What if we embraced our differences and viewed them as a place to connect rather than let them divide us? What if we looked for commonality and built community from and celebrated all we can learn from each other. Difference makes us interesting, challenges us to grow, stretches our thinking and beliefs.
Have you ever felt different and because of it been excluded, judged, misunderstood? I imagine we could all answer yes.
As a girl growing up in the 1970’s being different ethnically wasn’t cool. (My dad was from India/Pakistan – dark, swarthy, foreign. And my mom an American of German/Hungarian descent – blonde, very fair and white.) People would often ask, “Where are you from?”, with my black hair, dark eyes and skin color… As if I was an alien just visiting my white suburban neighborhood and school.
“Where are you from?” “America! I would answer emphatically and defensively! I’m American!”
It took years for me to embrace my ethnicity and minority status, but in those days I was unaware of how different I really was and the discomfort it provoked in others. Today, our son loves his diverse heritage and boasts of it proudly.
Slowly our world is awakening to the wonder of difference and embracing it fully.
The 50th Anniversary of the March on Selma underscores the relevance of this issue and how our hatred of difference lingers on today. The news is filled with violence born of hatred and ignorance. And bus stop conversations are peppered with “us and them” language as we seek safety and comfort in familiarity and similarity. A Heartbreaking and troubling reality.
Recently, I heard a friend and former professor, Brian McLaren lecture on embracing differences and understanding the value of “the other” in the context of our faith journey. Profoundly brilliant and humble, he spoke of healing doctrines and beliefs that restored relationships as we lived and interacted in the manner of Jesus, in radical contrast to some of the teaching and attitudes of today’s church.
I struggle with how short I fall in doing this well. My heart is willing, I’m open minded, but often I have feet of clay. Busy schedules, over committed, pressed for time, I don’t go out of my way to interact and intentionally engage with those who are different from me. And in not reaching out, I exclude by default. I have a growing awareness of how my inaction supports division and exclusivity. And slowly my life is shifting as I allow the conviction and sorrow of this truth to impact my schedule and choices.
Jesus saw differences and His response was to embrace and celebrate them! His closest friends were a motley crew of mismatched men. He dined with sinners and saint, sometimes at the same time. Jesus spoke to the outcast, touched the leper, treated the politicians and rulers in power with kindness and even a miracle or two. Jesus did not separate or segregate, but instead He embraced, shared and included everyone.
Jesus saw beyond the exterior of ethnicity, beliefs, gender and even behaviors, treating everyone as a child of God, an image bearer at core.
And repeatedly challenges us to do the same.
Imagine if we stopped focusing on what makes us different and began to dwell on our similarities as God’s children. Wouldn’t this open our hearts to each other, especially those who may look, believe or think differently than us?
This is one of my favorite quotes about who we really are as people. These words challenge us to see with different eyes, and interact with hearts renewed by a radical truth – you, me, us, them, him, her, they… are all a beloved child of God.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals – whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
– CS Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
What if we began to view all men and women as our brothers and sisters, no matter what!
What if we treated them as Jesus would – a god or goddess, son or daughter of the Creator – imbued with dignity and value even if they believed in a different god, lifestyle or tradition; regardless of their soci0-economic or geographic location? And even more essential, what if we began to engage intentionally with those who are different, as a way to gain understanidn, build bridges and grow in grace.
These are the thoughts that pierced heart and highlighted my complacency, as I read this quote in today’s She Reads Truth: Day 21 Lent devotional.
How do these words from CS Lewis impact you? What actions can you take to begin to intentionally engage with others who believe, think or live differently than you?
Share your thoughts, ideas and stories below… and let’s chat.