Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Biblical View of Cultural Diversity

Now with that mixed-race biblical meandering aside, on to the truth that has set me free.  Even if you are not a mixed-race individual I think you will find that what I’m about to share meaningful because it provides a biblical framework for understanding “diversity.”   This biblical model of diversity seeks to address the question:  What is God’s purpose behind what we call “race,” “class,” and “gender”?
Here it is:   I am made uniquely in God’s image, and I am His child. 
Every individual uniquely reflects the image of God.  The Bible teaches that “God created human beings in his own image” (Genesis 1:27 NLT).  Every person holistically reflects God’s image in terms of his/her:  (1) individual personality, gifts, talents (Psalm 139: 13-16); (2) cultural heritage (s) (Revelation 21:26) ; and (3) gender  (Genesis 1:27).    In other words, when you look in the mirror you are staring at a beautiful and unique reflection of who God is.   This uniqueness encompasses all of who you are—your personality, gifts, and talents; your ethnic background (s), and your gender.  Together, these traits make you uniquely you.  You are beautiful, special, and unique, unlike anyone that has ever lived or ever will walk this earth.   By God’s design, you are valuable and uniquely reflect who He is to the world. 
One of the most beautiful declarations of our inherent individual value and worth to God is found in Psalm 139:  13-16:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

         It may come as a surprise to many of us, but our cultural heritage(s) are critical components of the unique reflection of God’s image within each of us.   By God’s design each of us is given a cultural heritage that helps make us who we are.   In other words, our ethnic background is not an accident!  God gave it to us!  In his famous speech to the Greek Areopagus, the Apostle Paul reminds us of this truth:  “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “(Acts 17:26-27).   And so, it is not an accident that I was born in East L.A. to my Mexican father and Chinese mother.  It is not coincidence  that I grew up in Hacienda Heights, spent time in the Bay Area, and now live in Los Angeles.  This has been exactly determined for me by God.  The same is true for every person reading this book.  God given you your unique cultural heritage!  Whether you are Chinese, Korean, English, German, Mexican, American, Armenian, African American, Indian, Native American, or any variation of any of these ethnicities, this is exactly how God has determined it to be.  Your parents might not have realized it when you were conceived, but God has sovereignly determined what ethnicity and nationality he wanted you to be. 
Not only has our cultural heritage been given to us by God Himself, but the Bible teaches that our various ethnic cultures are viewed by God as “treasure” which will last forever!  The inherent and eternal value of our national cultures is described in Revelation 21:  22-27(NIV):
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.”

This passage states that the “glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into the New Jerusalem for eternity (According to the Bible, the time will come when all things are made new, and all the evil, pain, and suffering of this world will be wiped away.  This new world and order of things is represented by what the Bible calls the “New Jerusalem.”   In describing the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:4-5 states:  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.   There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!”).   What is this “glory and honor” that John is speaking of?  It is interesting to note that most evangelical Bible commentaries completely overlook this text.
The word “glory” which is used in this passage can also be translated as “treasure” or “wealth” of the nations.   Surely John is not describing literal currency or national government coffers.  I believe that he is talking about the cultural treasure or wealth of the different ethnic groups of the world.   This cultural treasure includes food, music, dance, literature, architecture, etc., as well as the unique cultural personalities of the world. 
The first category—food, music, dance, etc. is quite obvious.   Every ethnic group has it’s unique food, musical styles, literature, dance, etc. 
The second category deserves more explanation.  Have you ever noticed that different cultural groups possess different personalities?  I have experienced this first hand because of my own cross-cultural heritage and because of my cross-cultural marriage.  As previously stated, I am of Mexican heritage on my father’s side and Chinese on my mother’s.  My wife is of Midwestern, German-American heritage.  
When I attend a family gathering on my father’s side of the family, I observe distinct types of humor, ways of relating to one another, attitudes towards life, etc.  The same with my mom’s family.  I have especially noticed this to be true during my past four years of marriage to my lovely Midwestern wife.  For example, I’ve noticed that German-Americans tend to be very time-oriented and financially practical.  If we are even five minutes late in preparing for an event I can visibly see the anxiety levels of my Midwestern family members rise.  From a Latino perspective it is “relationships” which matter more than being on time for an event.  So, if I’m engaged in a deep conversation with someone it is of a higher cultural value to me to stay in the conversation and be a little bit late to my next engagement rather than to cut off the conversation and appear rude. 
In Mexican culture it is also appropriate to “lavish” gifts upon loved ones and friends regardless of the cost.  This is seen as a way of showing love, respect, and deference.  You could say that one the Mexican “love-languages” is giving.   In Midwestern culture, lavish giving can actually be frowned upon as waste.   Nice gifts are valued and appreciated of course, but beyond a certain point it becomes culturally inappropriate.  
I actually learned this lesson first hand when I met my wife’s family for the first time before we were married.  I had made the long journey to Indiana for the annual meeting of the Christian Community Development Association and thought that that would provide me with the perfect opportunity to meet my future in-laws.  In anticipation of our meeting over lunch, I went to the airport candy shop and bought mounds of expensive Godiva chocolate to give to my future in-laws.   Without thinking about it very much, my Mexican side was coming out.  I thought to myself:  “I want to make a good impression and I want them to know that I care.  I’ll be generous and spend lots of money by buying them good chocolate.”   Erica was a bit uneasy when she found out because she thought that my generosity would be interpreted as “waste” and the absence of frugality.  I was shocked!  From my cultural vantage point such lavish giving should have made a positive impression and should have been interpreted as warm generosity.  (I ended up giving them the chocolates and it turned out fine!)
What I’ve learned from my different cross-cultural experiences is that every culture—Mexican, Chinese, Taiwanese, Egyptian, German, Midwestern, etc.—uniquely expresses different aspects of God’s heart.  As exemplified in the lavish giving of Mexican culture, God is very generous and gracious and sometimes gives us more than we can hope for or imagine (Ephesians 1:7-8, 3:20).  No eye has seen or ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Relationship is also at the core of God’s heart.   The divine Godhead relates to Himself in a beautiful mystery that we cannot fully comprehend (Matthew 28:19). 
At the same time that this is true, I learn much from my Midwestern family about God, too.  I joke with my wife that I’m familiar with about 80% of Midwestern culture by virtue of my American heritage.  About 20% though is almost completely foreign.  This 20% can sometimes make me feel like an immigrant even though I was born in the U.S. and have lived here all my life.   
I learn from them the values of industry and frugality (and starting a savings account for your child when he/she is 3 months old!)(Proverbs 6:6-11).  I learn about discipline in our personal relationships with God (1 Corinthians 8: 24-27) and about the importance of individual relationship with Him (Revelation 3:20).   (The food is also pretty good too!)
To use another example of what I’m trying to convey, I like to use the example of Mambo Cologne by Liz Claiborne.   Trying to capitalize upon the J.Lo Ricky Martin craze of the early 2000’s, Executives at Liz Claiborne set out to develop a cologne which captured, in all bottle, the “essence” of what it meant to be Latino.  They hired researchers to find out what made Latinos unique and what positive cultural qualities they possessed.   Among other things, their research revealed that Latinos were “spicy,” “sexy,” and passionate, and that they were also family-centered.    Drawing from their research, Liz Claiborne then set out to create a cologne fragrance which expressed these distinctively Latino qualities.   The result was the “Mambo” perfume line, “an up-tempo twist of bergamot and zesty lime, mediterranean herbs and spices [which] raises the pulse and turns up the heat. A festive tandem of french clary sage and thyme is embraced by exotic, masculine floralcy, and an ultra-sensual fusion of cinnamon leaf, cumin and heart of cedarwood.”   In 2007, Claiborne released a spin-off cologne--MAMBO MIX—which features an added blend of “spicy oriental fragrance.”   As a Chinese-Mexican, Mambo Mix is perfect for me.  Maybe it captures my unique “essence” and can be called the first  “Asian-Latino” cologne (ha). 
At first glance, the example of Mambo perfume seems silly.  How could someone even attempt to capture the essence of what it means to be Latino in a perfume bottle?  Also, Liz Claiborne’s so-called “research findings” about Latinidad are just a bunch of crazy stereotypes.  Despite the inaccuracy of Liz Claiborne’s stereotypes, I believe they are driving at a profound biblical principle about Latinos and about cultural diversity in general.   They realize that Latinos, and all ethnic groups of the world, possess distinct cultural “treasure and wealth” according to the biblical principle expressed in Revelation 21: 26-27.   
More about a biblical view of culture and diversity next week!
Thanks for tuning in to this especially long, but hopefully meaningful, post! 

In God's diversity,
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