing if impact is important to me, I’m noticing that those kind of conversations are having a more constructive impact.
So thank you to both of you for being role models of that and how to do it differently.
Cath: Yeah well, it was a pleasure to meet Jerry that night and to now call him a friend and I think one of the key things that made it work also was that we weren’t trying to change each other, we were actually just listening to each other and kind of talking and debating in the sense of not needing to convert each other and that gave us space to be vulnerable and then actually kind of cried together and realize that that we could keep talking and be vulnerable and open with each other.
Sundae: So I’m going to ask you both as we come to a close here, what do you hope people take away from these unlikely connections, Jerry?
Jerry: That’s a really hard question. Although like I’ll frame it like this, I know what I have gotten out of this and so I guess it’s it’s honest to say that I hope that happens for other people as well. And for me, it has been the The longest hardest look in the mirror that that I’ve ever had. And it’s caused me to look at myself, to look at my actions to look at my history, my heritage, everything and that is a that is a good thing, like I feel like so much of what we’re coasting on is because we just haven’t looked at ourselves for a long time and it’s the piece that has stood out. And I want to get this in there, the piece that has stood out to me is that as Cath and I began our emails and as we talked, it was a deep dive into my childhood and that came out in the speech is just like, this is how I grew up. These are the things that I said and actually did write a song to be funny where among my friends that ended in violence towards towards homosexuals, and I didn’t know how I got there and for me the concept of, I was at that point we heard a lot about immorality at that stage in my life. But immorality was always built around sexual action, and there was a lot of warning for us and I mean they get teenagers coming up and there’s all of that talk but that’s how immorality was defined. And I don’t even get through this thought without choking up, so forgive me if that happens, but I just recognize there’s something about a 14 year old who is in that space in his head that is absolutely immoral.
And so my hope is, I guess for other people, that we can we can broaden our definitions to include ourselves a little bit. I’m not even getting into the space, I don’t want to get into the space of arguing about what people believe, but man when your when your actions in your life are in direct contrary action to what’s being said, something’s off. And so it’s been really painful and really good for me.
Sundae: Jerry just the fact that you share that and are able to speak that I just want to say thank you and that’s the kind of courage that both of you showed in your speech and that story is in all of us. They’re different characters, different settings, but that story takes place. I’m certain because we are human and we are socialized and we are socialized to see other, I’m better, they’re worse, this is higher in the hierarchy, that’s lower, that if we dug deep in each of our souls, we would find a story, and it might be about a different group or a different continent or different, I don’t know what but we’ve got those stories, and that’s one of the things that I admire most about your courage to say “Listen, this was my story, what about yours?” And whether you articulate in front of thousands of people or you just say it to yourself, that’s massive.
Cath, what would you like to leave our audience with?
Cath: I think one of the biggest things for me was the kind of stuff that Jerry’s just shared there is the level of the conversations that we were having. I felt a huge compassion for him because he was being really hard on himself about his childhood and I realized how painful it was for him and for me to be able to give him the space to explore that felt like a gift in the way that I knew that that he needed and that he wanted and I think for me it goes back to rather than being other all the time is actually when you meet people is just to try and see yourself in every single person that you meet so you don’t other them and you see them as someone who’s like you and I think as a kind of a group in the marginalised group in the community, it’s so often that I’m labeled or people assume things. I mean a really odd thing, I don’t know why but as a lesbian people always think I’m vegetarian no idea why. And I usually come back with a line that I won’t say on air. But Jerry didn’t go down that route and he genuinely wanted to know things and he was asking from a position that I could tell was from huge intellectual and emotional breaking down of own position and trying to really genuinely understand and that to me went a long way. So the fact that you see people for who they are and you really find out who they are rather than lumping in and so for me my mentor is basically just see every see yourself and everybody that you meet.
Sundae: It’s so simple, but probably one of the hardest things you can ask someone to do.
Cath: Yeah it is.
Sundae: So thank you for being here. It’s been an honor to have you both share your story.
Jerry: Yeah, thank you for doing this, this is good to hear the backstory.
Sundae: Yeah, absolutely, thank you.
And so the challenge to the audience who’s listening are two things, one the next interaction that you have with someone where you notice righteous indignation pop-up or lumping and labeling, to just practice in that moment, to see the humanity or yourself and this person.
And the other challenge that I offer to everyone listening, the next time you’re in an opportunity or conversation with someone where you’re really focused on the difference and struggling with finding similarities that you ask for the mercy umbrella.
Now that was a treat wasn’t it?
To have both Cath and Jerry join us and share their journey that lasted over a year and has touched hundreds of people deeply and transformed conversations around the globe.
They agreed to come on Expat Happy Hour with a hope that all three of us share that will help transform some of your conversations.
I’ll pull out something from the interview that I’m left with.
Three things that needed to be there to make that powerful conversation happen were mercy, trust and a personal connection. So the next time you’re in a challenging conversation, or you see an opportunity, pull out the mercy umbrella.
The other theme that comes up, and I’m going to be frank here, is shut up and listen. How many times have we been thinking how we’re going to respond instead of actually coming from a place of listening. Especially those of us who come from privileged positions, places of power and dominance historically. What if we did more listening than talking? What if we open the mercy umbrella and said, “Hey, here’s a naive question, do you mind?”
How do we stand in openness, also those who come from marginalized groups, open a space where learning can happen. That is a tough one because if you are completely fatigued from the battle of injustice, you might not have the energy to do that.
And what we saw modeled by Cath, was that for that moment in that context she trusted her instincts and was able to allow that space to keep the questions coming and the learning happening.
This modeling of conversation invites us all to broaden our definitions, to include ourselves and how we can show up differently in dialogue. These are rich conversations and I hope that you go out and courageously have your own.
And I promise you, there’s more to come an Expat Happy Hour. Stay tuned as this episode launches a series of interviews where we will explore unlikely connections, identity and have powerful, honest and sometimes gut-wrenching conversations about our own biases.
If you’re listening to this you’re likely living a global life and you’re likely connecting across cultures, and I know we can do better. I am on fire about raising the bar on how we experience our lives abroad and how we interact with others who are similar and different from ourselves.
And as part of that I’ve got something I’m working on, especially for those of you who are coaches and practitioners who serve the expat community. If you want to learn more, I’ve got something brewing that I can’t wait to share with you. So check out in the show notes, because I’ve got a first to know list for you and I’ll make sure to give you the details when they’re ready.
If you are with me, I’m raising the bar on how we approach our lives abroad and how we support others to do the same.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider Bean, thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better then when you know better do better?”