Redefining Freedom in 21st Century America

We often count ourselves privileged, even blessed, to live in a nation where we have access to so many freedoms and rights. In comparison to other nations around the globe, we have the ability to pursue life, love, happiness and a host of other things that people in other countries wish they could enjoy. But what does it mean when our freedoms violate the wishes and the liberties of others? Is this freedom? Or is it slavery with a different face?

A few weeks ago, Clint Eastwood performed the Invisible Man skit at the RNC convention. Though some viewed the skit as strange, and maybe a little awkward, it was very clear that he purposed to attack President Obama’s otherness. Not his politics, not the way he governs the country, but his black skin. His African heritage. His otherness.

Like many others, I found myself put off by it. I felt like the skit was an effort to dehumanize and take value away from President Obama simply because he is different. And this is not okay. We can challenge his policies all day long, which I think is acceptable because we all come to this political animal with different lens – we are bound to disagree on a lot of things. But, we cannot write him or anybody else off because of the color of their skin. We cannot minimize someone’s humanity, their wishes, their needs, simply because they represent all that we are not. That is not exercising freedom at all; that is exercising hate.

To make matters even worse, there were some very disturbing occurrences of Obama chair lynchings in Virginia and Texas. The man who committed the offense in Texas even admitted that he had the nation’s African American president in mind when he did it. Though the freedom of speech protects the ones who did these awful things from legal consequences, is this not taking the notion of freedom too far? Where is the line? How can this be freedom when people of color (of which I am one) feel that their safety is compromised?

Further still, our endless pursuit of material things and wealth robs security and comfort from others around us. As we stock our closets, our garages, and our banks with more and more stuff, we limit other’s access to basic human necessities such as food and housing. Yet, our consumer driven economy gives us the freedom, and in fact, encourages us to consume more goods upon ourselves at any cost. And unfortunately the poor all too often pay that cost. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 46.2 million people were living in poverty in 2011, and that women and children are disproportionately affected by this. At the same time, the incomes of the top 1% continue to grow. Still, they have that audacity to ask for a tax-break while 46.2 million struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. Is this freedom? Or is this greed?

Freedom in the way that our nation envisions it, and in the way we live it out, is killing us. Like cancer, it is eating away at the core of our being, leaving more people marginalized and destitute in its path. We have to do something about it! And as people of faith, we have an obligation to do something about it including viewing freedom from a godly perspective. Just in looking through the Bible, it is clear that God calls us to use our freedom to set others free. Everything He gives us, is for the purpose of building others up, not tearing them down. He blesses us, so that we can be a blessing to others. He saves and rescues us, so that we can share the hope of salvation with others. Our words should give life, not take it. And what we have in our hands should be utilized to build the kingdom of God, instead of our own name.

I believe that we have a golden opportunity here. Right now, we are at a delicate moment in our nation’s history, and it will take the community of faith to navigate us through it successfully. But that means we have to use our freedoms, both God given and given by nature of our citizenship, for good. And we can! We do not have to buy in to what the culture around us is selling – we do not have to keep consuming, we do not have to say whatever we feel in the moment that we feel it, and we do not have to write others off simply because they do not look like us. No, rather, we can, with the help of God, live differently. We can, in fact, redefine what freedom looks like in our 21st century America.

When Our Problems Begin and End With Ourselves

Most people when confronting a problem or a difficult situation like to figure out where to place the blame. They want to find out who or what they can point to for the mess that they find themselves in. Children blame parents for an awful upbringing, wives blame husbands for a turbulent marriage, nations blame other nations for instability, poverty, and hunger, politicians blame other politicians for the lack of economic recovery. In life, there just seems to be a whole lot of blaming going on, and in all honesty, not a lot self-reflection to figure out if we may actually be the source of the problem we are up against.

This is not to say that the other party isn’t guilty; there may be some of that too! Parents can do some really awful things to their children, husbands can be very negligent to their wives, nations do play a role in the ability of other nations to thrive economically, and some politicians as well as other entities are very responsible for the present economic crisis that the United States finds itself in. All of this is well and true. However, have we ever stopped to consider how we ourselves are contributing to the mess before us? How our are actions creating problems and stirring up strife for ourselves and others around us? I would guess that all too often we don’t ask these questions of ourselves because our pride and need for self preservation gets in the way. It is just so much easier to blame the other.

And that was the case for Haman in the book of Esther in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. Haman was this guy with a big name and a big title in Persia, who apparently thought too highly of himself. This guy really liked to have his ego stroked, and he was threatened by anyone who refused to do that. Mordecai, a Jewish servant, refused to play a part in Haman’s quest to exalt himself and so, when all of the other king servants bowed down and paid homage to Haman, Mordecai didn’t budge. As you can image, Haman was irate. But instead of just ripping into Mordecai, Haman decides to go one step further and annihilate the Jews.

Craziness.

You see, because Haman could not see that his own pride was the source of his discomfort, he chooses a target, a scapegoat if you will, where he could lay all of the blame. So now, not only Mordecai but the entire Jewish nation is on the hook for this guy’s inability to check his ego at the door. For Haman, it was so much easier to point the finger at the other, rather than to take responsibility for his own actions.

Before you start to berate Haman, let me remind you that we all do this in some form or capacity, some much more than others. We are constantly pointing the finger to those outside of us, and many times those who are unlike us, and we make them stand account for our own pain. ‘The other’ has become our fall guy, and as a result, we don’t have to deal with our own sin.

At least that is what we think. But we should know and understand that our pride will always come back to bite us right in the rear end. And this happened to Haman. As much as he tried to label and blame Mordecai, Haman’s pride eventually cost him his life. Haman thought that he would never have to deal with his biggest problem in his life, himself, but in the end, his refusal to own up to his shortcomings did him in.

Now, our pride probably won’t cost us our lives. Probably. But it will destroy us and the lives of those around us until we take control of it. As long as we refuse to own up to our shortcomings and recognize the role that we have played in the problems that we face, we will never do well. We can keep blaming others all day long, but it wont get us any closer to the solutions we need to move forward.

Prayer for Syria

Dear God,

My heart is heavy. Sometimes I feel like it will break. Tears I can barely keep from flowing down my face as I look, and I see, my brothers and sisters losing their lives in Syria. Day after day, more and more people are taking their last breaths, slipping into eternity, at the hands of a man who refuses to abdicate power.

It disgusts me.

And it overwhelms me.

I feel like I need to do something, like I need to say something. Like somehow, some way, but I am without power. I don’t have an international platform and I sure can’t influence heads of state.

But you can. By your Spirit, you can change even the hardest of hearts and minds. And I pray that you would, because frankly God, this is getting out of hand.

See all of the blood spilled, God, look and see. How long will the wicked prosper at the expense of the vulnerable? How much longer must these people suffer – fathers losing their sons and daughters, children losing their parents? How much longer until the cries of these reach heaven and you allow time to stand still so that you can act?

How much longer will my brothers and sisters be regarded as a political game – pawns in somebody’s chess game? When will the world lay aside all that it could gain, and forget about what it could lose, and respond?

How much longer until your people rally together and pray? When will they begin to weep, really weep, on behalf of someone who does not look like them, does not believe like them, but who is equally valuable and equally precious in your sight?

Syria can’t afford to wait any longer, God. Move today. Move today.

Be sure to join Demanding Justice for Syria on facebook. We are a group committed to praying for justice and peace in Syria. All you have to do is like us, pray for Syria and tell your friends about us.

In Memory of 9/11

Tonight’s drive home from work was not particularly special. I stopped by the day care to pick up my daughter, ran by Target to get one or two necessities, talked to a friend I had not seen in a while, and was back on the road toward home in no time. As I drove, I listened to MPR’s All Things Considered report on terror suspects at the Mall of America. But that’s just the thing, they were perceived suspects as a result of something that they did at the mall. One old man forgot his cell phone at the food court and was considered suspicious. Another man displayed strange walking behavior, and was also considered suspect (turns out the later was just looking for a toy for his son). Disturbing reports? In my opinion yes! But that opinion is not the same for authorities at the Mall who were just trying to protect the public from possible acts of terror. I believe that it is safe to say that it was fear that motivated them to pursue these suspects, fear of the other.

This fear of the other, or people not like us, has increased since 9/11. Through different policies, regulations, armed forces, and so many other things, we have tried to keep people from being able to perpetrate the same events that robbed this world of thousands of lives. Our goal, I believe, has been legitimate, I mean, who would want the events of 9/11 to ever be repeated? However, in doing so, we have often singled out people, innocent people, profiling them simply because they fit the description of the other. And more specifically, the religious other.

How do we get beyond this fear? Do we even want to? Can we name it? Juan Williams named his fear and got in trouble. But does that get us anywhere, or at least anywhere desirable? What would happen if we replaced our fear of the other, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Democrat, Republican, Atheist, a Tea Party Advocate, male, female, poor or rich, with genuine heartfelt love. Perfect love drives out all fear. How can we begin to love the other perfectly? Even more than this, how do we begin to love in such a way that we no longer divide ourselves against the other, and instead reach out across cultural barriers to embrace a new way of life?

What Happens When You Are Not Fully Human

A self-righteous, religious leader once asked Jesus a question. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22.36)?” And although Jesus knew that in his questioning, this man was up to no good, he responded “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22.37-39). For the reason that this man did not ask Jesus this question because he really cared much less wanted to know what the heart of God was, I want to believe that upon receiving this newfound information that he did not do anything with it. I suggest that he probably thought to himself, ‘Oh, well that’s nice’ and tried never to think about it again. Maybe this is just because his original intent was to catch Jesus messing up, hoping that his question would provoke an answer that would show the world that this man was a quack. Or maybe, just maybe it was because he really did not like his answer.

Love the Lord your God…with everything! This I am sure he knew, as I am sure we all know, is essential, pivotal to our spiritual wellbeing. Although I do not suggest that we do this, in fact, we are far away from loving God in the way that the scripture admonishes us to. If you don’t believe me. just have an honest conversation with yourself and tell me where are you are at on this one. Believe me, we all fall short in this area, but yet on some level we know that this is what we need to achieve. But what about that loving your neighbor as yourself nonsense? Why did Jesus put that in there? Because in fact, that is where all sin stems from, the failure to either love God or to love one’s neighbor. Just look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, briefly:

*Have no other gods before God (failure to love God)
*Don’t worship idols (failure to love God)
*Don’t take name of the Lord in vain (failure to love God)
*Remember the Sabbath (failure to love God)
*Honor your parents (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t murder (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t commit adultery (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t steal (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t lie (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t covet your neighbors stuff (failure to love your neighbor)

Ok, so now we know that there is some stake in us loving our neighbor as ourselves. But do we do this? On some level, we have failed to understand who are neighbor is. If you are still looking for a definition of that, read Luke 10.30-37, because I actually want to highlight something else. I think that on a very, twisted, deeper level that not only do we not understand who our neighbor is but that we fail to see that they could possibly be anything like us. We fail to see our neighbor, the other, as fully human and therefore fully deserving of love, respect, and dignity.

No, you don’t believe me. Ha. That’s fine, I did not think you would. But follow my train of thought, and by the end you will see where I am going with this.

During the period of slavery in this country, one idea that circulated was that black people had a different biological makeup than that of white people. Some even went as far as to suggest that black people were of a whole different species than whites. Which is fairly convenient, if you ask me, because in somehow proving, albeit falsely, so lets go with advocating, that black people are somehow biologically less than whites you have made a case that justifies maltreatment, slavery, rape, conquest, theft, discrimination, mass incarceration, exclusion from resources and so much more, that continues to this day.

The same can be said of our neighbors abroad in places like China, India, South Africa, Iraq, etc. We call these neighbors third world neighbors, or if you ask me, a third human. I bet you did not like that one, but lets be honest. Just because a country is not developed (and by whose standard are we measuring this development anyways, whose to say this is an accurate assessment based on the needs and resources of a given land, but that’s another story) does not mean that they are in a lesser world than we are in. Just because they may not possess the infrastructure, technology, government, and economy that perhaps America or England possesses does not mean that they should be labeled a third world nation. But in doing so, we are now justified in exploiting their land, and yes this still goes on though the ‘days’ of slavery and colonization are over. And we are justified in taking their resources without ever feeling that we should compensate for doing so, going as far as prohibiting people from those lands to come and somehow make a way for their family through cheap labor and taxes (yes, I am talking about immigration). And we are justified in ignoring their need for food, water, safety, and life, patting ourselves on the back anytime we throw a dollar their way because ‘we made a difference.’ We feel justified, because we have made them less than our neighbor and we do not see them in the same light that we see ourselves.

The same can also be said, and now I am going to really step on some toes, of the unborn. Ok, I am just going to come out and say it- abortion. Understand that I am not suggesting that a woman should not have a right to choose, that is an argument that I do not even want to touch right now. But, what I want to address is this whole idea of when life begins. Fertilization? Conception? 4 Weeks? 12 Weeks? 20 Weeks? 26 Weeks? 40 Weeks? Delivery? It is this question and our answer to it, that gives us permission to treat the unborn a certain way. Because if life does not begin until one is born, well then, this idea of humanness does not either, which once again justifies treating the unborn as some unrelated entity of us.

“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind…and your neighbor as yourself.” If we are truly loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, we have to start seeing our neighbors as ourselves- fully human, completely loved by God, and worthy of every blessing that we afford ourselves. Let’s stop making qualifiers of who belongs and who does not belong to the human race based on race, age, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status because we all belong- our only task is to learn how to get along.

Reclaiming Very Goodness

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good and God separated that light from darkness…and there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so….and there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so…and God saw that it was good. The God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their own kind with seed in them”; and it was so…and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day. (Genesis 1.1-13)

For three more days, this pattern of God creating out of nothingness continues. He creates lights, seasons, days and years. He creates waters full of living creatures, and birds to fly in the air. And he creates cattle, and creatures of every kind, and he called each and every one of these things good. Yet, on the sixth day, the day that God creates human beings the pattern slightly changes. For starters, he gives humanity a distinction that he has not given to anything else – very goodness. Unlike everything else that God created, humanity is not only good but very good. Secondly, after creating humanity, God rests from this work meaning that he was done, and that all that was to be created has been, and is perfect and is good.

So that is what humanity represents. Perfection. Completion. Very goodness. And in that state we enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. We talked with him freely, uninhabited and unashamed because there was not anything that suggested that we should ever hide ourselves from him. But we also enjoyed a fulfilling relationship with one another. We were not afraid of someone else inadequacies, shortcomings, background, gender, or ethnicity because we were first and foremost complete in God. We were able to be our real, authentic selves with one another, to the point that Adam and Eve were able to be naked with one another and feel absolutely no shame.

Yet something happened that smeared our perfection, that corrupted our goodness. We fell out of relationship with God. We believed a lie, that we could some how achieve God-ness if we were to do the very thing that God instructed us not to do. In Genesis 2, God clearly tells Adam that he is not to eat from the tree of forbidden fruit or he would die. But Adam and Eve not only eat the fruit, but they believe that in doing so that they will attain this wisdom that they had not previously known. And although they attain it, it is not what they have in mind. Now, as a result of the fruit, they know what it is to live and be in sin. They know what it is to be far away from God, to the point that they hid themselves from him because they knew that he would be disappointed. And they know what it is like to be far from one another, and to be ashamed of one another as well as themselves. What else could make a husband and wife feel the need to cover and veil the most intimate part of who they were?

Not only did Adam and Eve cover their body parts, they also covered their hearts. They knew that there was something wrong but for them, the best way to address it was by blaming the other. First, Adam blamed Eve for making him eat the fruit, and subsequently, Eve blamed the serpent who deceived her. Neither one took responsibility for their own actions, for their own shortcomings, yet both of them, and all of humanity with them has now lost out on what it means to be good, what it means to be complete.

Immediately after this episode, we come upon Genesis 4, where we witness the first murder. Cain, feeling inadequate and ashamed out of his own failure to identify his sin and fix it, lashes out at Abel who had nothing to do with Cain’s shame or inability to measure up. Abel, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was a clear representation of all that Cain was not. This did not happen between two people who were from two different mothers, or even two different nationalities. In fact, they were brothers.

In Genesis 9, we encounter Noah. Noah was a righteous man who God spared along with his family from the flood. Yet after the flood, Noah gets himself drunk and naked, and his son Ham uncovers this. Rather than admitting his failure for getting himself in this predicament in the first place, Noah takes his frustration out on Ham, his own son, and Canaan, his grandson, saying that their family would be in perpetual servitude.

Then we come upon Genesis 16. Sarai and Hagar. This is some deep stuff. Abram (later Abraham) and Sarai (later Sarah) have been trying to get pregnant for years even though God has promised them a son. After seeing no sign of a son, and only old age, Sarai suggests that Abram sleep with her handmaid to perhaps bear a son through her, which in and of itself is a horrible thing. Yet, when it works, Sarai takes it out on Hagar. She starts to blame Hagar for her troubles, forgetting all the while that Hagar has nothing to do with her barrenness and inability to conceive a child. But she is an easy target, and so the blame, the hatred, and the oppression continue until one day, God removes both Hagar and her son Ishmael from the oppressive environment.

And we have only covered the first 16 chapters of the biblical text. Yet if we continue, we will find that this pattern of hatred, oppression, exploitation, murder, blame and shame also continues down through the text. What we will often find is that this pattern is not always wrapped up in ethnocentrism, racism, or sexism. Sometimes it is just wrapped up in the fact that wherever two people exist, at least one of them will find a way to divide and conquer the other one simply because they are unfulfilled and unsatisfied with their own selves.

But we must remember that we did not start this way. We started off being very good. We started off being complete and perfect and whole in God. How do we get back there? Not only for the sake of those that we slight in one way or another, but also for our own sakes. We cannot continue going around pitting ourselves against others because of our own deep seeded insecurities. We cannot keep blaming the Democrats, Republicans, blacks, whites, women, men, Muslims, homosexuals, Christians, Jews, rich, poor, or anybody else for the way that we feel about ourselves. It is time that we claim the responsibility that Adam and Eve pushed off on themselves and own up to our deep rooted issues.

I would suggest that this work starts at the Cross of Christ. I am not trying to be overly simplistic, I just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where it has to start. If the root of our problem has to do with us not being in proper relationship with God, then that is where we have to start to do work in order to reclaim our very goodness. You see, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a way was made for us to enter back into creation with God. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 calls this creation a new creation in that all of the mess, shame, and sin that we were accustomed to has passed away and we have become completely new.

It is out of this renewed relationship with God that we are able to begin to deal with our inadequacies and become who we were always meant to be. It does not happen over night, but as we consciously and consistently meditate on the Word of God, we begin to change. We begin to feel so complete, so full in Christ that there is no longer any need to dump all over someone else. We begin to become whole and functioning human beings that we no longer feel the need to divide, conquer and oppress someone else just because they threaten who we are. In fact, we are no longer threatened.

I am a huge social justice advocate and enthusiast. I believe that there are systems in our world, such as racism, classim, and sexism, that keep people in power in power and that also only reinforce the stereotypes of the poor colored masses so that they stay out of power. But for me, this is not the issue. Yes they are things that need to be addressed so that systems and situations will change, but it only gets at a part of the problem. The problem is a human problem, a worldwide problem, centering around who we are as individuals. It is only until we are willing to do work around that, and reclaim the goodness that we lost, that the work around social justice even has a chance.

Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction

How do we distinguish between what is true or characteristic about a people or a culture, and what is a stereotype? This is a question that I ask myself periodically as I catch myself and others labeling an entire people group, nationality, gender or social class on account of a few interactions with people from that group. I find that such labeling comes rather easy for most of us in that as a people we are always looking for a way to associate with people, especially when we do not know much about them and where they are from. I mean, how easy is it for you to perhaps meet a few people from India and begin to see all Indians that way on account of the people that you just met. You may not know their language much less anything about their culture, but at least in your mind you know that they are a particular way based on your interactions with a few.

Yet sometimes, we do this not to associate with others but to distinguish ourselves from them. Collectively as a human race, we are some pretty insecure people and so anyway we can prove our worth, and our value by disproving that of another we will do it. Think of how easy it might be for you to label those who have attained a lower-level of education than you. You might call them lazy, worthless, unsuccessful and so many other things simply to make yourself look better to yourself, even though you yourself barely made it out of undergrad. Or if you are a Christian, how might you stereotype unbelievers who smoke, drink and do whatever else that unbelievers do? Although you might not be the best Christian in the world, at least you are not like those people!

I can recall an instance of such taking place when I worked for TCF Bank in Minnesota. I remember being in my boss’s office trying to figure out a problem that a customer was having with their account. Unfortunately the problem was beyond us and so we needed to call another department within TCF to get further clarification as to what was going on. As my boss made the phone call and spoke to the person on the other end of the phone, I patiently waited because I knew that the call would not last terribly wrong. I suppose, however, that the conversation with the person on the other end was not too pleasant in that immediately as my boss hung up the phone, she asked me a rhetorical question, “Why are all black women so aggressive when they speak?” Although I am sure she probably did not expect me to answer and even though she was my boss, I could not help but to call her out on the carpet for that one as being a black woman myself I took great offense at that. I personally know that this is not the case, in that I am not aggressive and angry sounding when I speak, although I know of several black women who are. But then again, I also know of white women and white men, and Asian women, and African women, and Latino men – all of whom are aggressive speakers. But such has much more to do with who they are as an individual (or perhaps what they had for breakfast) than the culture that they represent.

I also remember several instances where people in speaking of persons of Latin descent referred to such as Mexicans. “Oh, Mexicans live over there and they are noisy,” I heard one boy say. I asked him how he knew that they were Mexicans and he did not know, but was sure that they were. I have also heard others say similar things, saying that the Mexicans did this or said this. Yet how do such persons know that the people that they are referring to are not Guatemalan, Salvadorian, or Brazilian.
I also recall an instance where I found myself reflecting on the ethnicity of two men that I had run across in the past who exhibited interest in me. Both were of the same ethnicity and both I had horrible experiences with. The first one I came across my second year in undergrad and when he came into my life I had recently broken up with someone else. I was still upset about this breakup and so I really was not too interested with getting together with anyone at this point. And yet he was persistent and so we went out a few times and then all of a sudden he stopped calling. As I said, I was not looking for anything with him yet I wondered why the sudden change. I inquired about it and he told me that the reason he stopped calling was because he was upset that I did not call him after our date to make sure that he had gotten home okay. When he told me this, I just about wet my pants with laughter because I could not believe what I was hearing. I have since learned that this is a cultural thing in that it connotes respect, but at the time I thought that he was absolutely crazy. I mean he dropped me back off at my place close to 1AM; what business do I have calling anyone much less a man at that hour of the night?

The second one came along years later and it was clear from the moment that I met him that he was interested in me. Although he did not say anything about that interest at first, it did not take him very long to come out with how he felt and in doing so he asked to go out. I did not see how going out to lunch would do me any harm and so I obliged him. Yet it was a nightmare from hell as he within minutes of our date began to tell me how much he loved me and wanted to marry me, even though I had known the knucklehead all for about a minute. I told him that I was not interested in that type of relationship and kept trying to change the subject in hopes of getting him to talk about something other than his feelings toward me. As much as I tried redirecting him, he too kept trying to pull me back even though I kept emphasizing that I just was not interested in him. (This is perhaps where I flawed; I should not have ever went on that date). Finally the lunch came to a close and he walked me back to my car. After doing so, he leans in for a hug and kisses me right on the cheek after I had already made clear that I had no romantic interest in him whatsoever. I was absolutely disgusted and after calling him to tell him how much I despised his actions, I never spoke with him again.

Years later, for some reason, I found myself thinking about both of these instances and within moments I reasoned that the people from this ethnic group must all be crazy simply because of my less than favorable interactions. I immediately corrected myself, telling myself that if I allowed myself to think that way I would be stereotyping the whole nation that these two unique individuals were from in light of my interactions with them. I thought that this would not be a just act in that I know all too well that two people do not speak for an entire people group.

And yet, this is what we all do when we run into people of a particular background, religion, nationality or color: we allow the actions of a few to dictate to us what the many are like. How many times do we say to ourselves and to others that all Chinese people are like this, or all black men are like this, or all Latinos are like this, or all women, or all Muslims, or all rich people are like this. When we do such not only discount who they are as unique individuals aside from their culture or group, but we also short circuit ourselves, in that we cause ourselves to miss out on immensely valuable relationships with people on account of the stereotypes that we hold against them.

There is something to be said about cultural distinctions, such as language, religion, verbal and nonverbal communication and the like. Of course it is not inappropriate to say that Argentinians speak Spanish or that Nigerians are more collectivist than individualistic or that Japanese practice Buddhism. These are not stereotypes, these are pieces of information that are fact! But even here we must be careful in that even within one culture, there are people who do not fit cultural norms. Again, this emphasizes the need to look at people for who they are as individuals and then judge them on the basis of that, rather than reading into their actions, behaviors and the like on account of where they are from.