An episode in season 1 of Modern Family includes a story line about Cam’s desperate attempt to make friends with Gloria, the Colombian–and nontraditional–stepmother of his partner Mitchell. A series of shots shows various past scenes in which Cam inadvertently insults Gloria (one includes Cam criticizing a friend who went to Columbia University, which Gloria hears as racial jabs against Colombians). He tries to make it up to her by taking her out to a fancy dinner; she convinces him to go to her favorite dive restaurant instead. When Cam orders the same meal as Gloria, she pointedly warns him about the spice level–yet in a frantic attempt to connect with her culture, he insists. A hilarious scene follows involving profuse sweating and Cam finally gasping, “I feel like I ate the sun!” In the end, Gloria admits her confusion about Cam’s attempts at friendship; she’s always considered them friends.
Many barriers stand between cross-cultural and cross-racial friendships. I can’t get into political, social and economic differences because frankly, I’m ignorant. And this ignorance is my biggest barrier . It’s a vicious cycle–my ignorance makes me terribly self-conscience, which leads to avoidance of cross-cultural interactions, which feeds into the ignorance. I have a deep curiosity and need to connect, yet I read about instead of talk to; I witness but don’t interact. I like to say the right thing, all the time. This doesn’t happen when you reach across cultural and racial lines. The risk of looking like a fool often leaves me paralyzed.
Yet rich energy fills me from these interactions–that feel so awkward to me–and leaves me searching for more. Last night my congregation hosted Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel from the organization From Death to Life. They spoke to us about their path of forgiveness and reconciliation after Oshea killed Mary’s only son in 1993. Yet their witness to us was about so much more than forgiveness. As a mostly white, suburban congregation, we tend to see the other (different race, culture, economic level) as needing something from us. Instead, Mary and Oshea came and gifted us with their wisdom. Oshea’s poise and thoughtful dialogue shattered any assumptions I had about convicted felons; Mary’s confident stature and profound wisdom altered any preconceived ideas I had about North Minneapolis residents and mothers of drug dealers.
Yet these relationship aren’t only one-sided. I have gifts to give as well–I listen; I seek; I speak. I risk. I embrace the vulnerability that rides the sidecar of openness, hurtling me down the highway of change and transformation. Thanks to Mary and Oshea for teaching me.