To be honest, I never saw much racial diversity growing up. Mainly because I grew up in a town without color. Albert City, Iowa, is a town with less than a thousand people living there, and most of them were originally from Swedish descent. There was a Laotian family who lived there for a couple years. One of their kids was in my class. We were good friends in 1st and 2nd grade. Then they moved. There was another kid whose dad was African American that was in our class off and on. I'm not sure any of us understood how hard it was or him to be bi-racial in a small, Midwestern town where he lived with his white mother. I'm not even sure if he knew his father well or at all. He never really spoke of him. We never really asked.
But for most of childhood, everyone around me was white. It's not that way any longer: there are now people from all over the world living within a half hour of where I grew up. But back then it was white. Diversity, we joked, was having Swedes and Germans getting along in the same town. We heard stories of the activities of the KKK in our town from our history teacher, but their activities were harassing the Irish Catholics.
College wasn't much different, either. Orange City, Iowa, was a town founded by the Dutch. It was known for it's buildings with Dutch fronts (even on Taco Johns) , Reformed churches and annual tulip festival. The diversity at Northwestern College came mostly from Korea and a few other Asian areas. I had a friend from Bahrain and new a few other people from different parts of the world, but the majority of people were white. I took a class on African American literature, but the authors where the only ones in the class who could speak to living as a minority in America.
Seminary was where I first encountered diversity. The area of Chicago where we lived contained some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world, we were told. It wasn't unusual for my wife and I to be in a store or on the El and be the only white people around. I had classes with a Palestinian Catholic woman, a Korean man, an African-American woman from inner-city Chicago and a Christian man from communist China among others. We shared our stories, our experiences and our journeys.
When we settled in Minneapolis we ended up becoming members at Sanctuary Covenant Church largely because of the diversity. We wanted our kids to see a bit of the spectrum of Heaven. We wanted to fellowship with people who weren't the same as us.
You can't truly learn to love your neighbors until you've gotten to know them. You can't be someone's brother or sister if you haven't heard their stories such as what it's like to be pulled over just because of the color of your skin.
Martin Luther King spoke often of how the greatest sin was doing nothing in the midst of injustice. That's not a racial issue--that's an issue of love. When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he used a priest and a Levite--people from the upper echelons of Jewish society--in contrast with a hated Samaritan. But it was more than their ethnic background; the story was about their actions. Martin Luther King said, "The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'"
Whether we live amidst diversity in a big city or in a homogeneous town, may we live in the spirit of Martin Luther King (yes, he was a sinner, with sinful actions at times, but he was also a saint saved by grace who had much to teach us on the teachings of Jesus). May we stand up for injustice in our midst. May we love those to whom no love is being shown. And may we continue work toward building a land where all children can play together without judgment.