As the snow is starting to fall here in Michigan, "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas". Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye's movie (and song) "White Christmas" has colored my vision of what Christmas should look like. Snow flakes gently falling, and a pristine white blanket covering the world, smoothing it's rough edges and brightening it's ugly aspects. On an especially good Christmas, the sun is shining and the world is so bright you need sunglasses. It is truly glorious! Christmas doesn't look like that in Florida, Southern California or a host of other places, and, although the there are similarities, I'd be foolish to think that my version of Christmas was the right one (though I think I like mine best :)).
If you're like me, it is really difficult to remove myself from my point of view (in my case, the US Midwest) and look at the world through the eyes of the "other". Here are a couple stories that illustrate this point.
Friends of mine have been visiting the Amazon jungle in Brazil for many years to help the people who live there and they sent a letter last week describing their recent trip. The photo above was accompanied by a completely ungarnished story that one of the men in the village did not return from a fishing trip upriver, so the chief and some others went looking for him. They found “swirls in the sand” at the man’s normal fishing spot and concluded that an anaconda came upon him while sleeping and swallowed him whole. I can hardly imagine that, let alone imagine living in a part of the world where that is an accepted fact of life.
A colleague in India once told me that 30C was considered acceptable “comfort” in an office. I'll do the math for you, it's about 86F. Those of us from America would be complaining very loudly if our office was that temperature. The office workers in India are not wrong, but they are different. We shouldn’t feel sorry for them, either. Instead, admiration for their toughness might be in order.
How different the world can look, depending where you are! How foolish to presume that I can understand that world without the help of someone who lives in it. The biggest challenge I see when considering such a vast difference is to ask a lot of questions.That's the only start ofunderstanding and then the flame needs to be fanned to increase my understanding. I am also amazed that people nominally the same as I, have figured out how to live and grow and even thrive in a place where I’d be anaconda food in a heartbeat, or be productive in an office environment that has the thermostat set at 86F. And yet, it’s a fairly common presumption that the people living in “less advanced” places are less smart, less hard-working and less creative than we who live in the comfortable, developed “first world”. I think they’re WAY smarter, harder-working and creative in the ways they need to be.
The human dignity of the people living in the Amazon, India, Africa or many other parts is equal to mine, but it’s expressed differently. Different is good--and just as precious. I want to understand how to appreciate and respect differences better; I find it far too easy to judge by the surface appearances.
The Christmas story is “difference” writ large in an almost incomprehensible way: the God of the universe, who is supremely “other”, chose to become human in order to demonstrate love more effectively. No shyness about embracing difference there. I want to be like Him when I grow up. (As I write this, it occurs to me that the original Christmas wasn’t white, either.)
We "Westerners" have an interesting dichotomy--we believe that energy is a precious resource, yet we use it freely and normally take for granted air conditioning, electric appliances, Internet access, lights, power tools, refrigerated food, flushing toilets, etc. For others in the world, even a little energy could be life-changing. While beinga good steward of what I have, I'm wondering how my efforts could help to make energy more accessible or abundant for those who have little or none.
For Christmas this year, how about a once-a-month plan to embrace "different"? It could be big or small--trying new foods, sitting in a new place at your church service (this will rock your world), or maybe it's something bigger like going to the Amazon trying to avoid huge snakes. Whatever it is, imagine how it would feel to gain Greater Understanding about those people and things that are "different" from you. Leave comments about what your "different" resolution is, I'd love to hear them.
On behalf of me and my family, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
p.s., My friend’s organization is Amazon Relief. They have started schools and medical facilities which now serve over 2000 men, women and children in a region of the Brazilian Amazon. If you’d like to learn more or support them, check out their Web site and see if you might start helping someone else’s Christmas look brighter, even though it looks very different from your own.
p.p.s., the photo is not from my Amazon Relief friends. They didn’t want to get very close to a 20-30 foot snake, so they found this photo on the Web as a helpful visual.