“Most people tend to believe that they are the centre of the world, and their culture is the linchpin of human history.” — Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” — Genesis 2:7
This week we have been talking about race and immigration. The white, Western world created the idea of race to go along with its global expansion and imperialism. It gave validity to its charge to subdue the non-white people, because of their inferiority. However, science has, in large part, discredited the idea of race, showing that we are mostly one, human race. Aside from minor skin-deep differences — the size of our nostrils, the type of hair we have — we are more or less the exact same in our DNA. These shifts have led a lot of people to say that we are in a post-racist world. In a lot of ways, this seems increasingly true. Even though hate groups have quickly grown in the USA in recent years, the number of seemingly racist people we see on a daily basis seems to decrease.
We have seen how racism exists in policies and practices, how it is a systematic thing more than a personal thing (for more on this, see Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crowe, which gives an example of institutional racism in the prison system). However, on a personal level, racism has turned into culturalism. Israeli author Yuval Harari talks a lot about this in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, in which he talks about how cultures look at each other, during times of immigration. One culture will say to another, “We were here first, our culture is best.” They might go on to say, “We do not need to leave our country, but you are leaving yours. Therefore, something must be wrong with your culture.” This idea goes beyond the definition of race as a personal issue, but it follows the same lines as racism does. Add to this that most people think that their culture is better than other people’s culture, and you get the recipe for racial polarization all over again.
Furthermore, how are we to talk about culturalism in an age of mass-immigration with massive amounts of refugees? We see powerful video clips, like this one from the United Methodist group Justice for Our Neighbors, but we may still end up thinking, “What is wrong with their country that they want to come to ours?” I propose one idea. Let us celebrate what God has done in and around us. Let us celebrate that, before we humans created our dividing lines, God called us all the same.
Let us go in our imagination back to the beginning of Lent, when we received the sign of the cross in ashes, on our foreheads, and were told. “You are from dust, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe and follow the Gospel.” Let us go, even before that, to the places in our memories that we have all but forgotten, to the place where God created us. Let us remember God breathing life into humanity, to the first human made from dust. And let us remember how similar we are. Of course, our differences are apparent, and we should never forget these differences. But also, let us remember what unites and brings us together. Let us remember that, underneath the dividing lines of culture and race, we are all dust, beloved of God, with the breath of God in our lungs.
Consider: How does the remembrance of my insignificance change the way I live? The only important thing in us is the breath of God. How does that make me feel?
Pray: Lord, our creator, you gave us breath. You breathed life and distinctiveness into our nostrils. You gave us personality. We changed and decided to use our individuality to create division — from each other and from you. Please, help us to see that you are within all living humans, drawing us back together. Amen.