Right now my shorts are in a knot. And by the looks of my Facebook feed, yours are too. When I read the headlines about Beirut, Paris, ISIS, and refugee resettlement, my gut starts to tighten and my head churns with opinions. I am passionate about what I believe. Like many of you, I read articles and research that corroborates my beliefs and deepens my convictions. And when I come across something I don’t agree with I try to pinpoint why and expose the author’s mistakes. I believe that what I think is terribly important. I believe all of this matters. But the funny thing, the beautiful thing, the expansive thing is that it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter one whit what I think. Or what you think. Or what Brad Wall thinks. Not when it comes down to the bottom line: our humanity.
There is no belief or ideology that can ever make me less of person. No matter my religion, value system, or world view I will never become the un-created. Nothing can change the fact the Creator crafted me and I bear His image, that I was knit together in my mother’s womb. Of course it’s easy to appreciate the poetry of this until I substitute someone else’s name in the same sentences. Did the Creator craft Hitler? Did Stalin ever bear the image of God? Was Jihadi John knit together in his mother’s womb? Are the monsters who abuse our children, rape our women, and bomb our cities even to be considered human? I believe the answer cannot be anything but a resounding yes, despite their vile thoughts and actions, because the truth is we are all people. Every last repulsive and demented one of us belong to the same category, the human species.
I use the word “category” because it’s easy for us to understand. We LOVE categories. Categories make our life easier, they make sense of our world (or so we think), and help us communicate efficiently. We talk about the introvert and the extrovert, the refined or the red-neck, the liberal or the conservative, the Canadian or the Syrian, but when it comes to real people these categories are grossly over simplified and inadequate. At the very worst they polarize us and lead us to disbelieve what is always true: that a person, is a person, is a person.
Let me tell you about something that helped me understand this:
My father came home from the farm on the day of our recent federal election looking dejected. “What did I do wrong?” he asked my mom. “How did I fail as a father? As a leader in this household?”
My mom started to get concerned; something must have gone terribly wrong. What had happened? Did one of the boys make a mistake with the machinery? Did someone get hurt?
Then Dad continued, “My own daughter-in-law, someone in my immediate family, voted for the Green party!”
Now, you should know my dad isn’t particularly political. He’s never been involved with a campaign, or even put a sign on his front lawn, but this was too much. My dad had voted for the Conservatives in this election because he felt their policies line-up best with his values and offer the most to farmers. The Green Party, in his mind, is at the other end of the political spectrum and even a personal affront to who he is and what he stands for.
I am not sure how my mom’s face looked when she heard this, but I suspect she tried to hide her surprise, or maybe even a smile. Because, it turns out, she had also voted Green. And there was nothing left for her to do but tell him the truth, doubling his misery. Not only had his son’s wife betrayed him, but so had his own wife. The very woman he shared a bed with had voted against him.
A few days later we were sitting around my kitchen table when the whole story came out. After he recounted his horror at learning about his daughter-in-law and wife, I added more salt to his wounds.
“Dad,” I said, “They weren’t the only ones. I did too.”
I paused for effect and added, “And your other daughter? My sister? She did the same.”
And then we laughed because none of us knew how the others had voted until it was over. My dad laughed too, because that is the way he is. Because he knows it doesn’t matter. He knows I will always be his daughter, no matter how I vote and that my politics don’t make me who I am–not even half of me. I laughed because even though I have a crazy Conservative for a father, I know we belong to each other. We are part of the same family, safe with each other no matter what we believe, and nothing can change that. It made me feel warm and special because we had beaten the labels. In fact, our intimate knowledge of each other made the notion of labels absurd, even laughable.
Imposing stereotypes on people you know well is like this sometimes; it makes you realize the categories we use are irrelevant. My kind and generous father is no more of a hard-hearted business tycoon than I am an abortion-loving, pot-smoking hippie. Even my childhood friends will tell you my dad would give the shirt off his back in a winter storm. He is the man who literally buttered my toast for me until I was 18. Who quietly picks up the tab at a restaurant before his companions are done eating. And me, my mother, my sister, and my sister-in-law? We take our children to church, we’re fiscally responsible, even practical, and yet, we voted Green.
So you see, this is why it doesn’t matter what you vote or how you define yourself. Because you are more than that. You are more than Conservative or Green, more than Muslim or Christian, more than Canadian or Syrian. You are a human with a unique, God-breathed spirit that cannot be categorized or pigeon-holed. And even if what you believe leads you to commit heinous acts, you can never erase the imprint of divinity.
The fact that all of us have this spirit, this God-breath, is why I think things might be be different if we had a chance to sit around a kitchen table with each other. What if we really knew those who are different than us, those who are on the other side of the divisions we construct? What if we had a deep relationship with someone who threatens our identity, whether it be Christian, Canadian or Conservative? What would happen if we felt safe with each other? If we felt we belonged to each other like a daughter belongs to her father? Maybe, just maybe, we might sit around the table and laugh.
PS. Also, does everyone else know about Gungor? Check out this song and this song (I can’t decide which I like more). Thanks to my friend, Jaimee, who suggested these tunes would make a good soundtrack for this post. I agree.