My last visit home to LA, I spent the flight back to the SF Bay Area crying as I processed what my mom had shared with me right before dropping me off at the airport. I had read and speculated about the increase in unrestrained overt racism and xenophobia in our country, but hearing from my own mother – who has lived in the U.S. longer than she has her heritage country of South Korea – of her recent experiences as a victim of dehumanizing, othering remarks, acutely pierced my senses. Feelings of sorrow and helplessness and anger and hatred swirled around inside of me. I had to ask myself: How will I respond? How am I called to respond?
As I reflected in my cozy window seat, I was reminded that we as Christians are called to be counter-cultural in love. What does it mean to act counter to our culture in this historical moment? In our current social and political context of growing divisiveness, othering, and ideological pride, I believe that means radical unity, inclusivity, and humility. The clearest, most certain way we could live into our Christian identities, especially now, is to humbly listen and lovingly engage with diverse peoples and ideas. Who is the last person on earth we would befriend because of their race, age, sexual orientation, interpretation of Scripture, or political leanings? What would it look like to talk to that person, not with the objective of changing their mind, getting our way, or proving our point, but in order to learn and be fundamentally changed?
God gave me such an opportunity this past year. My immediate response when I started to get to know this acquaintance of mine was that he was not “my people.” A very dear friend actually was baffled that he and I could even have a deeper relationship given our strong ideological differences. She was, in fact, so disapproving that she did not talk to me for weeks. It was in this moment, when I was tempted to shut the door to this potential friendship, that I identified my own pride and hypocrisy. I, who speak about Christ’s vast, borderless love, was making assumptions and creating distinctions without any substantial engagement or dialogue. Through this deepening friendship, I have been challenged to practice the values and beliefs I had often merely claimed to hold. I have learned that it is much more difficult to live them out when the person across the table feels so different from me, when that individual embodies the group of people that tells my mom and me that we don’t belong.
As psychotherapist and pastor Brian Kay reminded us at NCB’s Faith & Work Forum in November, however, everyone in our midst is a unique expression of the personhood of Jesus Christ. At the core of our beings, in our diversity – whether we tend to be thinkers or feelers, introverted or extroverted, helpers or leaders – we all reflect the various dimensions of Christ’s character, called “very good” with delight by our God.
As I enter this new year, I pray that I will continue to be faithful to the opportunities God gives me to be countercultural, even when it may be uncomfortable and painful. My hope is that we as co-heirs and co-laborers of Jesus Christ will proactively build bridges in unlikely places with unlikely people, in turn, allowing ourselves to be further transformed into God’s image in the process.
Esther Yoona Cho is Director of Communications at New College Berkeley and a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at UC Berkeley.