After three days of intense writing on firearms and gun control/freedom, I want to take a breather and as February blooms, talk about love and sex. This week I’ll be writing about how love for those outside our ethnic groups makes us more human. Next week a critique on why giving out sex like gold star stickers to men doesn’t help friendship. The third week, I’ll write about how those with severe allergies and disabilities teach us about God’s love and the last week I’ll write about loving our children enough to talk about sex.
Last year, I read Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle founder of Homeboy Industries. I loved this book. Boyle’s work with ex-cons in inner-city Los Angeles is now highlighted as incredible and successful. Boyle is invited to speak to colleges, blowing his interviewers out of the water. But Boyle started his “ministry” without attracting compliments or understanding. In fact, Boyle’s idea that all ministry must be two-sided for any lasting change to take place (no more “drive-by acts of charity”, as he would put it) reminds me of the woman who first shared Boyle with me.
Her name is Alicia Miller.
When longtime supporter of Soulation, Alicia Miller (remember her from “Beauty and Headscarves“?), attended our last GOLD Gathering, 2012, I invited her to challenge us with another way of being a missionary (More about America’s missionaries to America). Alicia’s work intrigues me because she didn’t go looking for it. Perhaps that’s what I love the most: Alicia has found her Calcutta in America (Mother Teresa quote). Here is her story in her words.
“Find someone who is different from you in ethnicity, gender, or age — preferably more than one — and pair up. In seven minutes share your story and about your identity.”
The voice faded as fear grips me. I gulp, starting to sweat. Talk about my identity for seven minutes? I frantically scan the room for someone different than me — but not too different.
I lock eyes with an Asian girl who I guess to be a freshman and bee-line for her. We find chairs and face each other, my stomach flipping somersaults.
As a white woman, becoming involved in Multi-Ethnic Programs (MEP) at Biola University was one of the most stretching and transforming journeys on which I’ve ever embarked. It was there that I became convinced that I needed diversity in my community to become more fully human.
Raised in an upper-middle class home in a predominantly white suburb, cultural events were a fun hobby — eat delicious food, listen to different music, take a trip to little India. These experiences were supplemental — not integral. My worldview was small. Going out with friends to eat “ethnic food” is mild compared with the vulnerability needed to eat a meal in the home of my first generation Chinese neighbors — as I’ve since discovered.
A year and a half from my first MEP event I found myself sitting on a porch with blue steps in East Los Angeles watching neighbor kids play in the sprinkler on a sweltering summer day. I eyed their shoes lined up in the sun as I listened to their squeals.
After graduating I did the exact opposite of what I anticipated: I did not move overseas as a medical missionary — instead I moved to a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles. The Spirit beckoned me to my own backyard, my own Samaria, when I would have preferred to go around Samaria to reach the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
I neither paid down my debt (like a responsible adult) or got an apartment on my own. Instead I moved to an intentional community house that held seven other women and men. I applied to over 200 nursing jobs while I found myself cohabitating with cockroaches and living a bare bones lifestyle. In my new home, I discovered clutter in my soul, stuff that kept me from seeing my neighbors as fully human.
To de-clutter the mess I had to learn that I have a culture, an ethnicity. I quickly discovered that I believed the white, middle-class way of doing life was the best way. I thought I was “giving” by being the well-intending student with a savior complex. I realized I was “receiving” by only partaking in other cultures in order to add “flavor” to my life.
It’s been two and a half years since I moved to East LA. After a year in the community house I relocated one neighborhood north to be within walking distance of my church community. I live across the street from an elementary school and a massage parlor. I awake to the smell of my neighbors burning incense and to the sounds of instruments from the Buddhist temple next door.
Eventually I became more comfortable with being uncomfortable; secure in acknowledging what I did and didn’t know about myself and others while striving to learn and grow as much as possible. Though initially inconvenient and awkward, this new community breathed fresh wind into areas of my worldview I didn’t know were suffocating.
“Necesito refrescar este seco corazón, sediento de ti! Sumergeme… sumergeme…”
The music swelled and I rock back and forth praying, as church attendees line up to receive communion. Eventually I join them, streaming up the aisle toward my mentor holding the bread, the teaching pastor holding the cup. I intentionally look my mentor and pastor in the eye, reminded that I need community.
Regardless of how different we are from one another we bring all of our humanness (our clothing styles and languages, our values and experiences) to the feet of Jesus to be reconciled — to him and to each other. Jesus came to make us fully human, not colorblind and cultureless.
As I worship and read the Bible in new ways, I see a fuller picture of who God is. God may be a God of order but he’s not necessarily as time-oriented as I am — I would imagine he delights in church services that go “overtime” (as ours often do).
- I’ve danced the Cupid Shuffle until my legs felt like jello and my heart burst with joy.
- I’ve woken at 2am to drive youth safely home from a party.
- I’ve helped high school seniors write essays and apply to college.
- I’ve witnessed physical healings and financial miracles.
- I’ve counseled teen girls through abortions, miscarriages, and births.
- I’ve watched silent junior highers find their voice and angry high schoolers exude peace.
- I’ve seen broken families restored, and I’ve restored relationships with my family.
I never found the financial security and esteem of a nursing job. Instead I devote myself to the department that started me on this journey. What I once perceived as loss I now view as gain: I’ve been given a worldview that has transformed my life. My community’s joy and pain is my joy and pain. Our futures are bound up in each other’s; we rise and fall together. I’ve given much, but I’ve received more.
My community makes me fully human.
Want to learn more? Ask Alicia, who will be joining us in the comments, your questions.
Read more from these three resources Alicia highly recommends:
Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World by Doug Schaupp and Paula Harris
The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald B. Kraybill
The Danger of a Single Story TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie (Jonalyn loved this talk!)
Alicia Miller recently discovered that she’s more creative than she thought. She loves Thai food, reading, and having conversations about ethnicity, gender and other aspects of being human. She is a student at Talbot Seminary and works in Multi-Ethnic Programs & Development at Biola University. Read more of her work at aliciammiller.com