Same, Same But Different

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: ” ‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – (Luke 10:25-37)

IMG_3691
Hawai’i always seems to look this beautiful.

Aloha!

Aloha is a beautiful word.  My favorite definition of it is “God in us” or “The presence of the Breath of Life.”  Hawaiian is a very spiritual language full of nuance. What’s more amazing because there are so few letters, so it’s not a very technical language.  Meaning is often determined by context and inflection instead of translation.  As one writer put it, if you’re going to build a rocket ship to go to Mars, don’t do it in Hawaiian, but if you want to say a simple prayer, there’s no better language.[1]  Even the way they say “thank you” or mahalo is filled with spiritual meaning.  The definition I like the best is, “May you be in Divine Breath.”  One simple word but filled with depth and breadth that fills it with beauty.  What a wonderful way to celebrate God.  And in the United Methodist Church we not only tolerate those different ways, we rejoice in it!  The rich diversity that creates our church has allowed us to adapt to the ever-changing ways in which we understand the world.  And yet, although we have these different traditions, we still share a common set of core beliefs that binds us all together.  We believe in the Holy Trinity, we believe in the inspiration of the Holy Bible, and we believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  These fundamental truths define us as a church, but allow us the creativity to celebrate these truths in as many ways as there are churches.  John Wesley would say that to all those things that do not strike at the heart of our core beliefs, we should “think and let think.”  In Hawai’i, they would say, “Same, same, but different.”

2012-06-27 - Only in Hawaii
Spam macadamia nuts? You bet!

Like the macadamia nut.

Being in Hawai’i I didn’t realize you could do so many different things with one simple nut.  When I was a kid, we would have friends who would take trips to Hawai’i and they would bring back the traditional box of milk chocolate covered macadamia nuts which I loved.  But that was pretty much my only exposure to them.  Then they started popping up in cookies with white chocolate which were delicious.  And then they started to become easier to find all on their own.  But when I went to Hawai’I, I found a plethora of options I had never seen before.  Not just milk chocolate ones, but dark chocolate, some with caramel, some with crispy rice, some of all different flavors including (of course) SPAM flavored macadamia nuts!  Wow.  They had different flavors and different textures, but at their core they all had one central feature in common – this nut which was the foundation for everything else.  If you like macadamia nuts, you probably have a favorite way of eating it, but that doesn’t mean the other ways of celebrating the macadamia nut are any less valid.  They’re just different.

Dr. Kendi’s views on antiracism struck a cord with me.

Dr. Ibrim X. Kendi is the author of the book How to Be An Antiracist, and in an interview with him, he shared the idea that anyone can be racist.  In our discussions of racial justice, we too often resort to demonizing whole groups of people and in particular “white” people.  Being married to someone of European heritage, it bothers me a lot to have people label Cassie and make assumptions about her character just because she’s white, as much as it bothers me when they label me for being Asian.  But that’s a problem we have as human beings.  We end up labeling each other and making assumptions about who we are based on the color of our skin.  That isn’t a “white” problem.  That’s an EVERYBODY problem.  I know plenty of people who aren’t white who hold onto racist attitudes and racist views of the world; people who use what power they have to harm other people, based only on the color of their skin.  You don’t have to be white to have power.  It happens in our country that the power structures favor people who are white, but that doesn’t mean only white people are racist.  I’ve seen Asian on Black racism.  I’ve seen Asian on Latinx racism.  I’ve seen Asian on Asian racism.  I’m sure you’ve seen racism in your own context, too.  Wherever there exists an imbalance of power, there exists the potential for racism.  Teacher / student.  Boss / employee.  Police and ordinary citizens.  For Dr. Kendi, a racist is someone who uses their power to uphold racist ideas and racist policies.  An antiracist is someone who uses their power to resist those same things.[2]  Dr. Kendi’s emphasis is more on direction.  Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?  That’s why he doesn’t like the phrase “not racist” because it doesn’t go far enough.  We need to strive to be part of the solution.

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Like a good quilt, our differences combine to add to God’s great tapestry. This quilt by Kathy Uyeno

The central tenet of racism is some are “less than” because they are different.

But it is that very difference that makes the world beautiful in all of its diversity. When I hear people denigrate the celebration of diversity or sneer when they hear the word, I know these are people who don’t understand that this is part of God’s great plan.  God created us differently for a purpose, to add to the richness of life, and so that we can contribute uniquely to the world.  Race, culture, intelligence, gender identity – all of these different aspects of who we are add to God’s great creation.  They make us unique and in our uniqueness,  we contribute to this beautiful tapestry of God’s creation.  Back in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson that people of different colors were “separate but equal” denying what was obvious, that being treated separately made them inherently unequal.  But in Dr. Kendi’s vision, he paints a picture of people being “different AND equal.”  That we can celebrate our differences without putting a value judgment on whether or not it is better or worse, but instead realize each person has inherent value.  As Christians, this is something that should resonate with us because if there’s one thing Christ taught us is that each person is of inherent worth.  A racist attitude is to deny that inherent worth, to deny the value of that difference between people because they don’t look like you or act like you – to give into the fear of something different.

We see that in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Three people come across a man battered and beaten and left on the side of the road.  He’s naked and bare and completely helpless.  That’s all we know.  Jesus purposely leaves out any other identifying factors.  Is he a Jew or a Gentile?  Is he rich or poor?  Is he gay or straight?  We don’t know.  And the point is, it’s not important.  A fellow human being lies there in need of help on the side of the road.  The first two who pass by, a priest and a Levite, don’t do a thing.  These are men of religious background who are supposed to know better, but not only do they ignore the helpless man, they purposely cross on the other side of the street.  They see him lying there and do nothing.  But the third fellow, a Samaritan, helps him out.  Jesus purposely lets you know this stranger is a Samaritan to draw a stark contrast to the priest and the Levite.  Both the priest and the Levite hold prestige in the Hebrew community, but Samaritans are looked down upon as being “less than.”  Basically, they are considered scum of the Earth.  So for Jesus to tell this story in this way to this Hebrew man was to emphasize it isn’t the color of our skin, our religious belief, or our gender identity that makes us Christ-like.  It’s how we treat one another.

442nd
Members of the famed 442nd regiment

We don’t always understand our own prejudices until we come face-to-face with them.

During World War II, the 442nd was the most decorated war unit in all of the United States, and the remarkable thing is they were comprised of nothing but Japanese-American citizens, all of whom fought for their country.  Most Japanese-Americans were thrown into internment camps during the war.  They were stripped of all their belongings and put behind huge fences in the middle of nowhere.  So this made their involvement and willingness to volunteer that much more exceptional.  Except for the Hawaiian Japanese-Americans.  For the most part, they were kept out of the camps.  You see, not only were they the dominant culture on the island, but they were needed to run the sugar plantations to keep producing sugar for the troops.  On top of that, they knew the commanders and decision makers on the island who would vouch for them.  In all, only about 1,500 of the most influential leaders were shipped overseas to the internment camps.  Everyone else lived a pretty normal life.  When they first brought together the 442nd, there was a lot of dissension among the men.  There was a huge rift between the mainland Japanese and the Hawaiian Japanese.  The Japanese from Hawai’i made fun of the mainland Japanese, taunting them and calling them names.  They referred to them as “katonks” because that was the sound an empty coconut would make when it bonked against something hard, the reference being that the mainland Japanese were empty-headed.  The Hawaiian Japanese thought the mainlanders just had a huge chip on their shoulder, so the commanders of the 442nd took all the troops to an internment camp and for the first time, the Hawaiian Japanese got to see what life was like for the mainlanders.  Barbed-wire fences, towers with spotlights pointed inward, guns facing the people inside, most of whom were women and children.  For the first time, the Hawaiian Japanese understood what their brothers on the mainland were going through and it opened them up to becoming one unit.  And together they were able to do amazing things.

2006-10-18 - Alison cracking macadamia nuts
My friend Rev. Allison Mark showing me how to crack open raw macadamia nuts back in 2006

We need to realize we are at our core one and the same.

Like those macadamia nuts.  We might all be covered in something different, but at our core we are all children of God.  We need to realize that any of us can be racist and that at times we have probably all contributed, knowingly or unknowingly to perpetuating systemic racism.  Every time you said, “those people” referring to white, brown, black, or any other color of people, you were contributing to the racism inherent in our system.  Every time you labeled an entire group of people based on the actions of a few, you were contributing to racist ideologies.  Every time you said, one group was lazy because they were of a certain ethnicity or smart because they were of a certain ethnicity or good at math or unintelligent or less than or more than based only on race, you were contributing to the problem instead of being part of the solution.  Let’s be part of the solution.  Next time you find yourself labeling or condemning a whole group of people based on their race, gender, or any other quality, check yourself and remind yourself of all the stereotypes people have about you.  I’m Japanese-American.  According to the stereotypes, I am a horrible driver.  I speak with an accent.  I roll my “r” and can’t say the letter “l” to save my life.  I’m super good at math.  I am deferential to a fault.  And I like rice.  Well, one of those things is true.  Remember, different AND equal.  We are all children of God.

[1] Paraphrase from http://www.kaleoaloha.com/footnotes.html.

[2] From Ibram X. Kendi’s interview with Dr. Charlene Dukes on 7/20/20 with the PGCMLS.

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