Dirt vs. Sand: Thoughts on Being Human
I’ve been asked the silliest of questions over the past two and a half years, most of them from the inquisitive minds of kids who have such an (understandably) narrow view of the world they’ve only been exploring for five years. Often times I’ve just laughed as I’ve tried to provide logic to minds that are blown by my insight. I mean who knew that polka dot isn’t a color or that tomorrow is in fact not right now but the day that will happen after we go to bed and wake up? Life is complicated.
But sometimes the questions stop me in my tracks. They demand me to stop and explore what I really believe. Like when we got into a pretty deep conversation about if God created brown people from dirt and white people from sand. There is something cute in the idea, but the implications of God creating people with different skin tones out of different materials reinforces this notion that we’re different, even in God’s eyes, because of the color of our skin. That’s a false narrative, but one we’re so quick to believe and one that historically has been projected into our American human experience.
We’re studying Africa currently. We are passionate about helping scholars understand that black history did not start on slave ships. When we believe that narrative, we believe that anything better than slavery is an improvement and therefore a sign that things are "ok", that anything better than slavery is a gift. That is a lie. When we start with slavery, we take away humanity.
As humans we’re prone to taking away the humanity of others. Often it’s not intentional. The other day we were watching a cartoon in Swahili and it brought up this new revelation that not everyone speaks the same language. One scholar asked why the characters didn't speak "human". Just a few days later we were having a less academic conversation about Batman which inspired curiosity about Batman's language. We agreed that he speaks English, like us, to which a scholar said, “Oh, so he’s normal.”
It’s so easy to see the world through the lens of "me". That my language, my beliefs, my preferences, my assumptions are normal. Anything that drifts from my view of me is weird, is other, is less than human. I wish that this was just something that we grew out of, but I’m learning it’s hard work to change that lens.
In Ephesians, Paul talks of how Jesus "through His flesh broke down the dividing wall of hostility." In that time the temple was made up of multiple courts divided up by gated walls. The presence of God dwelt in the center of the temple in a place called the Holy of Holies. But not everyone was permitted to worship in the presence of God. Gentiles could only come as far into the temple as the outer court, then there was a gated wall keeping them out. Jewish women could get a little closer to God in the second court, but then there was a gated wall keeping them out. Jewish men could pass through all the courts and were the only people allowed to worship in God’s presence. Archaeologists have found an inscription on the outer wall of the temple, the one that kept the Gentiles separate from the Jews that said, "Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.”
The church may not inscribe this on our walls, but we’re still far too often guilty of having this posture.
But Paul inserts that this wall is anti-Jesus. Jesus died so “that he might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
The lens of me breeds hostility. It builds walls that keep people not like us out. It takes away their humanity. It’s anti-Jesus. The five, six, and seven-year-olds I get to spend my days with reveal the reality that hostility is the way our hearts naturally lean, that from the jump we’re anti-Jesus.
That fact is quite frankly the most humanizing thing we know. The reality that whether you are brown or peach or rich or broke or sick or heathy or fast or slow…you need Jesus. You did from the moment you took you first breath and you will until to the last breath you inhale…that is true of every human, everywhere.
And so we work hard to shift the lens of me to the lens of the cross. It’s at the cross where every identifying factor about every person melts away except one, we are fiercely and equally loved by a God who has made a way through the sin back to Him through Jesus.
It’s this reality that makes us authentically human.