In County Meath, Ireland, at Newgrange, an elderly woman eyed my husband and I as we waited for the shuttle that would take us to the passage tomb. She’d ridden behind us on the tour bus; she seemed very nice. But she was definitely watching us.
At length, after we’d taken the shuttle up to the tomb and walked around inside, we walked outside to inspect the perimeter. She followed us, then cleared her throat and looked again at our thin long-sleeved shirts. “Aren’t you cold? Do you need anything?”
I blinked. She was wearing a fur-lined parka belted around the waist and was clutching her hood around her throat with one hand against the wind. It was around 55 degrees, and we didn’t even have jackets. It hadn’t even occurred to us to bring them on a day that promised no rain. Coming from a climate that regularly dips into freezing temperatures in the winter, we consider 50 degrees and up to be comfortable, 60 to be ideal, and 70-and-up to be air-conditioning weather. “No,” my husband said, “we like this weather pretty well. Feels good!”
“Really?” she said, incredulous, and then paused. Her next words explained it: “I’m from Florida.”
It happened again to us in San Diego in June: a paradise of 70-degree days, comfortable breezes, and cloudy skies that we infinitely preferred to our home climate of 9 billion percent humidity. A woman beside me in a coffee shop, finding out that I wasn’t a native, shook her head. “You’ll have to come back later,” she told me, peering suspiciously up at what looked to me like a perfect sky. “This isn’t a great time, weather-wise. We call this the June gloom.”
Later that December, in Rome, my husband and I navigated through crowds of Italians wearing parkas, earmuffs, scarves and gloves in fifty-degree weather. Mothers buttoned their children up to the chin. For our part, we just layered on long-sleeved shirts and went about sightseeing, dreading our return to “real” cold: the twenty-degree ice-frosted slap in the face that would greet us when we stepped off the plane.
What I have learned about the weather in my travels is that no one seems to experience it in quite the same way. Other people’s “intolerable cold” is our “hey, we don’t have to wear jackets!” We scoff at the newscasters who call 85 degrees and sunny “perfect.” Meanwhile, people from warmer climates live in terror of forty-degree days and close up shops and businesses over a half-inch of snow. And it seems like every person from Arizona offers up the same reassurance to those who hesitate before visiting: “It’s a dry heat! Really!”
But in all this variance is a valuable lesson about human beings: we’re different, and we all experience things differently. We each have a set of preferences and likes and dislikes. And that’s okay.
But I forget to apply that principle to believers. In fact, sometimes – without even intending to – I expect that other Christians will always respond to situations or think the same things or share the same feelings or hobbies or preferences that I do. And that’s hardly the case! It’s true that we have a lot of shared beliefs and principles in common, but sometimes that’s where the similarity ends. Christians are raised in all kinds of cultures, in all kinds of places and in all kinds of families.
Some Christians are campers. Some Christians wouldn’t even dream of going anywhere if there wasn’t a hotel involved. Some Christians are vegetarians and vegans, and some Christians look forward to a Friday night medium-rare steak dinner all week. Some Christians prize a lifestyle that involves marathons and 5k runs and bike rides; some would prefer Netflix and the company of their couch. Some Christians cherish museums and good books and others really just want to go play paintball and share a pizza.
Your “this is so boring I am dying” is someone else’s fascinating sermon. The weekly fellowship that you look forward to the most is the event that another person attends with a sigh. That book or that pastor that moves you so deeply might get a shrug from someone else. And that’s fine! It’s fine.
The problem is that a lot of the time we transform these insignificant differences into value systems that we use to judge others. Our “I refuse to go out in weather above 75 degrees” turns into “people who like hot weather are ridiculous.” Our “I love to run a good 5k!” turns into “people who don’t run on the weekends are just lazy.” We side-eye people who don’t love the same pastor or book or singer or movie that we do. (“How can it not move you? Are you made of stone?”) We cling so tightly to our likes and our dislikes and our preferences and our hobbies that they become our identity, and we struggle to understand those who don’t feel the same way.
I will never understand the people who believe that Christians are some giant monolith of people all with similar interests, likes, and dislikes. How boring that would be if it were the case. When 1 Peter 3:8 encourages believers to be “like-minded,” it is referring to the common ground all believers have in Christ – to our mandate to “love one another, [to be] compassionate and humble.” What we have in common is a risen Lord and savior and a series of guidelines about what we are to do in the time that we have been given here.
Our likes and our dislikes are just details. And they differ from believer to believer, from church to church, from country to country. We’re foolish to let superficial and artificial differences divide us, and the church will only suffer for it if we do.