Last year, we had some visitors to spend time with our feeding program kids. Afterward, we shared a meal with the group and I asked them what they noticed about the children they met.
Our guests were mostly retired folks who quickly cited the uniform dark hair and eyes, short stature, and largely mismatched clothes on the children. “And all of them love to laugh,” said one woman.
My smile almost forced me to divulge how the children described their new friends. Besides words like old, grey, and fat, one of the girls shared how these missionaries sang loud even though they didn’t sing very well.
Her comments elicited another round of laughter.
“How many arms did each person have?” I asked. The children looked at me curiously. So did the adults when I asked them the same thing.
“Did they have mouths? Do you think they drink water? Did they used to be babies?”
From this line of questioning, we did an exercise where we put pen to paper to describe everything we could about the opposite group. We started with the things we had in common.
Our children mentioned butts, burps, and poop earlier than our visitors did, but eventually, each group listed over 200 similarities on a dozen big pages of paper before we went to the differences.
Skin, eyes, and hair color topped each group’s list. But then the items steered toward circumstances and choices. Things like where we live, education, and what sports we like started to add up until I pointed out that these things are not really part of “us” or our DNA.
Neither the children nor the adults could readily cite any actual differences beyond the first three. That makes total sense if you understand biology and DNA.
The DNA of a small Guatemalan child and a retired North American school teacher are very similar. In turn, their DNA is remarkably close to that of an African politician, an Australian rancher, or a Chinese businessman.
How similar? More than 99.9% of human DNA is identical whether that human hails from Argentina, Afghanistan, or Algeria.
While His DNA might have been a little super-charged, the fact is your DNA is about 99.9% identical to Jesus Christ.
So is the DNA of your Muslim neighbor, your Jewish neighbor, your Spanish-speaking neighbor, your lesbian neighbor, and that lady with the cats.
I remembered these discussions while I watched the horrific news from New Zealand this week. I wondered what I would say to a white nationalist whose fear and ignorance led him to act out in such an awful way.
When Jesus reminds us to care for our brothers and sisters, he doesn’t specify the ones who look like us or talk like us or believe what we believe.
He wants us to look after Samaritans, lepers, non-believers, and all sorts of the afflicted, too.
When Jesus tells us the most important commandment is to love Him and love our neighbors, He doesn’t mention any exceptions.
And the commandment is to love our neighbor, not just tell our neighbor we love him.
We can’t say we love our African-American neighbor and then cross the street when we see him hanging out on the next corner.
We can’t say we love our Spanish-speaking neighbor and then condone mistreatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.
We can’t say we love our Muslim neighbor and protest a new mosque.
We can’t say we love our LGBTQ neighbor and then mock his lifestyle and deny him a peaceful coexistence.
We can’t love our fellow Christian and allow him or her to act in a way other than how Jesus showed us to act.
When we find ourselves feeling confused, angry, or fearful of our neighbors, we can go to God with it and ask Him, “What would You do?”
Odds are, Jesus would wade into the life of the person who raised suspicions, fear, or questions. Which brings us to the end of the discussions we shared with the children and our visitors.
“Why don’t we instinctively look for things that bind us together before we start picking out the differences between ourselves and those we encounter in life?” I wondered.
Now, I’m not saying we should count each other’s feet and fingers when we meet. But I tell visiting missionaries to talk with the children and find something else.
Do you go to school? I went to school, too! Do you like the color red? Me too! Do you like music? Sports?
When I see groups struggling to mingle, I throw a ball into the middle of the floor.
Old feet, young feet, female feet, male feet, Guatemalan feet, North American feet… it doesn’t matter. Every one of them wants to touch the ball.
God blessed us with ways to be unique and stand out, but don’t let those bells and whistles fool you.
We are all made in one image. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ with a common Father, whom we are meant to love, as well as to love one another.
So be it.
Love is the Answer. GOD IS LOVE! (Spread the Word.)