“Difference is of the essence of humanity…and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.” --John Hume
As a person of faith and an American, the shooting deaths of six Sikh worshippers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5th just broke my heart. How awful, how unfathomable it is for me to imagine worshipping in my home church on a quiet summer Sunday morning, and then witness a gunman break in and start shooting. Wound, murder members of my faith family, my friends, my neighbors all because someone hated us, despised us for our “differentness”: for the way we worship our God, or our skin color, or the way we dress, or our country of birth, or the accent we speak with. Sentenced to death simply for being “different”.
I just can’t envision that reality and not just because it seems so far fetched but also because the truth is, that never once in my life, not once, have I ever paid a price for being “different”, for being who I am: white, Christian, male, straight. I’ve never, ever paid a price socially or personally for any belief I claim or any human trait I possess.
I’ve never been told I can’t marry the person I love because it is “immoral” or “unnatural”. I’ve never been viewed with suspicion by a store clerk or security guard because of the shade of my skin. I’ve never been labeled as one of “them” because I speak another language. I’ve never had the way I worship God stereotyped and maligned nor have folks of my faith ever had to fight just to worship without fear or neighborhood opposition. I’ve never had the way I dress be criticized nor seen as odd. I’ve never been pulled over by a cop or taken out of an airport security line and interrogated or profiled because of the way I look. I’ve never been turned down for a job or a raise or a promotion because of my gender.
The lie of white supremacy, which fueled the temple shooter’s rage, also underlies many of the “-isms” we still face today in America. The lie is this: some folks are “normal” and some folks are “different”. “Different” is bad and “normal” is good. “Different” people threaten “our way of life” so “they” need to be kept at arm’s length, labeled, stereotyped, ghettoized, dismissed as less than human, and even hurt or killed. In this warped worldview “I” am always the “norm” and “they” are always “the other”. Thus those who are “different”, now reduced to “it”, become easier to hate.
The problem is that the reality of the God created world we live in is anything but uniform, standard, identical, or all the same. From the moment God lit the fuse on the big bang, the world has reflected a God made, God planned, God blessed and God celebrated diversity. God was intentional from the start in making diversity the norm.
Not one skin color but an amazingly beautiful palette of hues and shades and variations. Not one animal or plant species but millions. Not one way of knowing God but a wonderfully varied collection of religions and beliefs, one God but so many paths to God. Not one mono boring culture or people but instead a world brimming with so many differing and beautiful ways to work and live and play and make art and pursue happiness and meaning. As Genesis declares in the story of the end of God’s seven day creation spree, “God saw everything that he had made [in Creation], and indeed, it was very good.” Not just ok or middling or nice but very good, great, spectacular, fantastic. Very good in all its diversity.
There is finally no “normal”, no “norm” when it comes to the way our world is made and all that is contained within it. Different is normal. There will probably always be mean and sick and warped and scared folks who try their very best to belie this truth. But God knows that different is good, very good.