I used to believe that all people were essentially the same; that across the diving lines of politics and religion, and beneath the surface veneer of language and personality—that we were all really fighting for the same things.
I’ve spent two decades as a pastor, ministering under the assumption that we’re all in this together, that we’re all for one another, that at a heart level we’re each nearly identical.
I don’t know if I believe that any longer.
I’m meeting many people right now in America, who really don’t seem to want the things that I want—at least not for other people.
I think they want for their kids what I want for mine, and so in this respect we’re the same—but that’s about where our paths diverge.
When it comes to those people they don’t naturally feel affinity for or have obvious commonality with, it really seems like they couldn’t care less. Actually, it seems they’re openly hostile to those folks.
Last week after a speaking event, a woman talked about the people she views as her adversaries across the aisles of religion and politics:
“Deep down” she said, “all parents want the same thing; they want their kids to be healthy and happy and safe; to be able to live beautiful, productive lives.”
I knew what she was trying to say, and I suppose that’s likely true—but it also isn’t good enough in the days in which we find ourselves. We need to be people who love on a greater scale than that.
Most decent human beings love and want to care for their children. The desire to protect our own is a hard-wired brain feature built on millions of years of self-preservation and survival instincts. It’s certainly good, but it isn’t all that virtuous either.
This natural impulse explains the rising tribalism we find ourselves in; people hunkered down in heavily fortified bunkers alongside those they deem “their people”— whether based on race or religion or nation of origin or political affiliation.
This highly selective, self-serving compassion is the very heart of America First.
It’s the foundation of a border wall.
It’s the reason someone applauds ICE raids or travel bans, or opposes free lunch programs or universal health care: not wanting someone else to have something they have.
The terrified religion, fierce Nationalism, and rising hostility toward marginalized communities on display in America, is the fruit of a toxic selfishness that needs to horde resources, opportunity, and benefit—for fear it will be left without.
And so right now, the real battle in America right now isn’t between good people and bad people—it’s between open-handed people and close-fisted people. It is a war to cultivate compassion or contempt for those who have less.
Poised on either sides of the debate in matters of education and healthcare and faith and immigration, aren’t people who love their children and people who don’t—but people who love all children, and those who care only for their own.
In this very fundamental way—we’re not the same.
Yes, I agree that most people want similar things for them and for those they see as their family, their people, their tribe. I just believe that isn’t enough.
My Christian faith tradition tells me that love for my neighbor is my great aspiration and calling, but it also tells me that everyone is my neighbor; not just those who speak my language or share my pigmentation or share my politics or believe in my God.
I can either see myself as a citizen of the diverse, expansive planet—or I can make my home in a gated community of people who look, think, talk, and believe like me. Too many folks right now have settles on the latter—and this is the emotional civil war we find ourselves in.
America has no shortage of people who care about their kids. We’re nearly at capacity.
It is, however, in desperate need of people who care about someone else’s kids with a similar passion and urgency; who want every child to be free from threat and fed well and given hope and encouraged to dream and released to be whatever that dream invites them to be.
Loving your child is a fine and beautiful thing, America.
Humanity asks much more than that of us.
Whether or not we’re willing is another matter.
I chose not to have children for good and important reasons when I was ten years old and when I was in my twenties and thirties, I saw how wise I was at ten to have made the decision I did, I was fortunate enough, to be among the first generation of the Pill and I had a **choice.**
Something that motivated me was a deep desire not to treat a child the way I had been treated. I did not want to pass that along to another generation. I observed the way my grandparents treated my parents and realized my paraents treated us the way they themselves had been treated and that BS was going to end with me. At least as far as I am concerned. One of my brothers had three daughters and he was as abusive to them as our father was to us.
Sometimes I think I who never had children love children more than people who have them. I have been appalled at the way people treat their kids in the supermarket. Or the way they allow their kids to bully others. I could go on with my observations over the years but I won’t.
John has said a few things I’d like to address.
“And so right now, the real battle in America right now isn’t between good people and bad people—it’s between open-handed people and close-fisted people. It is a war to cultivate compassion or contempt for those who have less.
“Poised on either sides of the debate in matters of education and healthcare and faith and immigration, aren’t people who love their children and people who don’t—but people who love all children, and those who care only for their own.
“In this very fundamental way—we’re not the same.”
Those filled with contempt, who are without compassion, who only care for their own, are people who have been taught to fear that which is different from themselves. They have been taught to believe this right down to the gut level so that their first, knee-jerk reaction is to reject everything which is different from themselves.
When I was in elementary school in Social Studies we were taught about the Melting Pot that is the USA… how people from all over the world come here and cease to be this, that, or the other because we all become Americans, i.e. we all become the same.
Except we don’t, do we? People didn’t come to the USA and change their religion. People didn’t come to the USA and 100% change their languages. People didn’t come to the USA and change their cultural identities. People most especially did not come to the USA and change their skin color.
The Melting Pot only works for those who can absorb into the dominant culture. For the most part in the USA, this means white Protestants of primarily Anglo-Saxon descent. We Amalfitanos and Pavlovitzes stick out like sore thumbs. Even more so when people are not white
If (and I use the little-taught subjunctive here, I am not posing a hypothetical question) we claim to know Jesus, then we know that God is perfect love and perfect love casts out all fear. Since this is true, why do we cling to our fear?
We cling to our fear in so may ways… white nationalism, white supremacy, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, various forms of bigotry, racism, gynophobia, misogyny. Etc. There is a litany of fears we embrace instead of embracing Jesus who demands that we face our fears and be healed of them.
Jews, Christians, Muslims all believe in the exact same God. Yeah, sure, Jews and Muslims don’t believe in a Trinitarian God, but it is still the same God. How much fear ought that knowledge to eradicate?
Earliest known human remains have been discovered in Africa, suggesting that once upon a time, all of us humans were black. Whether you accept Evolution as the science or Creation as the sole source of information, it still comes down to the same thing, All us humans were once black and so we probably all still have black DNA. That God chose blackness as the first skin color ought to provide us with a great deal of healing of our fears of people with other skin colors.
It is not easy to confront one’s fears. It is terrifying, in fact. It is also scary to step outside one’s tribe and turn one’s back on the fear that unites that tribe. It is terrifying for a woman to leave her alcoholic and/or drug-addicted husband, take her kids, and start a new life. Any change is frightening because we are all conditioned to fear the unknown. Things are, it is only unknown until we step into it and then it becomes the known because it will turn out we have far more common than otherwise
I deeply believe this. I deeply believe this is the beginning of the spiritual life. This is the way we mature in spirituality.
Refuge is offered in the Facebook group ”Celebrate What Christians Have in Common” where a daily buffet is spread of Asceticism and art, cartoons and quotes, comics and contemplation, memes and meditations, music and musings, photographs and prayers, just about anything that is one of the many voices from the many flavors of Christianity.
There is one discipline required of all who join: one must not utter a negative word because this space is a refuge, a respite, a place of peace and quiet. If one chooses to engage in discussion one may only write about one can affirm in the selection. No arguments, no vitriolic words, no spammers, and trolls will be tolerated, Please come and celebrate what Christians have in common and let us together remember our faith is based upon God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and not the actions and choices of frail, sinful human beings.