Exploring differences

I am interested in the human dynamic that makes something that is different attractive. I find myself drawn to explore new places, meet new people and have experiences that I have not had before. The pull of this attraction is powerful and it may be one of the reasons to have hope in this world.

My mother’s people came from folks who had made some big moves in their lives, but once they settled in Montana, they stayed put. My mom is third generation Montanan on both sides of her family and those folks all lived in the same small town. Her father had spent a few years away from Montana, studying at Northwestern College near Chicago, but then had returned to his home town to practice his profession.

My father’s people, however, are a bit more prone to wandering. We don’t know of any who stayed in the same place for more than two generations anywhere in our family tree. My grandfather was born on a homestead that had become a successful farming and ranching operation, but when he had the opportunity to sell out and start over, he took it. By the time I knew him he was a service station operator beneath the beartooth mountains in Red Lodge Montana. The terrain and the work was vastly different than the life of a dryland wheat farmer in the rolling country of eastern North Dakota.

When I moved from my home town, I was eager. The move was a short distance - only 80 miles - but it was to a city or at least a close to that as we had in Montana. From there I moved to Chicago for graduate school, assuming all the while that I would complete my education and return to Montana to live for the rest of my life. As it turned out, I haven’t gotten around to going back to Montana and I have lived in South Dakota for more years than I have lived in any other state.

Even though we are comfortable in our home in the hills and familiar with our surroundings, however, the urge to wander and the attraction of that which is different is strong. I remain very interested in going to new places and seeing new things. The realities of limited time and finances keep me from traveling full time, but I make up for that with extensive reading and research about different places. I’ve dreamed of a trip to the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska for years and every few years I obtain a new copy of the Milepost, the mile by mile guide to the Alaskan highway. I own campground directories for areas where I have never gone and sometimes spend an evening reading and thinking about trips that I may or may not take.

In a similar way that I enjoy traveling, I enjoy meeting people who are different from me. I have no military experience, but I am fascinated and delighted by the opportunities to tour the Air Force bases where our son-in-law has served. Other than cub and boy scouts I never wore a uniform of any kind until I began serving as a Sheriff’s chaplain a few years ago. I am fascinated by the mindset of law enforcement officers and have cherished the opportunities to get to know them better.

Although we all come from mixed heritages and I certainly don’t know all of the stories of my family tree, it appears that I come from mostly European stock and have no claim to being indigenous. I am attracted to the people I have met who are Native American, visit the neighboring reservations regularly and have many friendships with native speakers and leaders.

I have fairly strong political opinions and I enjoy visiting with those who agree with my point of view, but I also spend a fair amount of my time listening to, working with, and sharing community with those who probably vote different from me on nearly every issue. I spend a bit of energy just trying to figure out how they think and what makes them attracted to their positions and opinions. I am delighted to serve a congregation where the diversity of bumper stickers in the parking lot make it look like our people have little in common. Yet we are drawn to worship together on a regular basis and get to know one another despite our differences.

It is the attraction of the different that gives me much of the hope that I experience. I assume that I’m not the only one who is attracted to things that are new and exotic. I assume that I’m not the only one who shares a fascination with those whose life experiences and opinions are different from my own.

I don’t believe that genuine community is a product of associating only with those who are similar. I believe it comes from making commitments to exploring differences. Of course there are many things about us that are very similar when we look beyond the obvious differences. Our basic anatomy is fairly simple even when there are obvious physical disabilities. The proverb “He puts his pants on one leg at a time” reminds us of how much we have in common with others. I don’t deny that we have many similarities. The differences, however, remain and are important part of what makes others fascinating.

Our differences are worth recognizing and celebrating. After being married for more than 43 years, my wife and I still have the ability to surprise one another from time to time. As well as we think we know one another, there are new discoveries to be made. We treasure and value our differences as much as we do our similarities. I remain absolutely fascinated by her in part because she isn’t me.

Today I head off for a quick trip to visit friends who are participating in the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. I have no political statement to make. I’m not even sure what the right political decision are. But I am fascinated by the people and by their decisions and commitments. There are a few of my friends who disagree with my even visiting the protest. That difference is part of what makes them interesting to me. Today, and the conversations that follow, should be an opportunity to learn even more about the folks with whom we live. in community.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!