On Monday, per the birthday request of our eight-year-old, we went to Chuck E. Cheese for supper. It's amazing how fun pizza, salad bar, and a few game tokens can be.
When we arrived, our kindergartener saw one of her classmates from the elementary school eating pizza with his parents.
The two immediately leapt up, ran to each other, and embraced in an affectionate hug. The hug included jumping up and down with glee.
This child's family is recently arrived in Arkansas from Saudi Arabia. They are studying English this year, then doing graduate work in mathematics and organic chemistry starting next year. I had yet to meet the parents, so we spent a bit of time in conversation. They're so nice.
Then I went to eat salad with our family, but I couldn't get one thing out of my mind.
I have devoted my life to proclaiming a gospel and forwarding a movement (the church) that centers itself in a belief system that is, however you look at it, about the "layer" of reality beyond the layer we know empirically. Although Christians are committed to caring for the neighbor (and we really are, in our best moments) we believe this care of neighbor arises out of something we have experienced at another level--God, the Christ, grace, the experience of faith. We are incurably metaphysical.
But you know, that layer also introduces something into our hearts and minds that my daughter and her classmate have yet to adopt. I see this family, and I see difference. I see Saudi Arabians. I see Muslims. I think of them based on their nationality, and their religion. It helps that I'm a liberal Christian of some sort so I am favorably disposed and neighborly towards them because of my faith commitments.
But I still see them through those additional layers, and not as themselves, who they are simply as human beings.
My daughter sees her friend as her friend. He's her friend first. I'm not even sure she knows his religion, or his nationality.
I know this is not a profound revelation. Jesus himself taught us to have faith like children (Luke 18:16-17).
But it bothers me that I can't get beyond the metaphysical layers. I long ago fell in love with the Grundtvigian dictum, "Human first, then Christian." But the truth is the Christian religious layer always intrudes itself.
That hug between them has printed itself on my soul. I tear up every time I remember it.
Because any religion that would teach those two children to see each other as different, less valued, less saved, less human, is simply not worth the paper it is inscribed on or the community in which it is practiced.
I think my new religion is going to be this simple--you are my friends, and I hug you, and we dance.