When we are different

Reacting in fear of our differences widens them

“And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Matthew 5:47

I’m in line at Walmart. A family of four is in front of me, including a little girl. She is staring at me. I smile. She says, “Hi! What’s your name?”

“Lisa! What’s yours?”

She answers. I ask how old she is. Three.

We continue on.

Until her dad interrupts. I notice he’s wearing a University of Alabama cap and t-shirt. He looks at me, then speaks to his daughter, “Um, you see what’s she’s wearing?”

I look down at my clothes. I have on my 2010 Auburn University National Championship shirt. (We’re deep rivals, Auburn and Alabama, in case you’re not from around here. See Love in Color.)

I realize he’s friendly about it; we’re all still smiling. So I ask the girl if she can say War Eagle?

Her mom says, “Tell her what we say at our house.”

The little girl is silent. I help her out. “I bet I know. Do you say Roll Tide?” She repeats Roll Tide.

I tell the mom, “She knows what to say—now. That’s how we start them. But then they grow up and marry an Auburn fan and it changes everything.”

I know because that’s what happened to me.

We all have our prejudices (my allegiance was originally with Ole Miss—and still is—but against anybody else). Those are innocent enough (usually, but not always. See When you can, choose your change.).

But more of our prejudices against the “others” are not as benign. They’re malignant.

  • They’re not school colors. They’re skin colors.
  • They’re not sports rivalries. They’re religious bigotries.
  • They’re not “I say coke and you say pop but who cares.” They’re wars between nations over boundary lines and blood lineages and territorial claims.

In this year of my One Word 2014—Compassion, I’m jostled over and over into greater awareness of what keeps us from being compassionate, things like self-centeredness and intolerance and preconceptions.

  • Suspicion of other
  • Fear of difference
  • Assuming Knowing we’re “right” (see Being wrong)

For September, the practice in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is to ease up on our tribal egotism. We’re encouraged to “make place for the more distant other.”

Gone are the days where we only rub shoulders with those like us. In the shadow of my house is a Hindu temple; I pass an Islamic mosque on my way into town; I have online friends from countries all over the world.

“Understanding different national, cultural, and religious traditions is no longer a luxury; it is now a necessity and must become a priority.
. . . We have a duty to get to know one another, and to cultivate a concern and responsibility for all our neighbors in the global village.”
– Karen Armstrong

Reacting in fear of our differences widens the divisions. Responding in love narrows them.

So this month, let’s notice how we and our friends talk about those who are different than us.

Let’s lose the xenophobia. Embrace the variety. Explore the change.

Make room in our hearts—and in our lives—for the others.

The family of four finishes checking out. But before they leave, we all smile together one more time, hopefully closer by our interaction, even with our differences, not further apart.

* * *

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Leviticus 19:33-34

Who are the others in your life? Who can you love this week that is different? I’d love to hear from you.




33 thoughts on “When we are different

  1. Sherrey Meyer

    Exciting post, Lisa! Love the way you’ve used your collegiate rivalry to begin the conversation. Your post mirrors our pastor’s message yesterday. And with good reason. We’ve recently welcomed into our upper middle class to upper class, mostly Caucasian congregation a 30-something African-American man and a 50 something man from Belarus. It has been interesting to watch who reaches out and who doesn’t. Leaving the south in 1983, I had no expectations of what I’d find when we settled down in Portland, OR. Definitely a different culture, a greater openness to differences (our current slogan is “Keep Portland Wierd!”), a larger international community. I felt I knew then what a caged bird feels like when the door has been left open. I was free not only to be me, but I could embrace more unique and different souls along the way. I rejoice in your writing and appreciate the quote from Karen Armstrong, a favorite of mine. Blessings on you and your writing, dear Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love your Portland slogan. ha. That made me smile. And yes, it is always interesting to see how others respond to diversity when they’re not used to it. I pray that others in your church will be as open as you are to the two new men.

      Hanging around others that aren’t just like us is always a growing experience. I thank God for progress he’s made in me over the past couple of years in showing me how to be less judgmental of others who can be extremely different from me. I can’t say I’ve arrived yet, but he’s pushing me along. 🙂

      1. Sherrey Meyer

        Stopped in from Coffee for Your Heart to see if you replied to my earlier comment. Lisa, we are all a work in progress in this area. My husband moves a couple of inches and then backs up 1/2 inch. Take, for example, piercings and tattoos. He just can’t close his eyes to them and visualize the person underneath. Slowly, God is working on all of us to bring us to an understanding of who each one of us truly is.

  2. Deb Wolf

    I almost stood up to shout my Amen! I grew up a Michigan fan, and met and married a Buckeye. The skin tones in our family vary widely and we love it. My constant prayer is that we will might turn to the One who unites us in faith and family. My favorite quote, “Let’s lose the xenophobia. Embrace the variety. Explore the change.” Tweeted it and taking it to heart! Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You know about those football rivalries then. They can be rough. 🙂 How wonderful that your family has passed through the physical boundaries of seeing only the outside. We’re all alike on the inside! Glad we share the same blood of Jesus, Deb. I so appreciate your testimony here (and the tweet too).

  3. Jolene Underwood (@Faith_Eyes)

    Yes Lisa! Let’s do! Around Austin it’s the Longhorns vs the Aggies. Since I’ve never been a sports fan I’ve never cared one way or the other. But when it comes to the other differences I often forget how much others care. I am also reminded at times, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that I’m judging someone based on what I see when the Lord wants me to see them as He does. May we continually grow in our compassion to see others as Christ does.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      My sister is like you, Jolene. She’s not into the AU/AL rivalry, even though all her family is. It really helps to have people like y’all who can help the rest of us keep things in perspective there, which hopefully are skills that can translate into more important “rivalries” that we also need to keep in perspective.

  4. bluecottonmemory

    This goes straight to my heart – I see the great divide in how teens treat other teens – not bothering to look below the surface, not wanting to reach out to someone because they don’t seem them as redeemable. I see it in the daily where people can’t stop judging the cover to really learn what’s in the book of a person. Your message is a seed I wish the world would swallow, allow to grow and reap a harvest of it!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Maryleigh. It’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow, especially the younger we are. But even at my age, sometimes I want to balk at the differences instead of celebrate them. But I do pray especially for those who are so young and aren’t as skilled yet in handling the cruelty that can come from being different than the crowd. You’re so right that teens can really struggle with this; makes me sad.

  5. Jean Wise

    Great example to pull us all into the discussion with ease. sports rivalry is something most of us identify with but find it more uncomfortable to talk about the wider more serious issues. You give us a good start – listen, observe then speak up. Sometime when I find the courage to speak up with wrong is being spoken, it does change the conversation. Instead of condemning, I try to use myself as an example. How my beliefs now are more loving, accepting than earlier in my life. I tell them the transformation hasn’t been easy but i believe headed in the right more Godly, more loving direction. usually gets a good conversation going. Good thought provoking post Lisa. Thanks!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’d love to sit in on one of those conversations, Jean, when you’re doing that! You’re a wise woman. We need more like you who can step in and against wrong, but do it in such a gracious way.

  6. Sheila at Longings End

    Fear, which is the opposite of faith, is the basis I believe for so much hatred in our world today just because “they” are not the same as “we.” How this must hurt our Father’s heart. So in our own little corners of the world let’s keep on loving ALL and cheer for CHRIST…Thanks, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “Fear is the opposite of faith” – I’m still working on that too. We’re all really far more alike than we realize (maybe that scares us too?). Yes, loving is always the answer. Thanks, Sheila.

  7. floyd

    What an awesome post, Lisa. You nailed it. I do try to reach out to others regardless of who, what, or where they’re from. Funny I was downtown just today and the thought occurred to me while down there that the folks who have less and in fact very little are much more polite and friendly in their daily dealings and made a mental note of it for a future post. I remind myself and those who think we’re different that God Himself told us we are “all of One blood”.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Great insight, Floyd. I love the way you think. I’ve been surprised myself volunteering at Manna House at how friendly most people really are. We are all of one blood–you speak truth.

  8. Sharon

    Lisa, I loved this one! I am a huge UCLA fan, and there is no love lost between us and our crosstown rivals, USC – (or Stanford or Berkeley, just sayin’…LOL!) And yes, fan fun is harmless enough. Although, there have been some very sordid stories of fan rivalry getting way out of hand, and people get hurt. I think that’s because the sports stuff sometimes gives people an excuse to riot and react and hate on others.

    Sigh. We live in such a broken world.

    I love that your word is compassion. The people we meet certainly do need more gentleness and kindness and respect. When we encounter other people who *challenge* us with their differences or difficult personalities, and yet we love them anyway, this is when I believe we most resemble Jesus.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You get the rivalry thing for sure, Sharon. 🙂 Those in-state ones are the most intense. Yes, we all have so many broken spots. I heard in a song yesterday that when we find those cracked spaces in each other, we’re to pour love in there. I loved that picture. I know Jesus did that, and yes, I do want to resemble him too by loving those who are challenging to me, even those it’s easy to get tired and give up trying.

  9. Jen Ferguson

    We are starting our fall semester of our bible study for the IRL SDG girls and our first topic of conversation before we delve back into John is “belonging” vs. “fitting in.” There is a distinct difference and if we are a group that desires for people to belong, it doesn’t matter about their skin color or hobbies or whatever. They are a part of the group as their authentic selves, not because they have met the mold criteria. Great post.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you mentioned there is a distinction between belonging and fitting in. I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it in terms of definition, but you’re so right. Thanks for a clarifying moment, Jen!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think there are a lot more sports fans among the women folk than we give credit for. 🙂 And lots of lessons that sports can teach us about the rest of life, yes! Thanks, Amy.

  10. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! We have similar football rivalries in my family, so I understand your analogy!
    I often think that I am not as open to other opinions as I would like to be. I think it’s a function of maturing. I think it’s something I’ll be working on all my life. As I get older, I do feel that I am softening up, and I hope that continues. We are all God’s children, so I have a big family! I want to be known as the sister who listens.
    From Lyli’s,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m sure all of us are like that, Ceil–not quite as open to others as we need to be. The beauty begins when we become aware of our blind spots. Then the Lord can turn them inside out. Being known as “the sister who listens” is a wonderful thing to aspire to. Love that!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I assume University of Georgia? You are one of our rivals, if so. 🙂 When my youngest went to the AU-GA game a couple years ago, she was impressed at how sweet the Georgia students were from their Christian group (I don’t remember which group now). Yes, it is possible to be nice to those of other teams. Thanks for being one of those, Sarah. 🙂

  11. Juliet

    Lovely post Lisa. I so agree with you that it is no longer an optional extra to learn about ‘others’ and so come to realise that they are NOT other! We live cheek by jowl in our neighbourhoods and in the virtual world and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not our actions impact on so many and often in ways that would horrify us if we could but see them. Thanks for the reminder. And for such a compassionate post.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “in ways that would horrify us if we could but see them” – you speak truth! If we could just see from God’s perspective (or even the other person’s perspective!), I’m sure we’d be surprised at how ugly we can be. I know I’m guilty as well. Lord, give us vision! Thanks so much for this, Juliet.

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