“Where are your children from?” Not a week goes by that some stranger doesn’t ask me that question. It’s easy to see that I did not give birth to them. I am about as white as a girl can be, and they are beautifully brown-skinned with ebony hair (except for Little Bit, whose hair is more of a dark brown).
They are full-blooded Americans, just as I am. They were born here and are, obviously, being raised here. But the first question someone wants to ask me about them is their nationality. No matter how “color-blind” we claim to be, the first thing we notice is the color of a person’s skin.
As we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. today, my children and I are openly talking about their race. I’ve told them about the unkind things that people may say to them or about them simply because of the color of their skin. I have told them how special they are, and I have told them (in the same breath) that they aren’t more special than anyone else. I have told them they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) – just as each and every person in the world is. But knowing the truth doesn’t stop the hurt that comes when you are judged on your appearance.
You know, MLK had a dream. He wanted his family, his friends, and his neighbors to be equal, to see past the color of each other’s skin. But I am sad to say that I don’t believe we have come that far in helping his dream come to pass.
We are still a nation divided. For some, it is still about the color of skin – black, white, brown – if the color is different from ours, then we have a generalization, an opinion, a prejudice to make. Or it may be about politics. We didn’t vote the same way, so we can’t be friends. We’re divided because of the school we went to or the church we attend. We can’t speak to someone who is a different religion from us. We live in ignorance and fear instead of joining hands in understanding and compassion.
I don’t know much about dealing well with other people. I can be difficult to get along with, so I can’t put myself up there on a pedestal and tell you how I do things the right way. But I can point you to the One who showed us how we are to be with people who are different than us.
“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mk. 2:13-17
“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water’” – Jn. 4:7-10.
Even in the Bible times, prejudice was a part of everyday life. Religious leaders were prejudiced. Everyone hated the tax collectors. The Samaritans and Jews hated each other. But Jesus came to save us from prejudice. He came to save ALL people – anyone who is willing to be saved! He could have sat with the religious leaders and spent His mealtimes discussing the Law and the Prophets. He could have relaxed with His friends and not stirred up the masses with His politically incorrect associations.
But Jesus saw the individual. He put away societal norms, cast aside religious roadblocks, and ignored nationality and status. He just sat down and broke bread with them. He asked them for a drink of water. He loved them – just as He loves you and me.
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” – Col. 3:11.
I know that there is a lot of hurt in our world today. I know that we have been trained to perceive differences as something to be feared. But I have a dream, too! I don’t want you to see the color of my children’s skin. I want you to see bright, funny, delightful children who were created in the image of God. I want you to know that my eight-year-old wants to be your friend, loves art, enjoys gymnastics, and is stubborn and strong. I want you to know that my son loves all things sports-related, is very sensitive, and longs to have a brother to play with him. I want you to see Little Bit and know that she has a fiery personality, won’t take “no” for an answer, and loves to be a “mommy.” They are unique. They are individuals. They are not a color out of the crayon box!
My children and I have had the opportunity to serve our community through Meals on Wheels this year, and we have seen people in all kinds of situations. But as we have gotten to know these individuals, we see how beautiful they are. We see their struggles. We pray for them. We talk to them. We know them. We aren’t afraid of them because we are their friend.
Yes, there’s a lot of hurt in this world. You may be the one who has been unfairly judged, or you may be the one doing the judging. It seems that we may never see the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream. But we will never bring about change by throwing up our hands in despair. We will never feel love without opening our heart to those around us.
Today is the day for change. Go meet your neighbors. Open your doors. Invite them in! Get involved in the community. Volunteer at a community event at another church. Talk to the cashier who checks you out every week. Get to know the people around you! This world is not that big, and we can make it even smaller by being present in the lives of the people we meet each day. A little compassion and striving to understand one another will go a long way in uniting us.
If Jesus loves them, then so should we.