It has been said of former President Bill Clinton that one of his marked qualities as a leader is the ability to give full and undivided attention to each conversation partner, and make each person feels like he is 100% interested in what they are saying. It doesn’t matter whether the person is a high-ranking official or an elementary school kid, their words will fall on listening ears. Albert Einstein once said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
I highly admire individuals who are “no respecters of persons,” individuals who are at ease in traversing many social strata, particularly the social divisions defined by economic status. They are boundary-crossers, cruising across each layer of society as if there were no dividers. They can treat human beings as human beings and look at each person in the eye with dignity and respect. These are such admirable qualities that I aspire to genuinely and thoroughly have one day.
Exhibit A of these fascinating people is Jesus and His life as recorded in the Gospel accounts. Born, raised, and lived in poverty, His manners were courteous and warm to everyone. The poor loved Him, the rich welcomed Him in their houses and loved His company. He was generous, yet not too proud to not receive what others bestowed upon Him. He blessed humanity by giving precious, unpurchasable gifts, as well as giving people opportunities to bless Him and give Him gifts.
This is Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of God, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
I cannot express in words my high level of fascination with this man. He moved from the upper crust of society, through the human strudel, to the bottom layer as one who was free. There was no human prejudice that constrained His behavior. His mind was far from self consciousness that often plagues us so in our social interactions, fixated on something altogether more unvain and transcendent, the salvation of the world, the rescuing of humanity from the bondage of sin, guilt, and shame.
The problem or tension between “us” and “them” exists in each of us in many different forms. We are prejudiced against each other, the rich against the poor, the poor against the rich. What would it take to break down these manufactured walls in our minds?
Love your neighbor as yourself. What a simple, yet radical concept. The one who loves most is the one most free from human prejudice.
“…if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.
Stolen from a book title by my favorite Indonesian author, the late Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the title of this blog post captures the essence of what I consider my life personal statement, to be a child of all nations. I consider the entire world as a classroom and every culture a teacher. Since I have not had the privilege of traveling to very many places, books are my gateway to the world. I fight against the pull of insularity, with its ease and comfort, and I consider those who intentionally cross national and cultural barriers to widen their perspective as heroes.
My modern-day hero in this regard is Rory Stewart, a British author and Member of Parliament, who walked across Afghanistan in early 2002 and recorded his journey in the book Places in Between. He has also written two other books about his year working in Iraq and his analysis on political interventions in conflict regions, which are both on my reading list.
What I love about Places in Between is that it’s written in a factual way, detailing the day-to-day events during his journey without much commentary or analysis of the individuals and society he encountered. He meets individuals who are devious, truly honest, and a thousand shades in between, but he never passes a character judgment categorically on the entire society: the Afghans are such and such.
I firmly believe that in cross-cultural experiences, one should first and foremost take the position of an observer, and use wonder rather than critical thinking as the foundation of the encounter. Respecting the other culture’s dignity is paramount. Questions should be motivated by curiosity rather than criticism, and one should wait a great, great while before coming to a conclusion about a group of people and saying “The [insert nation/people] are [insert quality].” In fact, I dare say that kind statement is never true.
In this day and age, I find the sentiments that one location, society, or nation is emphatically superior to another really bothersome, including the times I find myself subscribing to such sentiments. To live is to ever learn, to stretch the boundaries of one’s experience, and to marvel at the complexity that is our human experience.
*A book I’m currently reading, which I’ll review soon, prompts this rather abstract entry, even though I’ve always held the aforementioned views. This entry also marks the beginning of me delving deeper into another side interest of mine: international affairs and women issues.
**Update (06/30/2012): Please find the review of the book I mentioned here.
As a canvasser a few years ago, I was often told that when people reject me at the door, don’t be discouraged, since they’re not rejecting me, they’re rejecting the One who sent me. While I understand where they’re coming from, I never fully agree with that counsel.
I know what they mean to say is that I shouldn’t take myself too seriously; it’s a good discipline against self and pride. But when it’s worded as, “Don’t take it personally,” I can’t help to disagree because, well, shouldn’t ministry be personal? When I know that people reject me not for me, it doesn’t mean I can just turn away skipping and happy as if it were not my problem, especially since I know that they rejecting Someone bigger and much more important than me. In fact, I should be grieved even more.
Am I not a friend of God? Can I ignore His sadness when someone rejects Him? Is this not the purpose of ministry, to be transformed into His character, to be nearer to the heart of God, and to be synchronized with His mind and heart?
There is a difference between being sad because my pride is hurt, and being sad because the One I love is hurt. Ministry is personal. There is no way around it. And it hurts.
That is why, when I hear error being preached, I cannot help being hurt. I cannot not take it personally. I will not pretend like it’s okay, look away like it never happened, or pretend that I’m not affected by it. If someone is talking about my God and spreading lies about Him, I will be offended. Period. This is true for anyone I love.
When you love the truth, you must hate error. It’s only natural, because the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
I may be a struggling Christian and my devotional life may not be perfect like crystal, but I know that I have vowed to love the truth and to stand for God’s Word until I die, and I make no apology for being emotionally involved. Because this thing is personal. It just is.
But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain “Thus saith the Lord” in its support. The Great Controversy, p. 595.