This world is just a shadow of a stronger, more real time to come;
In this lies my hope.
"I surrender all
to the promises you made
and I will give it all
to the maker of the day
No one knows your heart
and no one knows your fears
When no one solves the mysteries
or even wipes away the tears
Can you hear the sound of laughter
from the other side of life?
There are days when I feel like a stranger sometimes
Tell me, are there any other fools like me?
This reliance on another world
has a great effect on this world
This conscience of another world
has a great effect on
He doesn't love us 'cause of who we are
He only loves us 'cause of who he is
We all were children once
so will we return
So let those days return
let us all return"
"Love is kind." I am stumped. How to exert kindness towards a new culture? But I want to truly love this place, so I must reflect. In doing so, I suspect kindness towards a different culture may be the most convicting of love's attributes.
Trying to understand kindness towards a whole culture is a little confusing and makes my head swim. On a lofty level, the word "charity" comes to mind. But thinking of synonyms doesn't actually help me define what it means to be kind to this part of the world. I need something more practical, more rooted to the ground I actually walk on. I don't want some saintly challenge which will cause my feet to float three feet higher than everyone else, but keep my heart frozen and cold.
If I am going to be kind to this culture as an expression of love, I must keep my thoughts and words in check. I am going to use the women who just sat down across from me in Starbucks as an example. Culturally, I do not have the natural inclination to show her kindness. She is wearing a frilly, sparkly dress; she assumes I don't understand her as she speaks about me to her friend; she is picking something out of her teeth with her fingernail. This would be the moment for me to roll my eyes, turn to my American friend, and talk about all the things I think are strange or unacceptable about these people. But is kindness my heart's motivation when I do such? Self-righteousness, insecurity, and ignorance are more like it.
I think kindness to my new culture means not rolling my eyes at things. It means keeping my mouth shut more often. It probably means refraining from judgment unless things truly are against Dad's design for life. But it also means more. A kind person is someone who goes one step further than refraining from being disparaging; a kind person is someone who positively encourages and smiles upon others regardless of differences. I probably will never want to wear a frilly, sparkly dress, but kindness towards my new culture is to understand that the girls here do want to wear such a dress and smile upon them as they do, enjoying their delight in such different expressions of beauty. And if I can become kinder in this sense towards the surrounding culture, I believe I will actually learn to treasure it.
My conclusion is that cultural kindness is in the small things rather than the big things. It's the differences in fashion, manners, food, etc. that seem the most inconsequential, and yet those are the areas where it is hardest to show genuine kindness rather than forced politeness. Kindness is a daily exercise in love and one the biggest testimonies to it when practiced.
I have been back in my second home for a little over a week now. Tonight, as I was driving in a taxi, I felt deeply moved to love for my host culture. I felt alive and happy to be back, in addition to passionate for the work at hand. I can't wait to get back out there and engage. My heart is burdened with supplication to the Father.
In the midst of the taxi ride, though, I reflected on last year and its hardships. Tonight I was worlds away from the immense frustrations of last year, but I know how easy it would be for that sense of frustrated apathy to return. I reflected on what pushed me to persevere last year and my mind returned to a passage that kept me inspired last year to stay engaged with this culture.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Last year, I was reading this passage and it dawned on me that these words of wisdom can, and should, be applied to much more in this life than just individuals. How many times have I thought of this in relationship to a friend, family member, or stranger? Plenty. But how many times have I tried to apply this to my new culture?
When, in the midst of a bad day of pollution, traffic, strange food, etc. have I stopped and said, I will LOVE this culture by being (fill in the blank with any of the above attributes of love?) Last year, I was constantly reminded of "love is not easily provoked" and tried to push myself let go of anger in frustrating situations. This year, I want to go beyond that one attribute. I hope to reflect on each of the attributes of love in connection to my new culture.
The first is patience. If I am going to love East Asia, then I must learn patience with it. And there is so much to be patient with. My poor language skills immediately come to mind. So does the difference in organizational abilities and expectations. Of utmost importance will be patience with my teachers. And I hate hate hate standing in line, which is a daily trial over here.
Oh boy. This is going to be hard. But I don't want to bear the burden of this culture - I want to thrive on it. And to thrive on anything you must love it. And the above passage describes love as being patient. Loving something is a big task. Loving a culture seemingly opposite of my own seems almost impossible. But the Master who created both me and this crazy country also has given me His Spirit which happens to be patient to the utmost with His creation.
So maybe with increased patience, I really can keep on loving this place for the rest of the year.