I am a bit perplexed and puzzled. I seem to be at some sort of crossroads. I think I am gaining some clarity....piece by puzzle piece. However, two conversations have started this ball rolling. One was with someone who was answering some questions put to him. He made a statement about differences in relationships. He didn't bash anyone. He didn't assault anyone's character. He didn't put on an air of superiority. He just made the observation that differences led to tension which required an action and the necessity to keep an eye on that tension before it became harmful or negative. Simple yet very profound.
Just yesterday, I had a second conversation with my boss, who is also my friend and brother. He was talking about the tension in relationships and the need to manage that tension. He viewed this tension as not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of and to use as a barometer. The way he put things, this tension could actually be a tool...a very useful tool in decision making and relationship building.
So, these two ideas...differences and tension is what I am trying to understand and measure in my own life.
Growing up I was surrounded by differences. (But different was normal so it didn't seem different. Does that make sense?) We spent as much time at my grandparents house as we did our own. My grandparents were immigrants. Their neighborhood was full of immigrants. Different colors, languages, traditions--truly a "melting pot". I never encountered racial or ethnic slurs because everyone was our "neighbor".
The first time I really became aware that "different" meant being treated "different" was after I graduated from high school. A close friend of mine had moved to Charleston. My brother was in the Navy and stationed in Nevada. I wanted to see them both but couldn't afford airfare to both destinations. So I took the bus.
I left Wayne, Michigan and headed to downtown Detroit. When I got on the bus there, I was one of the only caucasians on the bus. I didn't think anything of it until the Mediterranian guy in the seat next to me started talking about what "pigs" Jamacans were. Um, needless to say...that wasn't a good thing. I was the minority until we hit the South. Then I noticed that the behavior of the blacks on the bus changed. Less free and talkative to more quiet and subdued. After I left Charleston, heading out west, I tried to talk to a Hispanic kid in the seat next to me. (That is what you do on a bus....either sleep or talk to whoever is sitting next to you...you have alot of time on your hands!) He wouldn't look me in the eye or respond to my small talk. When we got out at a stop in Texas, a white lady sitting behind us took me aside and let me know that it would be inappropriate for someone of his race to be seen talking to a white girl. Yikes! I didn't know that my overtures of friendliness could have caused him problems. We hit Arizona where I learned that my connecting bus had left 15 minutes prior to my arrival. I was young and scared. My lay-over would now be 6 hours. I was holding back tears until I saw this older couple...the man was holding a Bible. Wow! Christians! Just when I needed a friend. I went up to them and said, "Hi, I see you are Christians. I am too!" They just looked me up from head to toe and never said a word before they turned their backs to me. I did cry after that. Once I reached Nevada, the locals complained about the "no good, lazy Indians".
On my way home across the Northern US, the bus was filled with variety in age and race. I hooked up with a very proper black lady on her way to Chicago for a Baptist convention, a couple a few years older than I was who returning from backpacking, a harried looking white grandmother and her two preschool age grandchildren, and a guy in his early to mid-30's who wore an earring before earrings were popular and smoked like fiend. Christians, non-Christians, young, old, couples, singles, men, women, black, and white. Somehow, despite our differences, we became a rag-tag little family for the two days we rode the bus together, watching out for each other, helping one another, talking, and laughing.
On my trip I had two totally different experiences with differentness and the tension they brought. It is easy for me to see and guage when it comes to race, gender, or age. But what about personality and temperment differences? Should the tensions resulting from those be something to overlook or overcome? What are the tensions I can live with and what are the tensions that could end up breaking a relationship if lived with too long? Is it Christian and loving to say I can love you from a distance only? How do I maintain perspective without turning the person who I have differences with into a perceived enemy? How do I distance myself yet leave doors open in these relationships? What is it that I am truly looking for in these relationships? When is it the right time to move on? What is God's take on the whole thing? What if God wants me to keep these relationships?
What if I am making too much of the whole thing and it is really no big deal? LOL. I need to think about this more, but would love to hear what you think.