I refuse to be an either/or. As a matter of fact, as I’m wrestling my own heart’s troubles in this, I’m actively resisting the lie of relief that somehow, if I choose, I will feel settled. I will feel peace. It won’t happen. I am sure of it.
This week I had the privilege of hearing a speaker walk through what immigrant communities offer the American church. As the Korean-American woman behind me began to softly cry, I recognized something in my own body that felt like a holy reconciling.
In my person, in my identity, I carry the both/and. For any of my brothers and sisters who bear a hyphen, you understand what I mean. African-American. Asian-American. The two sides of living in two realities. You are actively trying to make sense of what it understands to be fully one thing. And fully be something else.
What does it mean for me to be fully Puerto Rican? With all its music and family and spices and loudness and passion and national pride. What does it mean for me to be fully American, as someone who has lived here since I was little? With its fireworks and Top 40 and opportunity and freedom and Cracker Barrels? Sometimes those things move around each other like people mingling at a party. Sometimes those things oppose each other like a blood feud. There is a distinct agony of being in spaces that force you to choose. And in those rooms, not being enough of the one thing.
That’s not the only space where I live in the middle. As a self-professed “principle moderate,” I refuse to allow myself to simplify the issues of human justice to one straight ticket or side. I feel instantly squeezed by the pieces of me that will not fit, will not reconcile, when someone demands the issue be one-dimensional. Life is not.
Immigration, international war, etc. are not issues that can possibly be understood from one limited lens. I am not more pro-American, pro-family, pro-marginalized, or anything else by slamming the door on anyone approaching with a different view. If we feel the need to scream the additional voices out of the room that help us understand complexity, nuance, or humanity, then our fear is louder than our love. Our hearts should never be terrified of critical challenge or additional perspective.
Like two wings of a bird or butterfly, we have to listen to those who understand what it means to be both/and.
In and not of. People that embrace the tension of the complexity of human existence and can manage their own anxiety when presented with a new thought or idea. Where the people of the hyphen become our teachers. We must take flight with a full set of wings.
The hyphen of some of our identities is not just a present reality. It is a prophetic lane to the future. As my kids, who are mostly Puerto Rican and Irish, find their futures, who knows what that will hold? A third generation that is Puerto Rican AND Irish AND Sri Lankan? Or what about Mexican AND African AND Puerto Rican AND Irish? How then will they fill out the form at the doctor’s office? Or the census? When asked, “What are you?”, will they grin with pride to say, “All of it”?
Will there be enough space in the loving of self and others to say, “There is enough room in me for all of it to be honored”? No code-switching, no choosing. A fully balanced knowing that releases them to soar while also feeling grounded, without denying critical pieces of who they are.
We can eliminate our own self-hatred, and the hatred of others we don’t understand, when we are willing to mend our wings. This is the holy reconciliation. I am all these pieces, and they work together. I am a symphony crafted in wholeness; I glide on the wind of a sacred middle.
The world is changing, and my heart is hopeful. Our communities are changing, and it will make us better if we embrace it. There are people who behave terribly and are still humans who need love. And if the “and” feels too hard, let’s find the people who have held the hyphen for so long, so well, and listen.
Eliza Cortes Bast is a fierce and honest follower of Jesus. She is a pastor and denominational executive, dedicated to helping churches think missionally. She lives into her passion by connecting people, advocating for the community, and helping organizations think strategically so they can be healthy, vibrant, and sustainable. Eliza lives in Michigan with her patient and handsome husband EJ, and their two boys. Her loves include her home country Puerto Rico, her interracial marriage, a good steak, salsa dancing, writing, empowering emerging leaders, making the impossible possible, Diet Coke, and mentoring. She is not a big fan of anger without action, generalizations, basketball, and saying you can’t live without coffee. She believes you can because she believes in you.