When I was a young girl, Japan and China and Egypt were exotic countries and foreign cultures depicted in our Weekly Reader on newsprint, or in glossy National Geographic magazines in my grandfather's collection. I once thought their citizens - whether dressed in red silks or finely embroidered obis or white linen - were as different from the folks I saw every day as the traditional dress of the Dutch girl in wooden shoes and white winged hat. People of the world seemed to fit neatly into color-coded countries on an aged globe. They were on their side of the world, and we were on ours. If asked, I would have said we were more different than alike. I have changed my mind.
Two things we often discover as we get older: our parents get smarter, and the world gets smaller. While my parents have been smarter for a long time, lately I realize that our world has been shrinking. The globe is morphing into something that more nearly resembles Pangea with a unified land mass of related though conflicted people groups. There are many influences stimulating our willingness to see our world in a new way. I heard Thomas L. Friedman make a convincing case pitching the idea among others in The World is Flat years ago. And perhaps the best teacher is personal experience.
Our access to information is instantaneous and voluminous. Even my trusty little relic of a phone will call anywhere in the world with the push of a button. And I remember waiting in line to use a WATS line to call long distance once a week in college; to call it a land line would be redundant. The world is at our fingertips now.
Instant digital feed of gripping images from Japan this week shows the heartache of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers on the other side of the world fleeing rising water and searching for survivors. There was no ceremonial traditional dress or neighborhood of paper houses with raked gardens in these photos and footage - none of the things that might distinguish 'them' from 'us.' There was only destruction and loss and fear and anguish. The photos could have been you and me. And one day soon it just may be you and me. The human condition is common to us all. Disaster is the great equalizer.
Earthquakes in China, riots in Egypt, flooding, wars and rumors of wars abound. As long as we draw clear lines between them and us, it seems easier to block out the painful images or to temper the sharpness of their loss. But, as my friend, James Loftin, reminds us in http://jamesloftin.com/, when we submit our lives to Christ, we can expect "an increased sensitivity to the suffering of others" and to be transformed. James and Carolyn know something about moving from Mississippi to the other side of the world in their commitment to mission and ministry.
Transformation is not window dressing...not a buff and polish...nor a cosmetic nip and tuck; transformation is a process of becoming a new creation. Our hearts no longer break only for people who are just like us, but for the human family. As long as we see ourselves front-and-center of the universe, and everyone else on the back side or merely waiting in the wings while we - whomever we believe 'we' to be - take the chief role, we live life through a distorted map. If the map is sufficiently cropped, we can put ourselves in the center of any picture, and block out all others as extraneous.
And what does 'people who look like us' really mean? Do not the searing images of this week's natural disasters and international violence reveal tears streaming from anguished faces to be the same? The heart-wrenching losses we can see in Japan or China or Egypt are common to the human family; the joy of unexpected reunion, likewise, we celebrate together.
My little childhood world was rather homogeneous. My son's school photo this week shows friends and gifted, accomplished medical graduates who, while many are Americans, are also Indian, Korean, Chinese, Syrian, among many others we met. They reveal a variety of cultures with distinct individual differences which I do not diminish or gloss over with a "We Are the World" soundtrack playing, but also a shared humanity and vulnerability. I have also come to know and love friends who share a different cultural heritage. Are we not collectively enriched - not threatened - when we weave friendships across the lines that could so easily divide?
Another book title comes to mind, Same Kind of Different as Me, as we think of drawing clear lines of them and us. We shortchange ourselves when we draw the circle too closely around ourselves and keep others out. We may make far too many judgments and conclusions drawn from appearances alone. That fact, too, may be a shared human condition.
Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. I Samuel 16:7
The challenge to me is to live wisely with healthy respect and deep patriotism for our nation while viewing the world's inhabitants not as bad or good, or as enemy or friend, but as God's children too. Yes, it is idealistic. And it is also realistic.
May the ideals that guide our lives enlarge our view so that we see ourselves and others as they really are and not as we once thought.
May we not turn a blind eye to what may be a new reality for us, a new way of understanding, no matter how threatening it may be.
When necessary, may we shed the skin that no longer contains us as we grow and mature, no matter our physical age.