3. The Gift of our Differences

THE GIFT OF OUR DIFFERENCES

We live in a world filled with all sorts of people who are different than us!  I’m sure that statement doesn’t surprise anyone…….yet often it seems we don’t really understand that!   We act as though everyone should look like us, act like us, and agree with us.   Those who are “different” are not always treated with the respect and graciousness they should receive as those who are sharing this journey through life with us.

Obviously the current political climate in America is one example of how these differences can lead to ugly interactions between those who find themselves as polar opposites.  But politics are far from the only avenue for this disturbing trend amongst those of us who share the experience of being Americans.   There are racial and ethnic tensions,  age and gender divides,  theological differences,  economic class inequalities, long-standing prejudices,  social justice issues, and much more.  We even divide over loyalties to college or professional sports teams.  In the midst of all this division we seem to have lost our sense of connectedness.

During the holiday season most of us give gifts to those who are part of our families and friends.  It’s a wonderful tradition based on our mutual love and respect.  It brings joy to both the recipient and to the one giving the gift.  It’s an expression of love and appreciation, creating memories and building relationships.

But I would suggest there are some others who deserve to receive a gift from us this year.  Not necessarily a physical gift that can be wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow.  Rather, a gift of understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, respect, and “love”.   Who deserves those gifts?   Those who are “different” than us!

As human beings it seems we all have a high resistance to laying differences aside. We seem to treat differences as an offense and use the energy that the offense brings with it in negative ways that bring tension and create separation.   If they are not like us,  if they are different, then we tend to find some ways to minimize them, to cast them in a negative light, and to build a wall between “them” and “us”.

No matter who the “us” is, such an attitude is never productive and always contrary to the overall good of the society we live in.  As a Christian, I am often reminded of the words of Christ in this regard.   He said things like:

  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”       -Luke 10:27

 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”     – Matthew 7:12

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,      -Matthew  5:44

It’s pretty hard to be screaming at someone who disagrees with my politics, theological views,  moral understanding, or football team allegiance and still be obeying the standards set forth by Christ.

Jesus takes the Golden Rule, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”,  from Leviticus 30:6 , written about 1450 BC.   Other religions have similar platitudes, but there is a distinct difference.

  •  Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Analects15:23)
  • Hindusim: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” (Mahabharata5:1517)
  • Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udanavarga 5:18)

These sayings are similar to the Golden Rule but are stated negatively and rely on passivity. Jesus’ Golden Rule is a positive command to show love proactively. The Eastern religions say, “Refrain from doing”; Jesus says, “Do!”

There’s something about that positive command to “DO” that I think we need to take into account and put into practice in these tension filled days…..especially following our recent national election.

The angels proclaimed on that  first Christmas morn,  “Peace on earth, goodwill to ALL men!”.   Perhaps that “peace” is at least somewhat dependent on our own actions.  Loving your neighbor, especially those that are “different” than you,  is not always easy and  may not come naturally.  But if we will take the initiative to “love them”,   to “do” something proactive, we may just find out that we can coexist without all the negative rhetoric.

I actually think one of the greatest gifts humanity has been given is our diversity.  We have different skin colors, come from different cultures, have different life experiences, and dream different dreams.  Yet as “different” as we may be from each other, we have far more in common than we often are willing to admit.  The human experience, from almost any perspective, has a common core of needing love, acceptance, forgiveness, belonging, and provision.

I believe in a benevolent, loving God who puts up with me, despite all my flaws and shortcomings.  Perhaps it’s not so much for Him to ask than for me to share that kind of love with my fellow human beings…….even the ones that are “different” than me.  Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, male or female, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslin, Agnostic or Atheist, privileged or forsaken, black, white, red, brown or mixed……we’re in this thing together.

It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, the judgmental attitudes, long held prejudices, sarcastic remarks, insulting social media posts,  protest signs,  nasty diatribes,  and negative stereotyping.   People are people!  Period!!I

Therefore,  I think it’s time we actually “do something”!  It’s time for us to learn how to proactively  “love” others……just like Jesus taught us in The Golden Rule. Who knows, maybe that’s all that is needed to change our view of how “different” the folks really are around us!

Love – we talk about it, sing about it, make movies about it, preach sermons about it, write books about it,  crave it, need it, want it…….but often are stingy in giving it to others…..especially those who are different than us!   Don’t you think it’s about time we actually “do” something about that?  I think Jesus had it right….”Do to others what you would have them do to you”  Golden or not,  following that rule is guaranteed to make the world around us a better place!

 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”                                                                                   1 John 4:7-8