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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Different, But The Same

I was reading this morning about how God blesses good intentions, as well as good deeds that are carried out. The story is of King David, God's chosen king of Israel, who wanted to build a fabulous temple for God.

David's intention was pure, and he was passionate about the project. But for various reasons, God prevented David from building the temple. Instead, he allowed him to plan and design the structure, but left the actual construction to David's son, Solomon.

It got me thinking about our present day struggles, and how easily we judge the intentions of those who are different from us. And how easily we believe mistrustful, sinister motives of those people.

In this day of instant communication, constant, immediate analysis and spin doctoring, judging people by what we think they intend is rampant. We have become easy to manipulate, and the competition for hearts and minds and money is fierce.

Our focus, and that of the media who seek to inform us, is on our differences. I got a hard time years ago in a class at work about diversity. I suggested that rather than separating into groups of 'like' individuals (another judgement), that we might better spend the time focused on what we share in common. Aside from not being the plan for the class, I thought this was a reasonable alternative to spending the day making speeches about what makes me 'different.' Note, that as a white male, I, and those who look like me, were assumed by the instructor, to be 'the same.' To be 'different' we had to have experienced some form of mistreatment, which was judged to not be part of the white male experience. The answer was not compelling, but I did spend the day suggesting that because I am Irish American, I may have been stereotyped as a drunk. But I digress...

In reality, our differences are not the point. Sure, we may worship differently, or eat different foods, or celebrate different holidays or have different family structures. Differences like these add to the richness and diversity of humankind. But what binds us as people, even as Americans, is what we share in common. Here in the U.S. we take for granted freedoms and liberties that are unheard of in other places in the world. That is why people come here - to live freely, in a way that we, who've always lived here, fully expect. It's not perfect - and at times it is downright messy. But it is still better than any other country in the world, in my opinion, one which is shared by many.

This brings us to the current rancor and division around discrimination, patriotism, white privilege, black oppression and political differences. There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of listening. There are political panderers and paid lobbyists and all kinds of media, yapping incessantly, either missing the point on purpose or missing it through ignorance or blind bias.

It doesn't matter, really, whether it's purposeful or not. The point that is being missed, is in fact, our sameness. Not uniformity, as we do have differences. But we share some foundational things in common:

  • love of freedom, including the acceptance of all the aforementioned differences;

  • desire for safety, security and peace;

  • a reasonable ability to work, contribute and provide for ourselves and our families.

It doesn't matter where you live, or what you look like, or who and how you love; you want a safe, peaceful home, respect for your traditions and a fair chance to make a living.

The issue that has been raised through the protests in the NFL is that many people, despite assurances of law and constitution, don't have these things. Their neighborhoods are not safe, their differences are not respected, and they don't have a fair chance to make a reasonable living. Whether you agree with their assessment is irrelevant - we should stop judging that. We do not walk in their shoes. We can't fully know what it's like.

What is curious is the immediate willingness by some to suggest other motives to the dissatisfaction expressed by so many. Rather than chalking it up to entitlement, or laziness, or liberal politics or conservative backlash or the manipulation of the poor by the rich, or, most sinister, a desire to undermine and overturn what many of us think of as 'America,' we need to shut up and listen. Fair minded people can disagree on the extent, but no one can deny that the atmosphere of discrimination that is faced by many in our country is real.

People are trying to make a point about the quality of their lives. The American way should be to listen, empathize and contribute to a solution, whether through activism, or simply by treating everyone with respect, and reserving judgement on motives, leaving that to God, who knows what is in our hearts. And he blesses good intentions, whether they are carried out fully or not.

The true nature of America has been seen in the response to the hurricanes that have ravaged Texas and Florida, as well as many of the Caribbean islands over the past few weeks. Money, supplies and people have poured in to help our neighbors - not just rich or poor or black or white or gay or straight - but people, who are in need. It's hard to have sinister motives when you have 4 feet of water in your living room. So we help and we don't judge. And that's a great thing.

What would also be great would be if we took seriously the less obvious, but in many ways just as devastating, storms that have ravaged some areas and groups of our countrymen and women. Without judgement, but with an outstretched hand to help and support.

God bless you.

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