The Rainbow of Love

This is exciting!  I have the chance of a lifetime to share with you readers a small but significant part of my life when I was a young foreign student from Japan.  And in the course of this short essay, I will try to spell out my way of overcoming racism in this country, which is hailed as a melting pot of cultures.

The story starts with my arrival in the States in the early 80s to attend college.  That was when I had shiny eyes, no gray hair and no age spots! Actually, the US was not my first choice in terms of destinations for studies abroad.  I decided to come here after receiving rejections from universities in Australia and Canada.  I picked the countries that would give me some elbow room—psychologically more so than physically.  Anyone who has lived among my people in Japan knows what I am talking about. When I look back on those early days here in the States, my thoughts immediately go to some of the very special people I met.  Interestingly, with a few exceptions, those who left the strongest impressions on me were so-called “people of color” (a socially acceptable yet distasteful term).  I come from a culture that tends to look down on people of darker complexion.  As with many Anglos, so too, many Japanese who lack exposure think that they have little to learn from people whose skin is darker than theirs.  Yet, it is my experience which tells me that the abundant life that Jesus talked about doesn’t have anything to do with mingling only with Whites—or Japanese—and copying their ways.

For example, I think of Danielle from Haiti.  The reason why she is so memorable to me is because not only did we go through common struggles together as foreign students, but also because she was a thinker.  She was educated in Paris prior to coming to the States, and she would nostalgically talk about how French students would enjoy engaging in intellectual conversations.  I was also perplexed at the time as to why there was such a gap between conversations in classrooms and those outside.  In short, Danielle and I had a common yearning for an academic environment, which we didn’t find at the time at the college we were attending in St. Louis (I later transferred to a state university, where the intellectual climate was much more appealing to me).  Danielle was someone with whom I could talk about philosophy, society, God, etc., and she so often peppered our talks with laughter.  We also attended a college ministry gathering on Friday evenings, which was led by an Indian couple.  I still remember the delicious Indian curry they served us, which she and I devoured as we gave thanks to our God.

I also have a fond memory of Shade (sha-dee) from Nigeria, whom I met in an anthropology class at the state university, to which I transferred.  She was a cute girl with big, smiley eyes.  I knew she was younger than me, but I didn’t realize how much younger until a few years after graduation.  I saw her picture and story in the university alumni magazine.  Shade was introduced as the youngest student to graduate —16 years old!  Well, we took the anthropology class a couple of years before our graduation, so she was probably 14½ when we sat next to each other in that big lecture hall.  I was studying next to a teenager who had barely reached puberty!  Our friendship was, unfortunately, rather brief due to circumstances typical of student life, but her faith and focused study habits left a lasting impression on me.  One event stands out to me.  I ran into Shade at the university library, where she was busy writing a term paper.  I asked her what she was writing about.  “Terrorism,” was her answer.  What a yucky subject, I thought.  This was the 80s; surely terrorism was around, but it was an issue to which most people hardly paid any serious attention.  As I look back, I wonder if Shade had the foresight to see that terrorism would become one of the biggest global problems in the twenty-first century.  And I also wonder if she had some practical suggestions to make for fighting terrorism at the conclusion of her term paper.  She was the youngest person to graduate from college of whom I know, and arguably one of the smartest people I will ever meet.  And her heart was bent toward peace – I wish I had asked for a copy of her paper. Imagine the magnitude of stupidity to dismiss people based on their color or ethnicity, and think of the possibility of what we might be able to do to help solve the world’s problems by exchanging ideas and eagerly learning from one another from different parts of the world!

The third person I recall is Shirley, a bubbly African American girl with whom I shared an apartment for a semester.  The air was getting colder by the day, and I was still a few semesters away from graduation.  I was very poor at the time, and she was an office worker, who graciously paid a bigger chunk of the rent so that we could live there together.  My bed was a $20 mattress from the Salvation Army (somehow it didn’t occur to me to ask my parents for more money).  I do not remember the reason, but after some time, Shirley had to move out of our apartment to live with her parents several blocks away.  Still, she kept paying her portion of the rent so that I could continue living there.  There was no heat in the apartment.  So my strategy was to put on two pairs of socks as well as a few blankets over me at night in order to fall asleep.  A Midwest winter night can be harsh.  One day, I remember that Shirley came home and offered me a $20 bill.  She said she didn’t need the money, and she thought I could use it for something.  I was able to buy myself a warm pair of gloves without holes in them so that I could drive my worn-out car without getting frostbite.  It was also Shirley who invited me over for Christmas that year because she knew that I had nowhere to go.

The last person I have space to introduce is Amy from Nigeria.  She was also a student in the States, and we attended church together.  I have several pictures of her and me taken on the day of my graduation from university.  In one picture, she is putting her hand on my shoulder as we were in the procession with caps and gowns.  A few other pictures show Amy in a dress and me in the gown smiling at the camera in the middle of the huge university campus.  Yes, just Amy and me.  My other friends were with their families because this was their graduation day as well.  My family couldn’t join me until my wedding day, which was to come a few years later. Amy was my friend and a good neighbor, who walked beside me and congratulated me on my graduation day.  I am very fortunate to have experiences with such special friends, who showed love to me during a very lonely season of life.

It is a privilege to introduce to you these special friends whom God placed in my path.  Each one is unique, each one is a Christ-follower, and each one has left a profound impact on me, shaping me into the person I am today.  When I read, “. . . and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only (John 1:14),” it is difficult for me to separate my friends from Jesus their Lord, for he has manifested his glory in and through them to me.  Jesus’ glory comes in many colors and hues, and so we miss out when we fail to see the rainbow of his glorious love.  The first step of going beyond racism is to cultivate in our hearts a desire to get to know others of different ethnicities in all of their uniqueness and diversity, and an expectation that we will experience God’s glorious beauty in new and amazing ways through them.

9 Responses to “The Rainbow of Love”

  1. Kelsi Says:

    Those are beautiful recollections. What struck me the most is your statement, “Imagine the magnitude of stupidity to dismiss people based on their color or ethnicity, and think of the possibility of what we might be able to do to help solve the world’s problems by exchanging ideas and eagerly learning from one another from different parts of the world!” I think about this often- true dialogue and desire to respect and hear one another could literally make a world of difference in terms of our global and local problems. Instead of hearing each other out to further prove our own point, or achieve our own power, imagine what it would look like to take down defenses and simply listen. Thank you for sharing your experiences. This further impresses upon me the conviction that diversity is a precious gift to be able to share lives and learn from people different from our selves. It saddens me to think of the many opportunities and relationships I have passed out because I wasn’t sure how to relate to someone of a different background than me. That is something I desire to explore and overcome. It will be a tragedy if I don’t. Christ truly does unite all colors of the rainbow, and that is empowering.

  2. Daniel Fan Says:

    Japanese lilac,

    Thank you for that. The line that stood out for me was:

    “it is difficult for me to separate my friends from Jesus their Lord, for he has manifested his glory in and through them to me. Jesus’ glory comes in many colors and hues, and so we miss out when we fail to see the rainbow of his glorious love.”

    I’ve come to understand that none of the world’s cultures, in isolation, can express the profundity of the god we profess to worship. Each culture is both corrupted by humanity’s sin nature and yet blessed by its creator in its own unique way.

    When I travelled to the Philippines I stayed in a remote mountain farming village with unreliable electricty and water that only “ran” sporadically (ran? more like “stumbled, spending long periods completely stationary and wheezing”). Despite having few modern conveniences the inhabitants were still…happy? Their values were in fellowship, good conversation, faith and worship. Chatting with friends for 2 hours was not time wasted, as it might be considered on this side of the Pacific. In some ways I found that their simplified lifestyle helped them to understand peace and contentedness in Christ, in fact, to live it, better than I did.

    I’d like to think this realization came to me in a bolt-delivered epiphany, when I electrocuted myself making hot water for a ladle bath. For those not acquainted with this system: a plug in heater (6″ disk with exposed metal coils) electrocutes the water, thereby warming it. I stuck my finger into the bucket, to check the temperature and I got “hot.” After that episode, I learned to unplug the heater before testing the water temperature. I also realized that I would never have had to do that in the US, and that for these people hot water on demand was not a given. At the same time they could still be satisfied, content in the spirit, and even welcoming to someone who might be perceived as having so much more than they did.

    I could not separate that experience of simple contentedness from my memory of my mountain village hosts, nor would I want to.

  3. Paul Louis Metzger Says:

    Thanks to each of you for your respective reflections. This blog entry and the ensuing comments challenge the status quo of our culture: the supposed American melting pot is supposed to affirm glorious diversity, but it often suppresses and dissolves it in favor of homogeneity and affinity. We settle for so little, when God calls us to so much more.

  4. Bobby V. Aguilar, III Says:

    Japanese Lilac,

    You wrote as a true-blue Asian: a relationship-oriented individual who sees the profundity in mundane things. No wonder the Japanese expresses the deepest meanings in the simplest verses (haiku), the most exotic art in folded paper (origami) and the serene strength of a tree that has been dwarfed (bonsai).
    I was struck with the statement “the abundant life that Jesus talked about doesn’t have anything to do with mingling only with Whites—or Japanese—and copying their ways.” Copying the whites is termed in my ethnicity as “colonial mentality.” Others term it as ethocentricity. Or even worse, white Aryan supremacy.
    One personal implication of your experiences with people of color to me is that “time is still the best expression of love” and the abundant life that Jesus talked about could hardly be thought of apart from the giving of time. Jesus engaged the woman at the well, Nicodemus and many others, unhurriedly giving them time even when a friend was dying.
    I agree with Daniel Fan that in such locales as the Philippines, people could spend hours and hours with each other in conversation without thinking it is wasted time. One leaves the conversation wanting more, relishing the exchange and looking forward to future dialogues. One leaves such conversations more enriched and better able to relate.
    And your African-American, Haitian and Indian friends took precious time off their busy lives and schedules and broke bread with you, stood by you, laughed with you, encouraged you and inspired you to go on in life- which is an abundant life more than wealth or intellect can give- without condescension and with acceptance. You were loved by them in a color-blind way.
    My experience in America, as a person of color, is the difficulty of cultivating deep, lasting and meaningful relationships with the Caucasian race just because “these people have watches but they do not have the time”. The tyranny of the urgent and the obsessive-compulsive tendency to keep on achieving insatiably at the expense of people make relationships an expendable sacrifice in the altar of achievement and performance, and therefore, racial superiority.
    O, America, America, you who promised to receive “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”; you who asked to give to you “the wretched refuse, the homeless, tempest-tossed” of foreign shores and ancient lands, why are you now putting off the lamp and closing the gates of the golden door?

  5. Kelsi Says:

    Amen. Exchanging relationships for productivity. Chasing the dragon, really, in hopes of finding something more satisfying, when really we are running further away from that deep cup of satisfaction. It is our hubris, and it is the antithesis of the character of Christ. This is what is so refreshing about Japanese Lilac’s experience–she experienced human contact and allowed Christ to minister to her through his creation. Think how much we stifle this in the name of productivity and out of slavery to The Watch. I am not saying productivity in and of itself is bad, but I do think that what we have allowed it to become, and how it controls and drives our heart is what draws us further from the simplicity, beauty, and profundity of human relationships (in which we encounter Christ). In many ways, I believe busyness is the enemy of intimacy with our Creator who desires no more than that very thing with us.

  6. Anon, Ed Ma. Says:

    “I am part of all that I have met.”- Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Your memoir, Japanese Lilac, is pregnant with implications on that meaningful impact and a permeating profundity towards community and participation into other people’s lives. As my theology professor always tells us, “We are individuals in relation, not in isolation.” Weall form part of beloved community, especially in the household of God.
    It was very touching and so very encouraging to read how your Haitian friend Danielle, your Nigerian friend Shade, Amy, and Shirley impacted your life because they did not hesitate to be a part of your life and did not equivocate about your need for space and privacy- and that you allowed them to. In the process, you were enriched and i think it is not a stretch that you also enriched their lives wherever they maybe now.
    It brought tears to my eyes to read of how, in your hour of great need, there were people who sensed your need and responded. Again, my theology professor is helpful: Jesus did not say, “Go and think/ understand likewise.” Jesus rather said, “Go and do likewise.” They saw the need, they were moved to share the little theyy may have. And it multiplied not only in meeting your need but in fond memories of the reality of God’s provisions through His people, our friends.
    But nostalgia aside, i see the parallels with Jesus: seeking the fishermen Peter and Andrew and James and John and telling them to follow Him, the dialogue with the doubting father, even Peter’s sick mother-in-law, and countless other accounts. And Jesus did all those because He was so secured in the love of the Father that the giving of Himself was either a demeaning act nor a deed to give Him entitlement. Far from it, Jesus was doing those to express to the Father the love that He felt from the Father so securedly.
    I think if you and your friends have chosen to be invulnerable with each other and did not act in community and did not participate in each other’s lives, you would not have such poignant memories of ordinary people expressing the indescribable extraordinary love of God.
    How poor and decrepit we people of the West are that we pride ourselves with the stiff upper lip and that look that says,
    “You are you and I am I;
    I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, nor are you to mine;
    if, by chance, we found each other, it was only a chance.
    Ad Valorem (To each his own)!”
    May your tribe and theirs increase to the honor and glory of the Father!

  7. Rachel O'Brien Says:

    I am touched both by the blog entry and the comments that followed. Not many people can or would open themselves to such experiences and people. That is a gift from God which I am certain He desires to abundandtly pour out but that is so often squelched by our “melting pot”. One of the most important things I have learned this semester, and something that was triggered by this posting was that our country is no melting pot, its a finely tuned and very decidedly segragated salad bowl. Though our boundaries may touch they rarely blur.Though different cultures are represented, they infrequently interact with one another. Like, Japanese Lilac, I have a few special people in my life that have changed me without my permission, those changes and those people are gifts, glimpses and reminders that I would rather stay with those that are like me and I am most secure when I am unquestioned, showing me my own sin and allowing me freedom from it. God grants us true diversity in relationship, with tender moments, gentle conversations, found humor, and mutual understanding because we need others, we others that are different, and they need us, that we might see His kingdom.

  8. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    Japanese Lilac,
    Your blog took me to a biblical journey about race, ethnicities, friends and one memorable missionary journey.
    At the time of Paul the Apostle’s send off by the Holy Spirit in Acts 13, I read in my Bible that there were several people with him and they were Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen. My understanding of Barnabas is he was a Cyprian Jew; Simeon, also called Niger (which means “dark in color”) could have been black and Lucius was from Cyrene, then a city in Africa populated by Jews. Manaen was an aristocrat, having brought up with one of the Herods; and Paul/ Saul was a Pharisee with Roman citizenship. Talk about diversity and multiethnicity and cross-culturalism and socioeconomic classes! Yet, they were altogether serving in the Church at Antioch. And they all laid hands on Paul and Barnabas to send them off, as per the Holy Spirit’s leading. And they were all used of God mightily to start His church amongs the Gentiles.
    I think what this highlights is the fact which you emphasized in your blog and which blessed me: God, being not a respecter of persons, not only disregard skin color when He chooses to use people for His purposes but even uses such choices of ethnicities to show to us that His love, mercies and compassion are as vastly immeasurable and as indescribably boundless as His omnipotence.
    From your essay, i certainly felt that I can never and ought not second-guess God’s call for me to find Him in diversity, in unfamiliar places, in uncomfortable situations. Your experiences made me think that I am at a greater loss when I refuse to heed His clear mandate for me to live amongst people I like least because they are least like me.

  9. Japanese Lilac Says:

    Ronaldo,

    Your story of Acts 13 was such a blessing to me. I believe that is the same picture we find in Acts 2 when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard those gathered in the house speak in their native languages. Native languages! I can’t tell you enough how good I felt last summer when I went back to Japan, where people understood my native language and responded to me in the same language. God’s call is for us to serve Him together, as whole persons with unique languages, ethnicities (which include physical as well as non-physical attributes), and experiences. Please forgive me to make one objection to your comment: I don’t think God “disregards skin color,” since He is the maker of us as whole persons. We are created, saved, and being saved, and will one day be fully saved as His Bride whose beauty is in her multiplicity and single devotion to her Beloved.

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