Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time with college students, and many of them use a social media app called Yik Yak to post snippets of their thoughts anonymously (for good and for ill, by the way). They do this in 200 characters or less, and like all forms of social media, certain genres have emerged in the posts.
For instance, Yik Yak users will sometimes begin a post (called a yak) with the words, “Unpopular Opinion.” They’ll follow these words with a colon and then express some personal opinion they believe is held in the minority. These can be pretty uncontroversial at times, like. . .
Unpopular Opinion: Donald Trump’s hair is GREEEAAAAT.
At other times, these kinds of yaks express serious concerns. They raise questions and get a conversation going. Sometimes, they stoke a debate.
I found myself thinking of this yesterday while traipsing around London, particularly as I walked through Westminster Abbey. When I saw all that was inside, I felt an “unpopular opinion” emerge inside of me. Westminster Abbey made me really angry, at least at first.
While walking through, I was instantly aware of the historical richness of this place. The building itself is 771 years old, and it serves as the burial place for many authoritative people. When tourists walk through Westminster Abbey, they do not merely view significant items. They view time as they walk through centuries of influential people and events.
It was quite incredible to see the burial places of King Edward I, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots, along with poets and composers whose works I admire. It was also stunning to see all of this collected in one place.
But instantly, I felt overwhelmed at the strong fusion of religion and empire. The placards gave such an air of superiority, all with the blessing of God, and very quickly, I found myself angry.
I did not expect to have such an experience, but I’m glad I did.
I know that many people have had profound experiences of worship and insight in Westminster Abbey, and I do not deny these. Perhaps on another day, I might have had the same.
My unpopular opinion did not so much place me in a debate over and against others, as much as it raised a number of questions (and perhaps even a debate) inside myself. It is true that I held the opinion, but the questions within it were asked directly of me and my own Euro-American cultural background.
I was floored at the air of superiority and military might in the building. This should not necessarily be surprising since the Abbey contains hundreds of years of history, and that history includes conquest, empire, and colonialism. When reading the placards, tourists hear the very voices of people who produced and supported all of these.
And to be a bit fair, I wondered, “Before globalism, was there any culture that did not think itself unique, dominant, or supreme, at least on some level?”
But at the same time, I am aware that white supremacy in particular has unleashed a depth of pain, destruction, and devastation around our globe, and likely, my knowledge of this just scratches the surface of its reality. Though the place is genuinely incredible, this awareness made me angry inside Westminster Abbey, and I was soon asking challenging questions of myself.
This feeling continued throughout, but for one moment, it was interrupted by another experience, and it gave me hope. A faith leader interrupted the hustle and bustle of all the tourists and spoke to us over an intercom. He reminded us all that this is a place of prayer and connection, and he asked us all to stand still wherever we were. Then, he began to pray for refugees all around the world.
We stood still, and we remembered that we belong to each other, that all human beings have value, and we all have a responsibility to work for a world where no one is dominating others out their homelands or opportunities for a meaningful life.
If we would work toward that, I thought, in small, unseen, everyday acts and in large scale global changes, our human cathedral would tell a better, longer-lasting story.