Not all men are created equal.
The phrase sounds odd, but for me it rings true. I’ve been turning it over in my head in recent days and weeks as I’ve reflected upon my own story and absorbed the journeys of close friends. Together they reveal the truth about the statement oft cited that tells us that the opposite is true.
Of course, we all value the belief that we are all on a level playing field, and I will admit the lens through which you view that phrase will change the way you measure it. But in the real world in which we live and move, work and play, step up and back down, we are definitely anything but equal.
This entire last year has informed the lesson I’ve learned about (in)equality. A few months ago, some of our closest friends gave birth to a beautiful baby girl troubled by multiple medical issues. Their lives since this moment have been a rollercoaster both inside and out with a whirlwind of emotions accompanying a constant rotation of appointments, tests, and results. Even now there are more questions than answers.
More recently, another set of close friends gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. We recently had dinner with them to hear the wonderful news about the “easy transition” back to home life with word that it “is easier than we thought it would be” and reports of decent sleep.
With one couple, we toast their good fortune and praise God for the joys of parenthood. With another couple, we cry, grieve, pray, and process amidst the blessing of new life. The disparity between the experiences has only served to bolster the belief that all men are definitely not created equal.
As for myself, I am in a frustrating season. Nine months after leaving the church I started and served to create space and write about topics long-circling in my head, I have yet to truly begin the task. In the name of security and stability, I took a full-time editorial gig that has me abandoning the laptop at the first possible moment after finishing my “day job.” The creative desire has left; the spark left unattended. No progress has been made.
And yet I desire the desire. Not only that but the shadow side has appeared again and again in my mind, pointing at those with the freedom I yearn for and denouncing them or myself in some way or another. The curse of comparison comes in and tells me that I should be able to do that. What’s wrong with me? What’s not wrong with them?
To say that all men are not created equal is a phrase that disturbs. But maybe it needs to. Maybe it needs to hurt. As Montag says in Fahrenheit 451, “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while.” So maybe it’s good to admit that we all aren’t going to enjoy the same luxuries or experience the same pain. When it comes to the human experience, we are all different.
Not all men are created equal.
I had a slight epiphany two weeks ago, which in my current period of spiritual and emotional desolation amounts to a minor miracle. My wife and I are moving to Nashville and we visited Church of the Redeemer on Sunday morning to take in the community and to hear my friend Thomas McKenzie—yes, the famously succinct movie reviewer—deliver the sermon. I had not attended a church since leaving my own, so the entire affair felt a bit foreign, but there in the liturgy came the heartening words of Psalm 72:
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
In the midst of the psalm, I was struck by the couplet of mountains and hills and have not shaken the image since. This typically happens to me when I find my own story in the midst of whatever it is that seizes my attention. Mountains and hills. Babies with questions and without. Some following their passions and others struggling to break free. All men, all things are not created equal.
They are, however, given an equal task.
This was not the point of the fine sermon. Perhaps it’s not even the main theme of the psalm. But within the psalmist’s plea for God to make all things right in the world, I was struck by the realization that it is not our wealth, status, vocation, looks, or gifts that unite us. Rather, it is our calling.
If God is to make everything right in the world, then he will do so with both mountains and hills. It is the mountain’s job to do much with what it has been given and bring prosperity to the people. For the smaller hill, another task is given: to bring the fruit of righteousness. While the poetic language has many layers of beauty and meaning, I was arrested by the equality of the task given to an inequal creation. Everything working together for the sake of the common good.
When I say ‘inequal,’ I don’t mean to insinuate value. I suppose that, more than anything, I mean our place in life. Whether or not we like it, we are confronted by the frustratingly ‘inequal’ circumstances of our lives and those around us. Some mothers will bear many children, while others only the grief of their frustrations. My own miserable season stands in stark contrast to those I insist on comparing myself to. Inequality is all around. We must be bothered by it.
Yet I have learned that these are things that we cannot control. We all scratch our heads at the artist who creates beautiful work that’s never seen or heard. We all shake our heads at a tragedy like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We all bow our heads when we wish to reverse the diagnosis. All men, all things are not created equal, at least through this lens. In short, life is not fair.
But what I can control is my own response, the measure in which I am ushering in the Kingdom of God. Whether a mountain or a hill (or even a valley), there is a part to play in the greater ongoing story of God in the world. As the psalmist concludes, “Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory.”
Rather than focus on the inequality, my only concern should be in the equal task I share with all men and all creation.