One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is “I have other sheep who are not of this sheep pen.” (John 10.16) When I was younger we used the word “fold” instead of “sheep pen,” but the meaning is the same. Jesus is telling us, “Look, I have other followers who are not like you.”
As a kid, I took this as affirmation that life exists on other planets, and that “space aliens” are real. In my college days I began to understand that perhaps people of other religions were like sheep in another pen. And today, as Jim Ginn and I work on our small-but-not-tiny house in the Methow Valley, the message feels even more personal. I am like a sheep who lives in multiple pens.
The photo with this blog is my view as I write this. I’m sitting in a trailer on our lot. Outside I see wild flowers, mountains, puffy clouds, sun, a few houses, and no people. It’s actually an event when someone passes by our lot, either on foot, on bike, or in a car or truck. It happens seldom enough that we usually notice, and often wave or say “Hi.” I took our dog Otto out for a peaceful walk this morning – we didn’t meet any other living creatures to set him off.
Compare that to life in Seattle. We have a peekaboo view of mountains, but surrounded by houses and large trees. When I walk to the store or to church I always see other people, and rarely speak to or wave at anyone. Walks with Otto are a constant game of “avoid all babies and other dogs,” because they send him into Tazmanian Devil mode. And I not only act differently, I feel different in the two places.
I’ve started noticing not only how different life is in the Methow Valley as compared to Seattle, but how different my attitudes are, even on some of the major issues of our day.
I remember my working days in Seattle, when commuting downtown often meant squeezing into an already-too-full bus with a mixture of business people and students and street kids, then creeping along clogged streets to our various destinations. Jim G had a different experience the other week when he needed to ride Okanogan County transit to get to Omak to rent a car when our pickup broke down. He took a total of five bus rides, and was the only passenger on three of them. The drivers said it isn’t unusual for them to drive an entire route without a passenger. And the routes are miles and miles long, on empty highways. The few other passengers he did meet all “smelled a bit” or didn’t have the $1 bus fare.
So how might those experiences shape one’s attitude toward paying for public transit? In Seattle, I see it as a no-brainer. More transit is needed desperately, and anyone who votes against it seems out-of-touch or greedy or ignorant. But in Okanogan County? I might classify transit as a government boondoggle, a perhaps-well-meaning effort that serves very few people, costs a ton, and that I may never use. Dare I say a waste of money?
How might my opinion change on more of a hot-button issue, like gun control? The other day we went to a local auto repair shop to retrieve our pickup, Earl, who was finally running again. At one point we walked with the mechanic into a room that looked like a combination conference room, storage room, and living room to get an engine additive. On the way I saw a shotgun propped up in a corner. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Not a bad idea for the next time I see a snake in front of our trailer.” When in Seattle I have decidedly different views on firearms, preferring that they be few and far away. Armed police officers make me nervous, let alone random shotguns in people’s places of business.
As humans we share so much, not the least of which is our fragile planet. Even in our deeply divided nation we have much in common – basic needs for food, safety, shelter, love. And we often live in very different sheep pens, which means we can also feel quite different from each other, and hold opposite opinions on crucial issues for justifiable reasons. So how can we get along? How can we let each other live to the fullest?
It starts with recognizing that we are sheep who live in different sheep pens.