My suburban Chicago high school had about 4,000 students during my school years. About half of them came from Jewish-heritage households and the other half from Christian-heritage households. I can recall going to my friend Jeff’s house for Seder, and he coming to my house for a Confirmation party. Neither one of us were part of the various “in” crowds – unless being part of no “in” crowd is itself considered to be part of an “in” crowd.
My university had about 7,000 undergraduate students during my college years, once again roughly split between Jewish and Christian heritages. When my friend Leslie held a Seder in her dorm room rather than heading home for the holiday, I was the oldest male in the room (by about two months) and was thus called upon to read the appropriate text for the elder male at a Seder. That I wasn’t Jewish seemed to concern absolutely no one.
When I graduated from theological study several years later, I returned to the Chicago area for my first job as an ordained person. At that same moment in time, one Frank Collin, self-proclaimed “leader” of the “National Socialist Party of America” announced his plan to sponsor a march by party members through the town of Skokie, Illinois, in full nazi regalia – a community in which one in six residents was a Holocaust survivor or was directly related to one. The village of Skokie refused to issue a permit, which led eventually to the Supreme Court granting approval.
As I followed news about that legal process, I realized that I had been given a gift in life which, for whatever reason, those who were attracted to such hatred apparently had not. Without naming it in so many words, I had long since learned that people are individuals with particular life stories and gifts as well as fears and anxieties, and ought to be treated based upon that truth.
In order to become judgmental and hate-filled towards others, the first step is to insist that the other is nothing more than a part of one particular group, assert an undesirable or frightening characteristic to that group, and assert that the characteristic is universally shared by all in that group. One needs to deny the individuality of the other so that the implications of the complexity of each person’s life story is ignored. The resulting pain and destruction are obvious and deeply disheartening.
But God has made each one of us, and calls us again and again to value the other, to see our own shortcomings, and to aspire to move closer to who God wants us to be and to become. When the ways of the world reveal or seem to require us to accept hatred of the other as acceptable, we as people of faith recognize and proclaim the God who made each of us in love, no matter what may come in our complex, confusing and yet so valuable lives.