Remembering We are Many Parts, but One Body
A story is told of a Japanese family that had become American living next to a Swiss family in San Francisco. The Japanese family came near the turn of the century and established a business in which they grew roses and trucked them into San Francisco three mornings a week. The Swiss family also marketed roses, and both families became modestly successful, as their roses were known in the markets of San Francisco for their long vase-life.
For almost four decades the families were neighbors and the sons took over the farms, but then on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Although the rest of the family members were Americans, the father of the Japanese family had never been naturalized. In the turmoil and the questions about internment camps, his neighbor made it clear that, if necessary, he would look after his friends nursery. It was something each family had learned in church: love thy neighbor as thyself. “You would do the same thing for us,” he said to his Japanese friend.
It was not long before the Japanese family was transported to a barren landscape in Granada, Colorado. The relocation center consisted of tar paper roofed barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
A full year went by. Then two. Then three. While the Japanese neighbors were in internment, their friends worked in the greenhouses, the children before school and on Saturdays; and the father’s work often stretched to 16 and 17 hours a day. And then one day, when the war in Europe had ended, the Japanese family packed up and boarded a train. They were going home.
What did they find? The family was met at the train depot by their neighbors, and when they got to their home the whole Japanese family stared. There was the nursery, intact, scrubbed and shining in the sunlight – neat, prosperous and healthy. So was the balance in the bank passbook handed to the Japanese father. And the house was just as clean and welcoming as the nursery. And there on the dining room table was one perfect red rosebud, just waiting to unfold – the gift of one neighbor to another.
Wouldn’t it be great if everything were like this? If people did not judge so quickly based on race, political ideology, a last name, or rumors? While there are many stories like this, of course there are many other tragic stories as well. People who were good Americans and just had a different skin color were put into camps for the sole reason they were Japanese, all because some could not see that they were both on the same side: America.
In this week’s second reading, Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes “as a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many.” It’s a great thing to remember in a time when there can be such polarization in our society. On the one hand, we are all unique and different – and that’s a good thing. But on the other, sometimes we can emphasize these differences to the point of having hatred towards our fellow man.
For one, there will always be racism in our world. This past week, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Thanks to his efforts working with many to change minds and hearts, great strides were made against institutional racism, in particular in the South, leading to sweeping changes in respect of Civil Rights. We certainly should celebrate the great strides made against racism, but we also need to be aware of if shadows of racism still exist in our hearts and work to overcome them, being honest with ourselves.
Related to that, how do we view people who are different from us politically, or of a different culture or religion? There were many Japanese Americans wrongfully interned during World War II. Many Americans looked at all Japanese as the enemy just as in the days after 9/11, there were many who looked at Muslims as terrorists. We need to remember that God’s love is equally given to all people. This does not mean we can’t criticize certain elements of Islam; or hold strong political beliefs. And as we all know, sometimes people believe things that are contrary to our faith; others may be hard to love. But we can do things like listen to others’ points of views; make sure we don’t lump everyone from a religion or culture into the same category; and pray for one another, especially those with whom we disagree. As I shared a while back, last year I had two people come in who were walking by the church who were Muslim; they go to the mosque off of Robert Trail. One was a visiting professor from Pakistan. We had a very pleasant conversation and they wanted to know more about Catholicism and what we believe, and shared some parts of their Muslim faith with me. It was a great learning experience for the three of us.
Also, do we try to see the common good, meaning the common goals we work for in our community, family or parish or country? Sometimes in a parish for instance, you have “turf wars.” You get a member on a committee who has to have things “their way” or an individual or group who gets vocal about any changes; other times you have gossip and tearing down of others. Or in a family a person can become bossy or arrogant or controlling. I have to say being here at Saint Joe’s now nearly 7 years, it’s been great as our parish has really been devoid of this kind of thing. I see so many pull together for the greater good. But sometimes all of us can have a hard time being flexible, or compromising – when we examine our conscience, it’s important to ask ourselves if we are becoming that way with respect to our spouse or kids or parents or others we are connected to, and strive to be humble and also respectful of others.
Lastly, another word on gossip – let’s never forget how much it can destroy. When we are tempted to tear down, hit the “pause” button mentally, and remember once we say something or hit “send” on hearsay it can take on a life of it’s own.
Each one of us is unique with gifts. And, many of us have very strong beliefs about what is right. Sometimes though racism can creep into our hearts; or a desire to help can lead to becoming too rigid or controlling; or we can fall into a pattern of gossip or become jaded about particular people based on what we read about them in the media. Christ though came for all people – so let us use what we have been given to build one another up, rather than tear one another down, and in the process, live out Dr. King’s dream to truly make this a better world.
Have a blessed week!
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