Fire Hydrants and Trees

It seems that, when keeping up with what’s going on in the world, I inevitably come across a story that makes me ask myself “Surely it isn’t that hard to not be horrible?” Another terrible crime, another wounded victim’s survival story, another person behind bars for some atrocity or other. There is no escape from the stories of pain inflicted on one human being by another. On good days, however, I find myself asking “Surely it isn’t that hard to see the positive efforts people are making?” Stories of unity, people coming together to support others, striving towards healing. These shining stories rekindle hope for the future, but are often overshadowed by the next horror.

In the modern era of technology, we have the ability to hear about these atrocities in minutes, no matter where in the world we are. This is both a blessing and a curse because, while we are able to remain informed of and in contact with people like never before, we feel entitled to share our opinions and contradict others’. In theory, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing – a polite discussion of different ideas? What could go wrong?! Historically, I believe the answer is “Anything from argumentative Facebook comments to civil war”.

A few years ago, the Storms family owned a Basset hound by the name of Belle (affectionately referred to as Bells, Belly, or Smelly, depending on which way the wind was blowing). Bassets are famously lazy, although they need exercise. When we managed to get Belle up from her never-ending sleep to walk around the block, we had to make sure to hold tightly on to her leash in case she decided to follow after whatever scent caught her nose. Once she was stuck on a particular trail, it was highly difficult to persuade her to leave, no matter how hard you tugged on the leash. She would descend, snuffling, onto a tree, shrub, fire hydrant, etc. and lose interest in everything else.

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In this instance, Belle smelled whatever food Mom was hiding from her

Maybe, in this case, at least, we are all Belle – too caught up with our own trees to pay attention to someone else’s perfectly valid shrub. From one tree, it’s easy to see all people of a certain age or gender or status or belief as the same. From this point of view, however, one bad experience with a person can lead to excluding oneself from many “similar” people who, given the chance, could prove to be very different from the first bad experience. Just because one adolescent lacks proper manners doesn’t mean they all do. A single hypocrite in a church doesn’t mean it’s all rotten. If one girl or guy hurts someone, it doesn’t mean the next one will, too. To avoid a category of people because of one bad experience, or even a handful of them, is to adopt a hopeless attitude towards the world in general.

Driving home from church last Sunday, a heated – uh – “discussion” arose between myself and a sister. Both equally passionate, we began fighting for our own respective sides of the debate – introversion and extroversion. Our own experiences, viewed through the lens of our personality types, made it difficult to see the other’s point.

“Extroverts talk too much.” “Well, it’s because introverts never have anything to say!”

In the end, we landed on the best explanation we could: there isn’t an explanation that can adequately summarize everyone in the two categories. Individuals are too complicated to sum up in one sweeping statement. You can’t describe them all with one short idea.

I think this is especially true from a Christian point of view. Our worldly biases, our fire hydrants and bushes and trees, may encourage us to talk about groups of “similar” people as if they were all the same. Jesus, however, saw us all from the same tree – and He died on it for us. He died for the impolite adolescent, the hypocrite, the hurtful man and woman and child, and everyone else. He rekindled the hope for the future because He IS the hope for the future, and while we try to sum up and categorize groups of people, He calls us by name, under the blanket statement of His love. Who are we to avoid people who don’t share our particular tree, and risk never being able to share His good news with them?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matt. 28:19

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