I used to love playing an obscure board game called TriBond. Very few people I know have ever even heard of it, much less ever played it. Players choose a card on which are listed three seemingly disparate items and then attempt to name what links the three in similarlity.
I love this game because I’m a “sorter” at heart. I find delight in sorting things into categories: household items so I can store them together; tasks so I can get more accomplished in a day; books in my collection so I can find them more easily; and people so I can know who I belong with and whom to avoid…essentially.
None of these practices makes one iota of difference in the grand scheme of things except for the last one—sorting people.
I guess the problem comes when I sort people the same way I sort objects: superficially.
I was sitting on my patio yesterday on one of Colorado’s idyllic blue-sky-days absorbing the stillness, when across my sightline passed an airliner in its flightline to DIA, a hawk soaring as it screeched, and a skipping yellow and black Tiger Swallowtail. I was struck with delight as I realized a TriBond category had just emerged—things that fly!
That’s the only way to sort them together. One is a non-living thing that is made of steel, functioning on petrolium. Another is a carnivore with feathers and the last is utterly fragile and lives only days, while sipping necter from wildflowers. Their needs are wholly different as are their capacities for survival.
When I’m sorting people, I make all kinds of categories for them like strong/weak, hard-worker/lazy, smart/average, analytical/ creative, snobs/”real”, winners/losers, those who drive cars/those who ride the bus, Walmart shoppers/ Whole Foods shoppers, cigarette smokers/ Vape smokers, DVD/ streaming, Microsoft/Apple, those who work out/ those who don’t…ever. When I’m sorting people (wish I didn’t but I do), I’m not taking into account their needs nor their capacities for survival.
I volunteer several hours a week working as a counselor with homeless and recovering addicts at The Crossing, a powerful transformational program supported by the Denver Rescue Mission. When I started there I sorted my clients into just three categories: poor, homeless, addicts in recovery. As I sat with them week after week hearing their stories of pain, abuse and abandonment, rejection, and loss, I realized I was developing more categories but they were categories I myself could be sorted into with them: lost a sibling in death, estranged from extended family, listened to my parents fight as a child while huddling under the covers, feeling rejected by a parent, abandoned by a father, deceived by a loved one, disillusioned by parents’ divorce, living in a family with too many kids and not enough money, questioning past decisions, feeling loss of identity, stuggling to right the wrongs of my past, loneliness, anger, fears, hopelessness, depression. The more I listened, the less the categories mattered. We were the same in our needs. Their capacities for survival astounded me. My respect for them as individuals grew. I learned from them deep truths about myself and about the God who made us all.
Working with this population has reduced my sorting of people to just two categories: the living/ the dead. If you are alive, we share experiences because life is hard and people are flawed and broken. It is a privilege every day to see folks as individuals with the assumption that we have shared experiences and finding common ground, to build something good, beautiful and loving.
I’ll probably never stop sorting my tasks or my books and that’s OK. But with God’s help, I am committed to stop sorting people.