I recently went with a friend to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” at one of the local cinemas. It’s a lovely film—very artsy and serious, yet with wonderful one-liners and thought-provoking overtones. It is, in so many stereotypical ways, an indie film, and a great representation.
The majority of the film is set in Jaipur, India, amidst a riot of color and sound and enough people to make my poor little introvert’s heart skip several beats. The storyline was good, very good, and I do absolutely recommend this on the merits of the plot, but throughout the film I kept finding myself dwelling on the setting, the people, the background chaos. And I saw for the millionth time how insulated I am from these other cultures, how blandly enclosed from the wildly different I am. I get so angry with myself, sometimes, for how little I actually experience this world.
It’s not that I haven’t traveled—I’ve been to some 30 or so of the united States, I’ve gone to Europe 3 times, been to Canada, to Mexico. And I’ve engaged with each trip, understanding the blessing and necessity of losing myself in these other rhythms, scorning the “rude American” rigidity. I love to travel, to see new things, to feel through someone else’s experience.
But then I come back to my friend group, largely from cultures/backgrounds similar to mine. I settle into my expectations of pattern and normality and beauty in the things I understand, and the rest of the world stays at my doorstep, waving politely to me as we pass each other on the way to the Dumpster.
There are very few people in the world who are truly red or yellow, black or white. I heard a speech once that said we are all, in fact, shades of brown, and I like this idea very much. There’s a continual nature to it that not only appeals to my rather literal sense of visible color but also to the idea that we are, in fact, built from similar stuff.
If you grow up anywhere near Christian culture, you know the red and yellow song, the declaration that “Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I did not like this song as a child, mostly because I was quite sure that Jesus did not love all the little children. There so very many of us, you see, and I also held fast to all the certainty of a 7 year old that He didn’t love me. As I’ve grown older, I (and many others) have asked: what if Jesus really does love the little children? What if He also loves the bigger ones, the ones who have forgotten what it was to be small but remember clearly what it is to want to be loved? What if He loves not only the extraordinarily patient children’s coordinator who teaches each new generation that song, but also the broken old woman who never sang it? What would we look like, how would we act, if we truly thought that the other people bouncing around us were beloved children of God?
How would I act?
I don’t consider myself racist (who does?), partially because I find the term meaningless. We are all of the human race, but I suppose “ethnicicist” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily. It’s also because I’ve seen the actions of racism and their resulting scars in my friends and family and find it totally absurd to judge the value of someone else based on their genetic level of pigmentation or the culture into which they happen to have been born. One of my favorite quotes is that “peoples is peoples,” and they’re what make the world interesting and beautiful, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
But I will admit to being a bit of a xenophobe, trained in long years of suspicion toward those who are “different,” those who don’t understand the cultural references I make. I have become a sort of frustrated wallflower, fascinated by the dizzying array of lives around me and yet unable to quite break past the hesitation that “they” will somehow hurt me (as if “we” have not sufficiently done so). I want so much to get to know others, to experience the richness of their loves and their sadnesses, and I can on a one-to-one level. I’m not that great with groups, but a person? A single person, with a name and a hairstyle and a defiance of my concepts and concepts-about-concepts, a human whom Jesus created and loves?
I can value this.
This doesn’t mean that I have to buy everyone I meet a Valentine’s Day card, or never be angry or scared or frustrated with others. It means that I have to recognize the worth of other people as humans. It simply means that I, who every day has to re-embrace the concept that Jesus actually loves me, can see that this person is also His. This person was made in infinite love to be exactly that shade of brown because God loves the whole spectrum of color He has created. God rejoices in the ways we rejoice, in the multitudinous cacophony of songs and dances and conversations in a thousand tongues that we have, because our joy is His. He weeps with us in the universal languages of tears because He made the salt water we cry, and He knows the pain of being alive. How can I fear someone who knows how to laugh, when it is something I so greatly enjoy? How can I distance myself from anyone who has tasted the rain, no matter where they were on this planet at the time?
If Jesus loved all the children, then all of the people (who were all children, once) are no worse than I am—and no better, either.
We are equal in the eyes of God.
And He has prepared for us the best exotic hotel of many rooms.
“Of these three, which one seems to you to have become the `neighbor’ of the man who fell among robbers?” He answered, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Yeshua said to him, “You go and do as he did.” (Luke 10:36-37, CJB)