After returning from a day at the beach with a my new international student friends, I looked at the lovely bouquet on the dining room table a bit differently. I noticed how there was a beautiful diversity of flowers composing this flourishing arrangement. As they crowd together in the narrow vase, some blossoms are pulled downward with less room to bloom. The flowers that have reached the top continue to stretch for sunlight, proudly displaying their full circumference of pedals.
God speaks to me in metaphors. The bouquet reminded me of our beach hang out… a cultural bouquet with lovely representatives of Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, India, New Zealand, Maori, England, local Hawaii, and the United States (me)! With those from Japan and Korea making up about half our group, the other nations were represented only by one, two, or three. If our cultural bouquet was to reach it’s full glory, each cultural representative, would feel the space to expand and display all the beauty and fragrance of their people whether or not they stood alone.
Certainly a bouquet of one or two different types is lovely to behold… after all, who doesn’t appreciate the sumptuous union of 24 roses, especially to stir up the romance on an anniversary? But something spectacular happens when a community of diversity comes together and each different blossom is given full display. When taken as a whole, we are in awe at the rainbow of pedals and collage of shapes presented with a symphony of fragrances. And yet, if we cannot admire each member for what it brings, we fail to appreciate the whole.
I fear that often in an attempt to create an environment of shared equality between peoples we actually devalue each member and the contribution he or she brings. If we claim we are colorblind, we see shapes and colors and notice some texture differences, but we miss the exquisite dimension of light refracting off different cellular surfaces. Instead of a rainbow, we see shades of gray.
How might we hold in tension both our desire to give equal value to all persons as well as our desire to affirm their uniqueness? In giving notice to the lily am I de-emphasizing the daisies? Or is it possible to give the daisies a spotlight later, and afterwards acknowledge the delicate loveliness of baby’s breath? While a bouquet is one, it is composed of separate parts. All parts are not equal, but all parts are desired.
I pray that our International Student Ministry community will be a beautiful bouquet of cultures where each member is welcome to share her language, song, food, values, and worldview. I hope it will also be a place where admiring the lily doesn’t mean we are ignoring the daisies. For the lily will have it’s turn and then the daisies theirs. When everyone will has room to bloom, then we will truly appreciate our cultural bouquet!