I learned about division in school.
His name was Mike. Like everyone else, I could tell Mike was different. Mike could too. The term used to describe Mike’s condition in those days was harsh. The term has changed. The condition hasn’t.
Unlike other children, Mike was not competitive. When you were with him, he simply enjoyed your company. He was not interested in having any sort of advantage.
His countenance spoke of his vulnerability. Mike had a sweet smile, but fear in darting eyes - with good reason. Since he was child-like in his thinking, he was an easy victim for jokes. He desperately wanted to belong, but there was a price to be paid. And he understood enough to know the laughter wasn’t shared. Mike belonged to the joke, not the group.
Once, on a bus trip, something humorous occurred. For kids, hilarious is a low bar. As we all laughed, I glanced over at Mike. He was laughing, too. In that instant, I saw Mike differently. Not with condescension. Just one of us. The way I saw all kids on our first day of kindergarten. He belonged. I smiled at him. The haunted look in his eyes was replaced by one of warmth and gratitude; as tears came to mine. It was a moment of immense comfort and contentment, when everything was right.
A few years ago, I attended a Duck football game with my 6-year-old grandson. The home team won in incredibly exciting manner. As we boarded the bus to return to our car, a group of individuals from a group home boarded. They were adults, but different. Everybody could see that.
Suddenly, the memory arose, without warning, as of a depth not of years, but centuries. The bus rumbling along, the laughter and conversation, the smell of wet clothes magnified by the bus heater, and the fact we were all together celebrating the win of our team made me remember Mike and that magic of that childhood moment. I imagined we were all children and all on a school bus together. It was not them, those people and me - it was just us. All different. All the same. Different was about us. It didn’t define us. We were all just us. What a sweet relief to give up those distinctions that don’t make a lot of sense.
I share this story because I cannot recall a time America’s society was more fractured. People find their identity, even their virtue, in whom they hate. People speak past one another. We have stopped listening. The tenor of public expression is more vulgar. Family relations are sacrificed. Speech is suppressed. The price of differing world views is contempt and personal attack; the very definition of bigotry. People no longer have ideas. Ideas have people.
We have learned to divide. And we are teaching it to our children.
We’ve always chosen what will divide us. It’s a choice which reflects more about us than those from whom we separate. But it has reached a new level of ugliness.
People looking for meaning or happiness in political movements will not find it. When social forces press for the rejection of age-old Truth, then those who reject it will seek meaning in their own truth. These truths will rarely be Truth at all; rather collections of personal preferences and prejudices.
I have found few human problems that have been solved by politics. The uniqueness of every soul is not a theme that our current culture, obsessed with group identities, cares to assert. Hate is a problem of the human heart and will flourish in any system.
Jesus told Pilate that he came to earth so that people would know the truth. One such truth was that until we became like children, we would not see the Kingdom of Heaven. Children too young to hate are windows to see what God intended for mankind.
I remember a hymn we used to sing when I was young about heaven called “There’ll be no distinction there.” I didn’t understand it until Mike taught me that day. The day I felt heaven.
It isn’t that when we go to heaven, God creates a space where there is no distinction of essential worth. It is when we stop learning to divide, when each person is seen in the image of God and eternally precious; heaven comes to us.
I hope that feeling comes to our community. I know of no other solution for the darkness we face.
Tim Powell MD