“Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.”
― Desmond Tutu
We don’t celebrate difference very effectively, I notice.
Variation is, genetically speaking, a wonderful thing. The infinite variety of nature, the amazing flexibility of the organism not only between generations but within a single lifetime. The mere fact that one blade of grass is not like another (or one snowflake, or one rose petal) should tell us that God admires and enjoys difference.
And yet, reference to God is sometimes used as an inverse yardstick, a way of keeping under the status quo rather than a means of measuring the wonderful leaps we take beyond it. Science is sometimes used this way too–not real science, but pseudo-scientific reference to the way things “should be.” That goes for much of our social and cultural training, too. Be this way, not that way. Do this thing, not that thing. We spend our lives trying to make sure we laugh right, and cry right, and at the right times. None of us really arrives at that bizarre ideal…and some of us actually have trouble meeting the minimum of “normative” behavior. (Not, incidentally, because we are running the streets wearing pants on our heads and claiming to be from Mars…but because we have complicated or unusual emotional lives, non-traditional relationships, spectrum Aspergers, OCD, or any number of quirks for which psychology has yet to derive categorical labels). Our identity is questioned. We are treated as outsiders. Some of us have even been cast into the outer darkness by those who claim to love us most.
But love is a celebration of difference. Today is Good Friday on the Christian calendar, and part of the Passover Season for Judaism. This is a time of sacrifice and renewal–and most other faiths have similar celebrations of renewal, forgiveness and re-commitment. For me, the Easter season isn’t about hammering everyone into shape, or about forcing this or that belief or practice on other people. It is a time to remember that, while living, Yahushua (Iesous, in Greek, generally transliterated Jesus in English) lifted up the leper, the prostitute, the tax collector, the pharisee, the Roman, the Greek, the Samaritan, women, minors, criminals, the sick, the lame… Basically everyone that society had labeled as failed people, as non-normative. And, as a Christian, I believe that through his death and resurrection (highly contested by many, I know), he brings those persons toward eternal validation as persons. Not by absorbing them, not by making them utterly different from the original, but by lifting up and purifying their wonderful variety.
According to the world, we are not alright. I can see that plainly enough: we are not alright. But it’s all right. Sameness is hardly wholeness. Difference is not disease. Let us be united not by “setting aside our differences” but, more correctly, by no longer making them the measure or our judgment. Blessed are the unique. Celebrate difference.