Over the weekend I started reading “The Listening Road,” a book by Neil Tomba. Tomba is a pastor who shepherds Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. His book is a spiritual exploration of how the church engages people outside the church in important, albeit challenging, conversations. In his book, Tomba shares that during his bike ride across America he hoped to talk with a broad swath of people, not only diverse in how they look, but in how they think.
I think today when we speak about diversity it’s about what we see on the outside far more than about what is living inside. We make presumptions based on the cover of the book rather than learning what’s written inside the pages. We listen to respond, rather than to understand.
We think that because people look a certain way then they must think a certain way or believe a particular way. Several years ago, I trained with a Brazilian jujitsu instructor who had immigrated to America from Iran. Back in his home country, my instructor had fought against the ruling political system. Seeking more freedom and greater opportunity, he moved to America.
In a conversation about wrestling and fighting techniques, my instructor shared how he learned to fight at an early age, mainly during recess at school and on the way home after school. His childhood, although different in many ways, was similar to my own. I had learned how to defend myself on the playground and riding the school bus. Fighting seems to be something young boys around the world share in common. I remember being surprised by his story because I had judged him by his outside appearance before getting to know his personal story of overcoming adversity.
Growing up, my Mom encouraged me to turn the other cheek anytime someone picked a fight with me. However, her counsel often when unheeded. Mom always tried to be the peacemaker. My guess is that stems from her experiences growing up in Germany during the Second World War. She had her fill of violence early. I, on the other hand, grew more and more determined to defend myself.
During a recent conversation T and I were having, I asked her if she would describe me as gentle. She could hardly contain the laughter before responding, “No.” I agree with her. Although, I often find myself in the role of playing peacekeeper, I wouldn’t describe myself as gentle. I’ve always been more of a fighter. Oddly enough, if you Google the meaning of my name you’ll discover that it stems from German origin and means “wise army,” or “deciding warrior.”
Delicate and simple are not typically words that people associate with me.
My point in all this rambling is that we need to take the time to get to know the people in our life better. We never know what’s buried underneath the layers we see. Diversity must be about more than appearances. A diversity of thoughts and ideas is where the real treasure is found. In order to do that, we need to get better at having conversations with one another about what lies below the surface. That requires genuinely listening and taking an active interest in those who are different from us.
May the Lord bless your week.
The Devotional Guy™