Stating the Obvious, Part I
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: Sure there are many evils in the world. Sure racism and discrimination are wrong (whether white-towards-black, black-towards-white, or any-towards-another).
Here in the States there seems to be a new provocation towards race wars, race-baiting, and what I’ll call an over-sensitization towards racial differences. Even back in the ’80s and ’90s when “political correctness” and “diversity training” came into vogue, those really have done nothing more than to draw negative attention our differences, despite claiming to foster unity.
Stating the Obvious, Part II
In the process of all of this something sad happened: We lost the ability to appreciate our differences and–gasp!–even laugh with each other over them. Today I’m going to tell you a story about a black person, a white person, their differences, and genuine goodwill and a good shared laugh.
Last week I went to a store to buy a birthday card. As I was waiting at the checkout to ask where the cards were as they weren’t up-front where I expected them, there was an elderly black lady in front of me. Actually, let me stop there for a second to qualify that statement…
I don’t know if she likes the term “African American,” I didn’t ask. And frankly I’m not going to worry about it because in my vocabulary–and more importantly, in my heart–the adjective “black” describing a person is not pejorative or insensitive or whatever, anymore than one might speak of another person (or me) as “white.” OK, back to the story…
Beef Tripe and Rattlesnake
So the lady was in front me, and she was talking to the cashiers. She didn’t know I was behind her. She said, Do you know how much beef tripe is nowadays? I went to Wax-Mart and it’s $24. $24! Ever since white people started eating it the price has gone up. It happens every time white people start eating our food! Tripe and rattlesnake…both have gone wayyy up in price.
I interjected, Ma’am, for the record, it ain’t my fault, because I’m not eating it!
At that, the four of us shared a good, hearty laugh. We laughed because in that moment we were black and white, and we were acknowledging the obvious fact: We’re different. We sometimes eat different foods. But even more than that, we laughed not because of our differences, but because we’re all human. We laughed because we grew up being taught Different strokes for different folks. …That’s what makes the world go ’round. And most of all, Variety is the spice of life.
But then something else interesting happened.
Apology Not Accepted
A few minutes later when I was scanning the card section, one of the cashiers came and approached me. “Sir,” she started, “I just want to apologize if what that lady said offended you…”
I didn’t let her finish. “Don’t you dare apologize,” I said, smiling away my protest. “I thought it was hysterical and we all had a good laugh about it.” She seemed immediately relieved. I continued,
This world is wound too tight these days about all this race stuff. I wasn’t bothered at all by it, and in fact I’m honored that she didn’t mind my chiming in, and we all got to have a good laugh. The world needs more of that.
We talked a bit more about it and then I told her,
Look, I just got back from Uganda two weeks ago. I was there for three weeks. And everyday for three weeks I had children point at me and call me “M’zungo! M’zungo!”
M’zungo, as it was explained to me, is basically, “White Person.” It’s kind of the Swahili/African equivalent of being called “Gringo” in Mexico, I guess.
My point to her was that I got it. We’re different. We’re the same, but yeah, we’re also different. And you know what, it’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. Differences in skins or cultures are beautiful. They are God-given, so of course they are! They are intrinsically good, pure, and to be celebrated. It’s only because of our present sinful, fallen world that those differences get misused and abused for all manner of wickedness.
But I’m not going to let the nuttiness of this world’s present state dictate my relationships with anyone. I’m not going to be politically correct. I’m not going to let some mandatory diversity class tell me how I’m to treat people. I’m going to do exactly what Jesus tells me to do: I’m going to love my neighbor. Not “love my _______ neighbor,” with some exclusionary qualifier in there.
I’m going to love my neighbor period.
I’m going to love them. I’m going to laugh with them. I’m going to celebrate our differences with them.
And I look forward to that Day when Revelation 5:9 is a reality and we are together worshipping the Lamb, “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
And you know what else? At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb I’m even going to eat beef tripe.