The other day I went to the park with two of my daughters and their neighborhood friends. It’s such a fun and rowdy crew. Despite varying in gender, age, and ethnicity, they care little of each other’s differences. Typically, the biggest concern is whose house or yard they are going to play in. One has a trampoline, but the other has video games…and yet another has great trees to climb! Usually, a small meeting is held, and an average of 3.7 seconds later they’re off!
On this particular day, they decided to take a bike ride to the nearby park to play. After some time on the play structure, it was time for a game of tag. The rules: one person is “it,” the play structure is base, and you could only be on base for 30 seconds. And, oh yeah, the two dads had to play. I’ll tell you, running around with a bunch of elementary age kids is some serious calorie burning, and, of course, everyone wants the dads to be it all the time.
After we had played this game of tag for 15 minutes or so, another family showed up with their two boys. The two boys approached respectfully and asked if they could join the game. This motley crew of kids answered with a resounding yes!
The older boy, around 10 or 11, was fast, smart, and could catch you fairly quickly, but it was the younger brother that took the game to a whole new level. The younger brother couldn’t have been older than 6 and didn’t quite grasp the game. In his mind he was always “it,” and it was his job to tag anyone who was being chased. So our little game of tag turned into a duel threat tag game of a variety of people being “it” and one rogue perpetual capturer. He was the most determined little kid. It didn’t matter how many times his brother tried to explain the rules to him, or how many times the other kids tried to help him by letting him know that he was no longer “it” and he needed to run from them now. This little guy just had a grin from ear-to-ear and loved chasing everyone. Eventually, we all conceded and simply enjoyed the chaos and with laughter and deep breaths of exhaustion we played on. The only thing that brought our ragtag game to a halt was the drip drop of the rain on the horizon.
God showed me that what I was taught was not entirely true.
I have played many games of tag in my life, but this one is special to me. Not because I was with my kids or because it was great fun. It was because my kids so openly accepted others to join them. What my kids probably don’t understand is that the family that joined us was a Muslim family. Their children are named Muhammad and Ali. Our little crew doesn’t know yet that families like this strike fear into so many American Christians today. All they know is that they want to join in and these two boys are potentially new friends. As I think about this experience, I have to hold back my tears, lament, and ask for forgiveness, because not all are so welcomed or have been taught to welcome others so.
I grew up in the inner city of Seattle on Beacon Hill. My neighborhood was very diverse: immigrants, whites, blacks and Native Americans. My elementary school was mostly minorities. So I grew up with a very limited view of exclusivity. Most of us were poor, immigrants, and had blue-collar working parents. Everyone belonged because no one rose above the other.
By showing acceptance of diversity, these churches were a witness that whatever the world is teaching, God’s message is very different.
As an immigrant Latino living in Seattle, we were very much the minority. In my parents’ ignorance, fueled by fear, I was taught not to trust white people. As an immigrant minority, Americans—especially white Americans—had all the power, and we had none. We learned to make sure to respect white people because if you crossed them, they could have you deported. Of course, anytime we were faced with true racism, our beliefs were compounded. I am ashamed to admit that this was my reality.
I would wrestle with this concept for years because my family has always been Christian. So how is it that I am supposed to follow Jesus’ message that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” (Luke 10:27 ESV)? How can I love my neighbor and fear white people? To fear them would mean I fear myself.
I realized early on that diversity came at a price. For me, that meant risking that what I was taught could be wrong. And if my parents were wrong, then one day I would have to face them and stand up to them. Easier said than done when the people you have to correct are the ones you love the most.
Fortunately, God is always on our side.
I had my own motley crew when I was growing up. There were four of us: Robert, an African-American, Jimmy, a Chinese immigrant, Jesse, a white American, and myself, a Mexican immigrant. We were the Beacon Hill rat pack, the masters of our domain. We laughed, played, cracked jokes about each other’s ethnic backgrounds, but most importantly we were loyal to each other.
I learned a lot from my friends. I learned how different we are and how much we are the same at the same time. I learned that hate hits us all, no matter if we are White, Black, Mexican or Chinese. The diversity of our group was a threat to everyone. We just didn’t know it. We were friends, and that was good enough for us. No political, religious, ethnic, or social economic agenda could persuade us to think otherwise. How is it as a Christian that I could somehow think that my friend Jesse was the enemy?
I had a conversation with Scott Dudley about how kids just see kids, and their innocence hides the sins of their fathers when it comes to accepting diversity. He mentioned a song from the musical South Pacific: “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” It was a song I had never heard before. So I had to do some very in-depth, high level, highly scientific research on this thing the kids call Youtube. Sure enough, there it was, and now I can see what he meant. The opening lyrics of the song are: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
So as a young kat roaming the streets of Seattle with my diverse motley crew, God showed me that what I was taught was not entirely true.
God is so good. On top of my rat pack, my Spanish-speaking church rented from an all-white church in Bellevue. So every weekend, God demonstrated love through the coexistence of two groups that in my mind equaled nothing but trouble. By showing acceptance of diversity, these churches were a witness that whatever the world is teaching, God’s message is very different. This all-white church helped us reconcile our fear with the reality this church was presenting us. In return, we helped their potlucks with better food. ’Cause I gotta tell you: you can only eat so many casseroles before you start losing your religion.
I have to repent, ask for forgiveness, and lament for my upbringing, even if I was a child, for what I was taught. Eventually, as my parents became more comfortable with their surroundings, they realized that not all white people are out to get us. It doesn’t mean all white Americans liked us or accepted us, but that’s a different story for another time.
We have to be carefully taught because God’s message is more than words on a page.
Today, diversity is still under attack. It is all kinds of crazy: from gender, sexual preference, religion, ethnic background, and political affiliation, to name a few. Every day my kids are faced with it, in good ways and negative ways. Some days my daughters come home crying because kids are saying that all immigrants would be deported, which would include me. (It’s quite the challenging conversation to explain to a seven-year-old the difference between an illegal immigrant, a temporary resident, a permanent resident, like myself, and just a plain ol’ immigrant.) Other days they demonstrate God’s love and accept Muslim children into their game of tag without any fear.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “’Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).
We have to be carefully taught because God’s message is more than words on a page or sermons to fill halls, rules to guide a life, or a book to fill space on a shelf; it is the key to true diversity. We simply need to decide for ourselves if we believe it.
We have much to learn, much to teach, and, most importantly, much to praise, for the glory of God’s Kingdom is quite diverse.