As the first book in the Bible, Genesis, relates it, separations first occurred between darkness and light, evening and morning, first day and following days, and between sky, land and seas. Additional differentiations followed:
- Vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees
- Sun and moon and stars
- Living creatures in the sea
- Birds in the sky
- Living creatures on the land: wild animals, livestock, and creatures that move along the ground
- Humans: male and female
Throughout the rest of scripture, differentiations continued. The Garden of Eden and outside the garden. Obedience and disobedience. Life and death. Blessed and cursed. Naked and clothed. Favor and disfavor. Good and evil. Good water and flood.
Vegetarian diet and meat-eating diet. Justice and injustice. One language and many languages. God’s chosen people and everybody else.
Righteous and wicked. Freedom and slavery. Land of misery and land of promise. Rulers and subjects. Temporal life and eternal life. Sinners and saints. The Way and other ways. Christians and non-Christians. Heaven and Hell. Old heaven and earth and new heaven and earth.
Individually, we experience differentiation before birth.
At first, we hear sounds, which our little brains begin to categorize as familiar sounds and unfamiliar sounds. We feel things, mostly warm.
Immediately following birth, we notice a difference between light and dark, warmth and cold, things that feel good and things that do not, things that move and things that do not, food things and not food things.
We soon notice that different moving things have unique sounds, although early on we do not know a people from a puppy or a truck from a train.
As time passes, we learn a lot. Not only are there people, but there are parents people, other family people, friend people and strange people.
Different people have different names, looks, smells and demeanors. Although we don’t know what demeanors are, we know that some people are mean, some nice, some loud, some quiet, etc.
People are different from dogs, dogs different from cows, cows different from houses, houses different from stores.
By age two, we mentally understand a surprising array of categories and sub-categories.
We are born into a vastly differentiated world, but differentiation is a process that occurs throughout our lifetimes.
As time passes, things change. Formless and empty one week may be the Garden of Eden the next. Goo-gooing toddler in one photo may be the brilliant beauty walking down the aisle in the next. The prisoners or exiles of one social order may become the presidents of the next. A majority today may prove a minority tomorrow. Illegal actions this year may become legal the next, or vice versa.
This constant change affects our lives. My home state requires a fifteen-year old driver to hold a Learner’s License and drive only with an adult in the car.
However, the day kids turn sixteen and get their Driver’s License, a whole new world opens up for them, and their parents, too.
Everyone faces these and many other types of changes. And, we will continue to face changes for the rest of our lives.
Discombobulation is clearly a part of life as we know it.
When you built your home or business, you were a hundred feet from the road; now the newly widened road nearly meets your front door.
When you bought your car, you were single; now you’ve got a spouse and kids.
When you started your career, business boomed and the opportunities for advancement seemed good; now you are stuck in a dead end job.
Buying your boat was the best day of your life; other than the day you sold it, which was also the best day of your life.
Even worse, some faithful workers may suddenly find themselves jobless, with no retirement, no insurance and loads of debt.
You were once young and healthy; now you spend most of your time and much of your money just trying to stay alive.
When you left this morning the weather was beautiful; now a terrible storm rages around you.
From physiological molecular changes to atmospheric weather changes, one thing is certain in life every day – change.
Yet, change is often resisted.
Consider this letter to the President:
January 31, 1829
The canal system of this country is being threatened by the spread of a new form of transportation known as railroads. The federal government must preserve the canals for the following reasons.
One, if boats are supplanted by railroads, serious unemployment will result. Captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen and lock tenders will be left without a means of livelihood, not to mention the numerous farmers now employed in growing hay for horses.
Two, boat builders would suffer and towline, whip, and harness makers would be left destitute.
Three, canal boats are absolutely essential to the defense of the United States. In the event of the expected trouble with England, the Erie Canal would be the only means by which we could ever move the supplies so vital to waging modern war.
As you may well know, Mr. President, railroad carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by engines which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.
Martin Van Buren
Governor of New York
On the other hand, we may welcome something different.
A country farmer took his family to the big city. Standing in the lobby of a huge department store, the man and his sons watched as an elderly lady very slowly shuffled her way into a box through a large square hole in the wall.
Suddenly, doors appeared out of the sides of the wall, closed together, and the woman disappeared.
About a minute later, the doors opened again and a beautiful young woman stepped out.
The farmer turned to his sons and said, “Boys. Go get your mother and put her in that thing.”
Differentiation is also a state – which means at any given moment in time, all things that can be separated exist separately.
In other words, parts is parts, even as they exist as part of a larger whole.
Consider an image that consists of many dots that, together, form a picture. Though each dot has its own unique identity, each single point also contributes to the composite image.
Likewise, at this very moment, you are a unique individual, separate from all other individuals who have ever lived, are now alive or will ever live.
At the same time, you contain parts. From your DNA strands to your whole self, you are you because of the parts that make up you.
Thus, you are much larger than you appear. You are part of the living things group, the people group, and specific racial, gender, and age groups. You may also belong to various other physical, emotional, spiritual, and social groups that characterize you at any given moment in time.
Additionally, your current parts may also have been someone else’s previous parts. For example, at most graveside services Christian ministers repeat a phrase adapted from God’s curse to the first man, Adam.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” they say.
Scientifically, this fits into the life chain idea. As a tree in the forest dies and decomposes, from its decayed remains springs new life – termites, worms, other plants and trees, and by virtue of other natural connections – birds, animals, and people.
Who knows what amount of history we consume in the eating of one apple? What took place on the very ground from which that apple grew? Perhaps you’ve eaten part of a Triceratops, or a wagon wheel, or a meteor from a vast region in outer space.
Furthermore, diffusion is operative at all levels – gases, liquids and solids, as well as in societies. Our American melting pot culture formed, and continues to form, through the diffusion of a variety of cultures, ideas, laws and traditions from around the world.
Thus, our present states of differentiation – physical, mental, spiritual, spatial, social, and governmental – affect our lives right now.
For example, during World War II, my granddaddy accepted the call to serve in the armed forces. He kissed his family goodbye and boarded a bus with other young men headed for war. After arriving at the dispatching military base, he joined all of the other draftees in preliminary preparations.
As his group prepared to be sworn in, the leaders announced that all men thirty-three years of age and older were to leave and return to their homes.
The date was May 22nd, 1944 – his birthday. Do you know how old he was the day before? Thirty-two.
So, very specifically because of his age on that particular day, my grandfather shortly boarded a bus bound for his wife and four-year old daughter while others boarded planes bound for a war from which some 400,000 U. S. soldiers never returned.
In Germany and Poland a few years earlier, other people were quite unwillingly forced to leave their homes and board trains. For many, the precise state of their race, religion, professions, or associations earned them one-way tickets to imprisonment, abuse, torture, and – for over 8,000,000 civilians just in those two countries in that single war – death.
Years earlier, because of their state, still others were captured like wild animals or herded like cattle and imprisoned aboard slave ships.
Eventually, more than 600,000 people were forcefully transported from the African continent to the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” a new world of opportunity whose shores were elsewhere greatly coveted by millions.
Differentiation plays a major role in society – in all levels at all places in all times.
Without differentiation, categories like parents and children, leaders and followers, citizens and governments, up and down, right and wrong, justice and injustice, mortal and immortal simply do not exist.
Think about it. Where do you live? What galaxy, planet, hemisphere, nation, state, county, community, neighborhood, street, building, room, bed and bedside?
Where do you work? What profession, company, division, department, office, desk?
Where do you worship? With what religion, denomination, branch, local community of faith, and seat do you associate yourself?
I once asked my son to go sit down in church before the service started.
“I can’t,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
And do you know what my little five-year old told me?
“Somebody is sitting in my seat.”
His seat! Barely a child, yet claiming his seat in his pew in his church in his world!
Consider written communication – we use letters, numbers and symbols.
The alphabet differentiates between vowels and consonants.
Numbers differentiate between even and odd, positive and negative, whole and fraction, real and imaginary.
Time, using numbers, is differentiated into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and eras.
Consider war – war breaks out when a differentiated community tangles on an issue or issues.
Some people have what others want – property, money, power.
“I want what you have so I’m going to take it.”
Or, perhaps a community is differentiated by its actions – you hold slaves, or you mistreat people, or you never keep up your yard, or you return an unfavorable jury verdict, and we don’t like it, so we fight, or riot.
A group of friends and I were once singing and playing the guitar in our college dorm hallway around midnight.
Right at the end of one song, and I mean two wonderful chord strokes and belly clinching words from the end, a young man burst out of his room and shouted mean things to our happy little crowd.
Basically, he wanted to sleep, and our behavior impeded his desire, since we clearly did not want to sleep at that particular moment.
Thus, the differentiation lay in that he sought peace, quiet and solitude, while we sought rowdiness, loudness and togetherness.
He ended his obscene tirade of word and gesture by pointing his finger straight at me and shouting, “Unless you want that guitar crammed down your throat, you better break this party up and get to bed.”
Then he rounded the corner and went back to his room.
I loved the song he interrupted.
The last two chords really clinched the whole song.
Although most of the group seemed quite subdued by our irate friend, the only thing I could think of during his whole tirade was that I needed to end the song. I needed resolution.
I knew I couldn’t sleep unless I finished the song, so I ended it. Strum, strum. Nothing fancy, just strum, strum.
Much to my dismay the young man raced back around the corner, fists clinched and teeth grinding.
My so-called friends scattered like flies off a swished burger and left my guitar and I alone to face the enraged beast. He must have understood music because, when I held up my hands and said, “I’m done,” he offered a surprise second ending. Leaving me untouched, he cursed, stomped off our hallway stage back to his room and slammed the door as a grand finale.
From the college dorm to the executive office, the sanctuary to the street corner, the bedroom to the barn, differentiation exists and happens.
Sometimes the differences lead to war, others to peace; sometimes to love, others to hate; sometimes to faith, others to fear; sometimes to understanding, others to prejudice and misunderstanding.
When you are a little part, it helps to remember the big picture.
In the middle of war, people cope better when they remember what the war is about and recognize that the struggles they face come with war.
In the middle of success, people cope better when they remember what success is really about and recognize that the opportunities they face come with success.
In the middle of crisis, people cope better when they remember to be thankful for what they do have and realize that their impairments are usually circumstantial and most likely temporal.
In the middle of faith, people cope better when they remember why they have faith and recognize that the trust they have is part of faith.
It helps to remember that each unique, momentary frame of life exists as part of something much larger and longer – still frames make up segments, segments make up programs, programs make up networks, and networks make up the television medium.
As a professor of mine used to say, “Context is everything.”