Rudyard Kipling died a month after I was born, so he represents to me the world that was passing away. I was in the eighth grade when I read The Jungle Book, and this is how my love of pristine nature began to dominate my imagination, leading me to my college major in the biological sciences and a lifelong fascination with the world of living things.

Later, I came to know about the complex greatness of this man: journalist, dramatist, poet, international statesman, interpreter of the West to people of the East and of the East to people of the West. He was born in Bombay, India, at the height of the British Colonial period. His affluent parents had several servants, including his personal nanny, who taught him her language and culture. He said that during his preschool years he had to be reminded to speak English to his parents because in his mind he thought in the vernacular Indian language. When he was five, he was sent to England to begin his proper education toward becoming an English gentleman, but even to the end of his life, there was a pocket of Indian in him that could never be domesticated.

While I was trying to process the many loud voices in today’s public discourse that are magnifying the differences between us and driving a wedge between us, sometimes even causing us to massacre other people with automatic rifles, a poem by Kipling came to mind, and I decided to share it with you.

The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk–
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.

The men of my own stock,
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wanted to,
They are used to the lies I tell;
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy or sell.

The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control–
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.

The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.

This was my father’s belief
And this is also mine:
Let the corn be all one sheaf–
And the grapes be all one vine,
Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
By bitter bread and wine.

There is a lot of talk on TV and in social media about whether a certain person is a racist. Maybe it would be better if we thought about it the way Kipling did. We can probably all identify strangers within our gate, people who are part of our crowd, part of our neighborhood, part of our society, but whom we just don’t get…

He does not talk my talk–
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind
Because of our discomfort, we pull away and tend to gravitate toward
The men of my own stock…
they are used to the lies I tell.

We all have this in us; we can’t just label certain people as racists and pretend that we too don’t have uncomfortable feelings toward our strangers.

A few years back, baby showers began to go co-ed. Men (if they knew what was good for them) went along with it, but the games were still the same, and the guys felt very out of their element. Soon a new piece was added to the baby shower formula; they were still co-ed, but the ladies provided a Man’s Cave, a room where the guys could go and watch football on TV. They were acknowledging that men were strangers at baby showers, and they were also realizing that women couldn’t completely be themselves, either, when the men kept looking at their cell phones for score updates.

All of this is natural and human. We know that it’s there, and we try to shrug it off and find new ways of building relationships. If we don’t, if we amplify the things about the other person that make us uncomfortable, if we make the stranger’s differentness seem dark, suspicious or evil, then we’re on the way toward becoming racists. A little further down this path and we may pull the trigger on an AK47.

— Pastor George Van Alstine