So the other evening, I got on the bus, awkwardly shuffled down the aisle, and sat next to a stranger. We made awkward eye contact, I reached for the elusive headphones tucked somewhere deep in my purse, and this stranger said an accented hello. I contemplated for a moment whether or not I would respond before the words “How was your day?” slipped out of my mouth. We spent thirty minutes in the back of a tired bus making its millionth trip from Denver to Boulder just chatting about his home country and the uniqueness of culture. And it made me remember something really specific about myself: I love cultures. I love challenging notions of what is perceived as right or appropriate or normal and how those things are seen differently depending where you are from. I love languages and hearing about daily life in other parts of the world.
This stranger was from Tunisia, quietly sitting and observing the daily life I’m so used to. He thought first in Arabic, then French, and then finally spoke in fluid accented English. He told me stories about growing up, about seeing parts of the States for the first time, about how surprising the size of the cars are here.
I loved it. We started discussing the notion of alienation: that we “demonize the other” in order to reinforce our own identity. We pondered the effect of media on perpetuating stereotypes.
But most of all, I just listened. I just soaked in the experiences this stranger had lived and felt my heart fill to almost overflowing.
I love people. I love culture. The way they intertwine is as beautiful to me as a gentle sunrise, a baby’s laugh, a father dancing with his daughter on her wedding day. And the way that they define us as belonging is equally beautiful and incredibly perplexing to me.
But the more I remember that I love cultures and how they are expressed, the more I remember that for there to be insiders, there must be outsiders. For identities to have definition, they are defined less by what they are and more by what – or who – they aren’t. And that is okay, for a lot of reasons, but only until we start pushing away those people or things or whatever that are unfamiliar to us just because they are so unfamiliar.
This week was a lot about encountering that reality. I drove into a trailer park in the dark of night and spent almost two hours teaching english to immigrants from Mexico. Not exactly in my comfort zone, to be honest. But I asked this couple whether or not they had ever thought of practicing english with their daughters and they painted a beautiful picture of parenthood, of being fiercely proud of your heritage, of knowing the beauty of speaking to your family in their native tongue. It was awesome. So rich. So encouraging. Yet they were so determined to learn to speak english fluently, to be identified as American, just to belong.
Which brings me to my point, I suppose. I was journaling this week about ways that I have experienced change that has been good, though maybe not always welcomed. And it brought me to this epiphany about the heart of revolution, of change:
It stems from an overwhelming notion that something is wrong and is powered by the brief glimpse of what it might look like if things were different.
To finish off my week and with that epiphany freshly imprinted on my brain, I went to this Christian gathering. There was beautiful worship music, a gathering of people totally sold out for Jesus, hands extended towards heaven and voices crying out for mercy. It was kind of awesome. But as I sat in the farthest back pew and watched the scene before me, I had this creeping thought linger in my mind: If someone walked in off the street right that minute, would they see Jesus? Would they feel like they belonged? Or would they feel like an outsider? Would they know what to do with the choreography of standing and sitting, the vocabulary of worship full of “conquering” and “sin”? And I couldn’t shake the feeling that they couldn’t help but feel like an outsider.
I know I’ve written about this before, but it really bugs me that the Christian culture – the “bubble” so to speak – full of radio stations and revolution and salvation and services and devotionals is so devoted to defining itself as Christian that it pushes away what is unfamiliar. And it labels it as wrong. I am not here arguing that certain things aren’t laid out as wrong or right, black and white, in Scripture, but I do want to point out how uninviting the way our culture makes Christ.
I don’t know what that looks like for me, what the heart of revolution looks like for me in the midst of that. And I know it’s so much easier to hate on Christianity and the church than it is to actually live for Jesus. But I do know that lately I’ve seen things that confirm this overwhelming notion that things aren’t quite right, and I think I caught a breath of fresh air – a glimpse – that convinced me that things could be different. That I can be different.