Monday, October 26, 2009

Walls or Welcome

Almost 35 years ago I met my husband, Tam. Tam and his family had just arrived in the United States from Vietnam and in spite of the language barrier, it didn’t take long for the two of us to find ourselves falling in love. But our romance was interracial and intercultural, and although interracial couples were not rare in our society back then, they were still considered edgy. There were plenty of folks, both strangers and family members on both sides, who did not approve.

As I got to know this Asian family and Tam and I grew closer, I knew I had a lot to learn. I would step into that Asian household and find I had no idea about the simplest things – things I usually took for granted. At a meal, where should I sit? When should I sit? With whom should I sit? After several awkward gatherings, it became obvious that this was an important concern in this new culture, and I was doing it all wrong. What should I call people? Whom should I talk to? What should I say?  When should I speak up and when should I be quiet?  The wrong manners could easily offend, and I didn't take me long to do plenty of offending! I could easily be offended as well by the strange manners I observed in this foreign culture. Clearly, this was a time for extra patience and giving the benefit of the doubt. This was a time to learn new things and even be delighted and surprised by diversity and differences.

As the years passed, I learned to appreciate the diversity that we shared in our marriage more and more. We raised our children in two cultures and helped them to appreciate the infinite variety of God’s creation. When things were strange or different, this was an opportunity to celebrate another discovery and delight in something new.  The diversity was enriching and taught me to have an open mind and to be generous with people I struggled to understand.

As our world grows smaller and we are exposed to so much that is diverse, whether it be culturally, ethnically, behaviorally, or spiritually, I hope we can celebrate and learn from each other rather than judge or take offense. What a gift it is to encounter people with different lifestyles and worldviews. We are all enriched by it and can learn so much.  But we can either put up walls or welcome the stranger, and contrary to how we sometimes behave, I believe that it is the walls that impoverish us, not the welcoming.

I recently attended the wedding of a same gender couple.  This was a new experience and it felt as if I was entering once again that foreign household where I understood so little and could offend or be offended through a lack of understanding.  I vowed to do my best to welcome rather than build walls.  The service itself offered some help.  The favorite passage from I Corinthians was read: “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not irritable or resentful. It endures all things. Love never ends… Faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.” It is a passage many of us had heard at weddings, but since it is read so often at weddings, I wonder if we confuse Paul’s words and think he is writing about romance rather than love. Let’s try it out: romance is patient, romance is kind, romance is not irritable or resentful. It endures all things. Romance never ends. Faith, hope, and romance abide, and the greatest of these is romance! It doesn’t work very well, does it?!  This scripture passage is about every day, practical, rubber hits the road love – for neighbor, sister, brother, parent, child, friend... for foreigner and same gender couples.  It is about hard work. It sets the bar high.

We live in a diverse world, where things are often new and different. We may make mistakes. Our world requires all we can give of understanding, patience, kindness, and endurance.  Diversity is a great source of celebration and enrichment. It can also be a source of misunderstandings or offenses or hurt feelings. The only course to take is to come back again and again to these words about love that Paul has left us. We must apply ourselves once again with the promise to do better next time. We can count on always needing to ask ourselves how best to love each other and even still falling short much of the time. It is unfortunate when we fail, but be assured, there will always be plenty of opportunities to try again.


  1. Wow! That was very insightful and thought provoking. As a Christian, I find myself slipping into judging others much too often. I need to be reminded that the love of Christ is not only for me but for all of creation. Whom am I to judge one that is loved by God.

    Thanks for the good reminder.

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