Je­sus taught us about bridg­ing our dif­fer­ences; we’d do well to heed him

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - EXPLORE - BY GLENNA CHRIS­TENSEN Spe­cial to the Idaho States­man

In Septem­ber I took a trip along the Mis­sis­sippi from St. Louis to New Or­leans. The pur­pose of the trip was to visit (and climb) sev­eral mounds built by the an­cient Mis­sis­sip­pian cul­ture. On our jour­ney we stud­ied mounds built as early as 1700 B.C. and cul­tures that ex­isted into the mid-1800s.

Many of the thou­sands of mounds through­out the Mid­west were plowed over by farm­ers, raided for top­soil or fill by builders, and flat­tened for park­ing lots or de­vel­op­ment by cities. It has been only in the past few decades that the cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the mounds has been rec­og­nized.

While ex­plo­ration of the mounds has yielded in­for­ma­tion about the cul­ture of the peo­ples who built and lived around the mounds, the most ex­ten­sive in­for­ma­tion comes, iron­i­cally, from the records of the Euro­pean ex­plor­ers who dec­i­mated them.

Her­nando de Soto spent three or four years (15391543) trav­el­ing from Florida up through the Caroli­nas into the Mid­west, seiz­ing town af­ter town, de­mand­ing their win­ter corn stor­age and other sup­plies. He mas­sa­cred en­tire vil­lages as a les­son to oth­ers that they should do as he asked. De­part­ing with the com­mu­nity food sup­ply, he gave no thought to win­ter sur­vival of his vic­tims.

Shortly af­ter my re­turn from New Or­leans, the States­man re­ported the re­open­ing of the Idaho Anne Frank Hu­man

Rights Me­mo­rial in Boise and the ded­i­ca­tion of the Mar­i­lyn Shuler Class­room for Hu­man Rights. A new sculp­ture, the Spi­ral of In­jus­tice, was also re­vealed.

The re­porter de­scribed the sculp­ture as “an ex­am­i­na­tion of ‘the Other’, or a per­son who is per­ceived by a group as not be­long­ing, who are of­ten tar­geted be­cause of class, race, gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity, age, abil­ity, na­tion­al­ity or re­li­gious pref­er­ences .... ” “The Other” is de­picted wrapped around “a down­ward spi­ral of hu­man be­hav­ior.” The spi­ral has words de­scrib­ing ac­tions that grow in­creas­ingly more neg­a­tive in treat­ment of oth­ers: lan­guage (crit­i­cism), avoid­ance, dis­crim­i­na­tion, vi­o­lence and elim­i­na­tion.

The be­hav­ior I find so egre­gious in de Soto’s treat­ment of the na­tive cul­tures con­tin­ues to­day. We are still af­flicted with eth­no­cen­tric­ity. Too many peo­ple be­lieve that they, or their fam­ily, or cul­ture, are the only ones who have it fig­ured out. Those of dif­fer­ent be­liefs, whether po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, re­li­gious or other­wise, are wrong.

“We are quick to de­mand tol­er­ance but loath to ex­tend it to oth­ers,” writes Se­na­tor Or­rin Hatch. He ar­gues peo­ple should recom­mit to plu­ral­ism, which “rec­og­nizes that there is not just one way to achieve the good life, but mul­ti­ple — and it does its best to ac­com­mo­date for each.”

Be­hav­ior re­sult­ing from a fail­ure to ex­tend tol­er­ance to oth­ers may echo the Spi­ral of In­jus­tice from hurt­ful, crit­i­cal lan­guage down to the vi­o­lence demon­strated in Pitts­burgh and too many other places.

Why can’t we ac­cept dif­fer­ences? I think it has to do with fear. A fear that we might be wrong and some­one else right. A fear of change. A fear of the un­fa­mil­iar — whether peo­ple or ideas.

It may be un­com­fort­able to as­so­ciate with peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent, and it is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand some­one if you are afraid of them. Yet taking the time and mak­ing the ef­fort to get ac­quainted with oth­ers, lis­ten­ing to their ideas or be­liefs, is the best way to al­lay fear.

You may learn that other peo­ple have the same fears, the same con­cerns, the same hopes and dreams that you do. They worry about the mort­gage. They worry about their chil­dren. They hope to be able to buy a car — or maybe a house. They want a steady job so they can sup­port their fam­ily, and maybe take a va­ca­tion.

You may also dis­cover that they share many of your val­ues. Fam­ily is im­por­tant. Good schools and safe neigh­bor­hoods. Hon­esty. Kind­ness. Help­ing each other.

When Je­sus gave the para­ble of the Good Sa­mar­i­tan, he was teach­ing about reach­ing across our dif­fer­ences to serve one an­other. He did not teach that we should all be the same. He taught that we should love our neigh­bor with­out re­gard to his na­tion­al­ity, re­li­gion or other dif­fer­ences.

If you haven’t done so, take time to visit the Anne Frank Me­mo­rial. Read the in­scrip­tions. Look at the Spi­ral of In­jus­tice. Pon­der. Re­solve not only to avoid that neg­a­tive down­ward spi­ral, but to speak up when you ob­serve such be­hav­ior.

Glenna M. Chris­tensen is a mem­ber of The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints.the Idaho States­man’s weekly faith col­umn fea­tures a ro­ta­tion of writ­ers from many dif­fer­ent faiths and per­spec­tives.

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