E pluribus unum: Out of many, one. In other words, there is unity in diversity. It struck me as I was reflecting on God’s word today—is this not the motto of the United States? And yet, how troubled is our nation by division because of race and religion? As an American in a foreign country right now, I have run into both fellow Americans and people from other countries and it is striking how this subject in one way or another always surfaces.
It has troubled me greatly, and I’ve often thought (and heard other people ask) in the past, “Well, why don’t we just get rid of race,” or “Why don’t we just get rid of religion?” But we cannot. It is a lifetime of stories and moments that have molded me into who I am. It is in a lifetime to come, I hope, that will continue to change me. Most people understand the complexity of what it means to truly know oneself and how that understanding changes in life. Most of us know that one’s sense of identity is determined not only by race, but by life’s experiences and culture within which we have existed. Perhaps at some point, I will explain my own sense of identity, but for now let me say this: I believe it to be true that there is a sacredness in a person’s identity that should not be violated and our identity is derived, in part, by one’s sense of ethnicity and race.
In my undergraduate years, one of my favorite classes was African American literature. In that class, I read the autobiography of Frederick Douglass and I learned about such things as the race theory. In that time, I was learning about the history of race in America and it allowed me to understand how over decades, race was used to define people. I was troubled by the idea of race because of this disturbing history and because of my own personal experiences, particularly in my childhood. My physical appearance was such that there were people who could not tell that my race was not their own and because of that, I was privy to conversations to which I did not know how to respond. They were conversations full of prejudice and ignorance against my race (or anything different from theirs), and therefore, I felt they were against me. They were comments that left a mixture of thoughts and feelings that imprinted upon me, experiences that left a stinging mark on my identity.
It was in coming to know Jesus that I came to have love of myself and others in a way that I had never experienced before. I was finally able to love and accept myself. Now my identity was revealed in Christ’s love and I could see all others in this light as well (although I struggle daily). I was now free from the judgment of others and judgment was left to God. My faith allowed me to see one out of many; I could see that we were all children of God. I also found it fascinating to follow the idea of e pluribus unum (out of many, one) regarding the Trinity (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit). How fascinating it is that in Hebrew there is such a word for this; it is the plural form of the word for God (Elohim) used throughout the Bible.
We are not all Christian and we are not all of the same race or ethnicity, but we are all people. As a country, we are diverse, but we are one. Rather than separate me, my faith helped me to become one with those who are different from me. And faith healed the wounds of the past. Now, as always, it is important that we question who we are, how we got here, and what we will become. We must know our identities as individuals, because as individuals, we come together to form our nation.
E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.