Oh yes, there was diversity in my small hometown in Ohio. We had the kids who went to church every Sunday no matter what, the kids who only went to special youth group events, or (gasp!) the people who only went to church on Christmas and Easter. My twelve-year-old self couldn’t have imagined that one of my friends at school might never go to church at all. We were all Christians, so I believed.
One of the interesting aspects of the story in the Bible about the “Good Samaritan” was how divided the community was. They had their different types of religious people and the group who was considered lower than the low–the Samaritans–one of whom, of course, turned out to be “good” because of his loving actions. As a kid I had a hard time picturing a community that was so sharply divided.
Now, I live in the Pacific NW where only a slightly higher percentage of people attend church on Sunday than in Tokyo from what I’ve been told, and I work in a public school district that is increasingly one of the most truly diverse school districts in the nation. 38% of the incoming kindergarteners speak a different language at home other than English. And I love it. It has made me think a lot about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and what a privilege they are. I have gotten to know many people who are from very different backgrounds, and who are serious about faith, even though it may not be the same faith as mine. They may not even go to a church at all, but they are just as devoted to their sense of faith as I am. I am learning a lot from them, and it helps me to define what I really do believe.
This past year, an elementary school librarian I know had the kids do a project on a holiday that was special to them. They designed posters and researched information and presented them to the class. I learned so much! For example, did you ever hear of a holiday called White Sunday? The kids from Samoa and Tonga were so excited to share about this holiday that they celebrate every year at church. Maybe we’ll talk more about that in October, when White Sunday is celebrated. For now, I am just thinking about how incredible it was to hear so many kids, from so many different backgrounds, working on their posters, helping each other, and telling each other in matter-of-fact tones about Jesus and Easter, Islam and Ramadan, Judaism and Hanukkah, and many other things. Kids respected each other in a way that I hadn’t seen before. They were eager to hear what made each holiday special to their classmates. Not all of them were about religious holidays, but I was so surprised by how many kids seemed to grab with both hands onto this unique opportunity to share a part of themselves that doesn’t often get talked about at school.
Wouldn’t it be great if all of us adults could do the same? Kind of what being a loving neighbor, in the Good Samaritan sense, is all about! Stepping out of our comfort zones to help, or at the very least, try to understand each other. In this blog, I’m hoping we can learn more about our neighbors, and share together what we have learned. For next time, I’m hoping to learn a little about Ramadan, a Muslim holiday that took place, this year, in the summer.