It was a beautiful day and I was happy to be standing outside.
I was waiting for my beloved, who was shopping in the store as I stood out on the sidewalk basking in the sun. A gentleman walked up next to me and said, “why do you think it has to be this way?” I responded with, “depends on what way you’re talking about.”
My immediate sense was that he was surprised that I actually engaged him in conversation. I want to own on the front-end the assumption I made in this moment. He appeared to be a person experiencing homelessness and as such, my sense was that he was used to being ignored by most people.
So I asked him again, “what way are you talking about?”
He responded, “we always put people in boxes. Some guys were just giving me a hard time because I’m not from around here. And a couple of days ago I was told that I couldn’t use the shelter up on Third Street. So then I went to a different shelter and they only take women and children. Russia or US, from here not from here, male or female, older or younger… Why does it have to be that way?!”
We went on to have a good conversation that lasted over 10 minutes. We focused mostly on “boxes” and the apparent need to categorize and separate people. This is not a new pondering for me, but I was particularly taken by this gentleman’s perspective and worldview.
From the US or not from the US, from Minnesota or not from Minnesota, from the cities or from greater Minnesota, from Minneapolis or from St. Paul, older or younger, female, male or other gender identity, on and on the list goes. Self categorizing and the presumptive categorizing of others.
Why does it need to be this way?!
I understand tribalism, I understand affinity groups, I understand the need to affiliate. Yet when it causes greater separation, a greater lack of understanding, it quickly moves to divisiveness.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.” Our faith calls us to be both respectful of the diversity of God’s creation, while at the same time embracing our holy connectedness. All should be respected for how they have been created uniquely in the image of God. All should be embraced for being a part of God’s creation.
I truly appreciated the chance encounter and conversation with this gentleman on the sidewalk. All “appearances” would’ve suggested that there was a great separation between the two of us. The reality is that we not only had much in common, but much that connected us.