Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lent Day 30: Thankful for differences

We're almost finished with 20 episodes of "Secret Garden," a Korean comic romance series. Its typical plot contains a few atypical twists and turns - as the rich guy tries to win the poor but feisty girl. Amusing story, no tawdry bedroom scenes, and repetitious music that gets stuck in my head.

Sitting next to W, watching the exhaustion of dating and family melodrama, I'm happy for the day's new insights. I like learning about culture from the stereotypes scriptwriters present about themselves; Korean series explain a lot about their culture's imbedded values. The underlying importance of shame, pride, money, and power run deeper than the words translated into English. The expectations are veiled in sidelong glances and bows at precise angles and speeds––with shoulders hunched or straight, head held rigid or soft. As an outsider, I marvel at the overt and subtle social messages given and received.

I've been in culture shock again this week (after living in the USA for 26 years), watching the responses to collective shame of slavery that ended 150 years ago, imposed on a confused and uncertain population. Many peoples have been slaves in the past without continually memorializing it. Something unusual about this issue remains unforgiven in American history.

I've been reading news from many POVs, asking "What just happened?! this week?" If a gangster-dressed teen of any ethnic background strolls my neighborhood or exhibits suspicious behavior, I'm going to be on guard and call the police. If he or she attacks me and slams my head into the pavement, anyone would fight back or run away. (Who cares in the moment if the attacker is Asian, Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian, or any other blend of human mongrel?) Where I come from, we don't erect a monument and canonize a slain attacker, no matter how nice he or she was to family or friends. And where I come from, no one rises up in collective outrage to protest an ongoing social issue based on a mugging. (I admit my fellow citizens are not big into group protests unless they're unionized. And I hate guns used against other people. More personal cultural baggage.)

We've each grown up with––or inherited––traditions from our culture group that we think are superior to other people's. Guess what? Those others think similar "less-than" things about our worldviews.

I've encountered unshared and puzzling expectations from "other" ethnic groups who make assumptions about me. I've been the only person with my skin color or accent in a room full of people. I've been surprised at being served meals that my mom never cooked in her kitchen.

Such experiences always remind me of the wonder of the many and the beauty of our differences as we've spread across the planet and multiplied into families and villages. I'm not always comfortable but I'm always filled with awe at God's love of creativity and his pleasure in designing us with likeness and difference.

The roots of the same family tree anchor your genetic lineup and mine as humanity has intermarried and intertwined. To a third-culture person like me, it seems obvious that no group of us has achieved more than others. Some tribes are better engineers or gardeners or musicians or artists or boat-builders or writers. Others are better preachers or care-givers or scientists or mathematicians or swimmers or hunters. But tribes rise and fall in history according to the survival skills needed at the time.

Unashamedly, I see mongrel and mutt genetics in all our varied surface wrappings of "black" or "white" or other "colors." God joyfully stamped his image on each of us as he blessed us with human DNA. Whose blood is "pure" something or other? Not one of us. The ongoing "race card" and "African-American vs. other" divide of the USA––which makes the nation shudder and ethnic groups reel against each other over and over––is not part of my childhood story.

I look like many Americans. Middle-aged, blond, fair-skinned, moderately fat, eye-brows penciled in. Yet when I encounter ongoing cultural difficulties as an outsider––those issues that insiders haven't resolved––I'm really taken aback. I read historical documents about American prohibition, slavery, emancipation, suffrage, and riots over industrial exploitation in mines and on railroads. My German and Canadian upbringing doesn't remember any of them and my parents' comments to me in childhood don't bring any of those to mind. But because I look like those around me, others assume I share their values and their collective shame.

Nope. Our clan stereotyped "others" as less spiritual, less tidy, and less hard-working (= less-than our values). My tribe was ruined by barbarians overrunning other barbarians, hidden concentration camps, and immigrant fighting their way from poverty with hard work, much scrubbing, Grimm's fairytales, and careful attention to detail. That's my story. Dirty, glorious, shameful, full of power struggles and God's grace in centuries of terrors and trophies.

We have a hard time forgetting the past and living in the present, and thus, we "bind on earth" what heaven has called us to release.

Part of the glorious hope of our salvation is that some day, when we know ourselves and each other as God knows us, we will be able to set aside our prejudices and the unforgiving presuppositions of our distorted worldviews. Meanwhile, I'm thankful to live in a foreign culture where so much is pleasing and good, where so much progress has been made toward reconciliation. Where conversation continues, however disturbing and puzzling (to me) the ways in which indigenous peoples try to work out their grievances.

Though our fallen natures pull us toward the pit of division and anger, God constantly challenges us to draw near and accept his love, grace, and forgiveness. As he extends his hand to us, we become able to reach out to those who feel hurt, disadvantaged, and dis-graced.

From the beginning, since God made humanity––after all will be said and done––ALL OTHERS are our blood relatives, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. We are brothers and sisters, whether our own wounded hearts know it or not.

For me, family is everything. Including YOU.

Read more:
*Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. Psalm 96:1-4 NIV

*And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21

*Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6

Moravian Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are not our interpretation of your way, but YOU are simply the way. Knowing this, we commit ourselves to you anew this day confident in knowing that it is you who opens the gate. We seek your guidance in being open about the interpretations others use regarding the details of that way. Amen.

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