To set the scene, it is 1960 in a very small town in southeast Texas. Our school in 12 grades all on one campus, with about 50 students per grade level. School buses travel many miles each day to round up even that many kids, some of whom ride 35 miles one way on a bus each day. It is a proud little town, it's identity largely tied to it's high school sports teams. Many of my friends' parents have lived there their entire lives, and many of my friends will do the same.
A small group of 4th grade girls is standing at the swing set on the school playground, talking. The presidential campaign is well underway. I know now that the statements coming out of these little girls' mouths only mimicked what they were hearing at home. My parents were very a-political, so I wasn't hearing anything at home. One of the girls said, "But they can't elect Kennedy; he's a Catholic, and he will tell the Pope all the secrets."
Now, I knew some about Kennedy. But neither I nor any girl in that group knew much, if anything about Catholicism. We are talking true ignorance here - none of us knew anyone who was of the Catholic faith, and the "facts" we did know were incredibly skewed.
What I remember is my thought processes. I remember, for the first time, being consciously aware that there was something different about me; not better, but different. I didn't think like my friends. The faulty logic in the statement really bothered me. Pondering it now, I think two related things had broken through into consciousness. I was intellectually gifted without a real outlet for that, and maybe closely related, I somehow intuitively knew that this little community was not the center of the universe, that there was more out there - more experiences, more ways of being, more ways of thinking. Except for God's divine intercession, I had no reason to know or believe this; I just did.
That belief - that there was more - allowed me to follow God's leading into the bigger world that he called me to. Whenever I am in a "big world" situation, such as when I had the opportunity several years ago to visit China, the thought always surfaces, "This is a huge thing for a little kid from southeast Texas. Thank you God for making my world large."
But back to that playground. I realize now that that little playground conversation was also the first time I consciously suppressed what I thought to be true. I felt the need to argue with the statement and it's lack of logic, but I didn't. Fearing being ridiculed and ostracized, I kept my thoughts to myself, and in many situations, for many years now, I have been doing the same.
I'm guessing I was the only liberal democrat in the entire fourth grade. And I am often still the only one in a room of friends, but for the rest of my days, I am going to take a chance. I am going to live authentically (but tactfully) and trust God with the results.