By Eric Paul
My wife and I just completed our move to the South. After living six years in the Chicago area, we took the 500 mile trek south to Nashville. I am starting graduate work at Vanderbilt as we begin this new chapter in our lives. It has been an interesting two weeks.
My wife grew up in Michigan and is acclimated neither to southern humidity nor southern culture. Along with this, we moved into a location about which we knew nothing. We had only visited Nashville while looking at the school and interviewing at a church. As it turns out, we love our location and our new apartment. In the past two weeks, it has become home.
We thought we were moving to a part of Nashville that had nothing. On our visit, we saw only our apartment, not the shops, buildings, and restaurants that dotted the busy intersections hiding behind hills and trees. I guess we assumed it was just more hills and trees. What we came to find delighted me and set a certain unease in a few relatives.
What we didnt know was that we just moved to a predominantly Hispanic part of town. As we saw more, we continued to see signs that indicated that we might actually be in the minority. There has to be about a dozen supermercados in a one mile radius of our apartment. Signs illuminate advertising the tarjetas telefonicas, and car windows proudly display the array of nationalities: Mexican, Columbians, Venezuelans, etc.
We took a walk down to the local park the other night. I was so excited when we arrived and saw pick-up soccer had more interest than street basketball. Both Joy and I love the “Beautiful Game.” The local Wal-Mart has everything written in both English and Spanish- something my wife has never seen in a store. To top it off, we have reason to believe that we may be the only white people in our apartment complex.
As we were explaining our new community to some of our relatives, we could tell that they were becoming more and more uneasy about our current situation. They started asking questions about safety and door locks. Upon visiting, they even went as far as to see what they could do to better secure our screened in balcony. One saw a hummer in the parking lot and went as far as to suggest that such acquisitions must be drug related.
I was riding in the car with a person when they commented that blacks and Hispanics are fine when you talk to them one on one but when they get in a group they decide to drink and see which group can be more stupid. I was so taken aback by such a comment that I seriously had nothing to say. I had never heard such blanket racism. I can think of plenty of things to say now, but at the time I was rendered speechless.
What makes people so afraid of different cultures? There was a genuine fear that existed among these particular relatives when confronted with something different, with something unknown. They now recognized that we are no longer in the majority, that the comfort of the majority is against us (at least in our little apartment sphere). They alluded, even if not explicitly, that racism still exists. We still battle every day with the recognition that we are all children of God.
There is a lot of political talk going on right now surrounding immigration. I have no answers for the politicians on how to handle the current border issues, but I can write of what I know. I know that Christianity is inclusive, and yet we have built giant walls that border our souls. We group together with people of like mind and skin, and yet this is not the model we have from God. Our God tells us to not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt (Ex. 22:21).
Israel, the nation that was to embody Gods presence to other nations, was to accept what was different, to welcome the outsider. We find this pattern throughout Gods dealing with humanity. Rahab, the gentile prostitute, and her family were the only survivors of Jericho. Ruth became the grandmother of Israels greatest King. Jesus, a descendant of these two aliens, first made himself known as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman. And Peters dream in Acts 10 allows us to see Gods desire for all of humanity.
The church has certain elements that we practice that are sacred. We believe God is especially present, or reveals his presence, through these sacraments. One, which has been called baptism, glorifies this concept of acceptance. Baptism, in its truest form, unites all who have been purified into one body. We call this the body of Christ.
In its essence it is a new community. It is a new life, a new way of living despite race, age, gender, or context. We call it the Church. It is a community in which we now find our way of life in the ebb and flow of the Spirit of Christ who teaches that we are all Gods children. It is a new culture that flows out of love of neighbor. And, at the risk sounding clich, all are our neighbor, simply because God has no enemy.
Joy and I are excited about being in a new place. We hope to get to know our neighbors, to have them over for dinner, to share life experiences. We would do this no matter where we lived. We do it because Christ shows no bias, no favoritism. We do it because as children we cannot help but want to emulate the Father.
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Eric is currently living in Nashville, TN, with his beautiful wife Joy. After a year off from school, he is excited about once again joining the academic community while pursuing a Masters in Divinity. You can find some of his thoughts at www.pruningspears.blogspot.com.