My first airplane flight was exciting. I got a window seat so I could see everything below. As the jet climbed toward its cruising altitude, I looked down and tried to identify everything. I quickly realized it was impossible. What town is that? What river is that? Which state are we over now? I couldn’t tell.
It struck me that I was so accustomed to thinking of the world like a map, with all those dashed and dotted lines separating things — dividing one state from another, one county from another, one town from whatever surrounded it. But those lines don’t really exist. They’re all imaginary. The hills, the rivers, the towns, the woods — they are all part of one indivisible thing.
Just like us.
Think of all the ways in which we draw imaginary lines between ourselves and others. We see our needs as separate from others’ needs, our family as distinct from other families, our country as independent from other countries, our religion as better than other religions. We draw make-believe lines between ourselves and those who are different from us in any way. And then we live as though those lines are real, even though they’re not.
We imagine ourselves as being on the “right” side of our made-up lines. We get angry if anyone refuses to respect those lines or — heaven forbid — if they challenge and try to erase our lines. And we bristle when others draw their own lines and decide we are on the “wrong” side of them.
Isn’t this at the heart of so many of our problems? Our make-believe lines encourage conflict, greed, injustice, discrimination, hatred, selfishness, self-righteousness, indifference — all the ills that infect our world. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to gerrymander God’s creation to benefit ourselves at the expense of others. We think we can redistrict God’s indivisible world to suit our individual purposes.
And we lose sight of the underlying truth: The lines don’t really exist.
Religion ought to help us with this, but sadly ends up showing more interest in drawing lines than in eradicating them. That’s not how it was intended. Jesus was a Spirit-filled eraser who refused to respect the artificial lines that people drew in his day. To him, there was no such thing as an outcast, regardless of where those lines were drawn. He rejected the artificial lines dividing the first from the last. He stepped over the lines and ignored them so consistently and so passionately that he ended up getting killed for it, executed on two intersecting lines.
His spirit inspired Paul, who used the analogy of different body parts that are interdependent and interconnected — no lines lines of division. He wrote eloquently about how the artificial lines of his time — the ones dividing men and women, Jews and others — had been erased. He insisted that in God’s eyes, there are no such distinctions.
In our time, John Lennon wrote a powerful song imagining a world in which we have eliminated the fictitious lines between ourselves and others, between our religion and other religions, between our country and other countries, between what we have and what others need. He challenged us to see the world as it really is — undivided. Many dismissed the song as unreal, then went back to living by their unreal lines.
So, there is the challenge. Are we willing to stop pretending that our lines are real? Can we recognize that we are all part of one family — different but never divided? Can we start healing and uniting instead of judging and dividing?
Realistically, lines will always be part of our maps. But there’s never any place for them in our hearts. God doesn’t recognize any boundaries that we invent to separate us from others in any way.
Nor should we.