America is not a melting pot. It is a stew. When ingredients are melted together, they lose their identity and become an indistinguishable part of the larger whole. Stew maintains the distinct character of its ingredients while changing each slightly in combination with the others. The flavor of the whole brings nuance that wouldn’t have existed otherwise to each item in the pot. Every combination is a new creation.
Two recent weddings show the best of where we’re headed in the U.S.
A family friend recently asked me to officiate at his marriage. We created a joyful wedding into which were woven:
- The Hindu and Sikh religions of the groom’s family;
- The Evangelical Christian religion of the bride’s family;
- The groom’s Indian heritage;
- The bride’s Euro-American and Chinese heritage; and
- The broad American culture in which the bride and groom live.
This couple brings these elements not into a melting pot, but into a new flavorful stew. At the wedding we celebrated the diversity in which we are made, and the love that brings us together. Festivities included a traditional Indian feast and rituals, a Chinese tea ceremony, and a wedding with a white wedding gown. Family and guests wore saris, turbans, suits and dresses. Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics comprised the wedding party. Love brought this couple together. Love brought us from around the world and across the L.A. basin. Love is what we celebrated that weekend–love that crosses all boundaries and, like the wind, blows where it will.
Two weeks later I enjoyed the wedding reception of a couple whose marriage combines Chinese, Guatemalan, and Euro-American cultures. The bride’s family are fundamentalist Christians in Guatemala; the groom’s family are liberal Presbyterians in Los Angeles. A traditional ten-course Chinese feast followed speeches and toasts given in English, Spanish and Mandarin. We celebrated love that crosses language, cultural, national, economic, and theological divides. Love brought us together without making anyone part of us into a homogeneous, melted glop. Each type of diversity added seasoning, color and texture to the stew being created.
At the same time we were celebrating love’s diversity, other people motivated by fear and hate were trying to tear communities apart with violence. On the weekend of the first wedding, a gunman shot and killed movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado. The day after the Guatemalan/Chinese/Euro-America reception, a gunman killed Sikhs as they prepared for weekly worship in a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek Wisconsin. Meanwhile, a mosque was burned to the ground in Joplin Missouri, and an interracial couples were banned from attending worship in a Baptist church in Kentucky Pike County, Kentucky.
Much to celebrate. Much to lament.
I believe that most Americans want to create a beautiful, flavorful stew honoring our diversity and respecting our shared love for this country. Some Americans react to the growing diversity with fear and hatred. But most Americans who see changes in the nature of our American stew are trying to figure out how to reconcile this new recipe with the one to which they are accustomed.
For myself, just as I love the diverity of texture and color in my garden, in fabrics of my home, and in the landscape around me; so too, I love the diversity of our human race. I think it’s a wonderful, God-given gift that, if permitted to do so, expands our creativity, our vision, and even our ability to love.
As the author of First John writes in the Bible,
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4, excerpts).