Faces on Faith: No more ‘us’ and ‘them’
There’s us and there’s them. We’re hearing a lot of that kind of language again in these days after the horrific shootings in Orlando. How quick we are to divide the world. Us or them.
Earlier this year Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf was published in Germany for the first time since World War II. It is as frightening a work now as it was back then. And it is built, at least in part, on a division of people based on race and ethnicity. At the top of the heap stood white northern Europeans, Aryans as he called them. At the bottom of the list were Jews and Romani. Us or them. Those at the top, he believed, contributed to culture, made for a better world. Those at the bottom, were a detriment to society, destroyers of culture. And the best way to deal with them was to simply eradicate them from the face of the Earth. Divided into us or them, until there are no “them,” and “us” becomes a select few.
It is, of course, a fallacious argument, one that theologically, ethically and practically, proves to be most unsound. Yet we persist in our efforts to divide people based on things like race, sexual orientation, ethnic background and religion. African-Americans are pulled over for driving while black. White police officers are all lumped together as thoughtless tools. Muslims are considered so dangerous that they must be kept out of the country. All Christians are said to abhor gay people. Walls must be built to separate our nation from the peoples of the south. Poor people are said to be lazy – rich children, called privileged brats. Us and them. Us and them.
But the truth is God loves us all, and in truth, we need each other. We balance each other out. We bring fullness to one another’s lives. We complete each other. And as long as we continue to play the game of us and them, we are tearing down those we revile, as well as ourselves. We are tearing down the world itself!
God has created us in a variety of sizes and shapes and colors. God has given us different skills, different abilities and inclinations. God has created us as a rather disparate lot. Not to confound us, not to confuse us, but rather to challenge us. To challenge us all to find ways to use our differences for the good of the whole. All for one, goes the old cheer, and one for all. But, to do that, we must be willing to deal with our own tendencies to divide. And we must be willing to face down any attempt anywhere to denigrate our sisters and brothers. We must be willing to fight against any effort to pigeon-hole or stereotype other people. After all, you never know who may come to your aid.
Many years ago in New Jersey our family was going through an especially challenging time. We had taken in a young teenaged mother, who had given birth to a child with a devastating illness. For much of his short life he stayed in the hospital, but at about six months, or so, he was allowed to come home to live with us and his mother. He survived on TPN, an intravenous source of nutrition, and required virtually around the clock nursing care. We knew he would die, it was just a matter of when. Needless to say, the extra medical people in our already full home, the trials of his illness, the struggles of his mother, and the impending threat of death, made for a very stressful situation for all of us.
But I was ministered to in those days, not by well-educated clergy, or caring therapists, though they helped as well. No, I was ministered to by an elderly white crossing guard and a black garbage collector. For many a day, I would go out of the house, already exhausted to head for work, and Mr. Boyd, the crossing guard, posted at our corner, would always give me a wave, and ask after the baby. And on Tuesdays and Fridays, that garbage collector would come down the street, hanging off the back of the truck, and as he put back the empty garbage cans, he would smile and shout out, “God bless you!” Sometimes, it felt like those expressions of concern were all that got me through the day.
You never know from whence shall come aid. It might just come from one of “them.”
It is time, sisters and brothers, that we set aside us and them. It is time we realized our common humanity. Yes, for the sake of the other, but for the sake of ourselves as well. For we are, as Dr. King said, “made to live together.”
So whose dream shall we pursue, Adolph Hitler’s or Dr. King’s? The choice is yours and mine, every single day.