The Interview With My Parents (Part 1)

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ww2-race01sThis past December I sat down with my parents over a three night period to “interview” them about the personal upheaval that was caused by FDR issuing Executive Order 9066 in February, 1942. Since Washington currently has a thing for executive orders and the 75th anniversary of EO 9066 is approaching (2/19), it’s apropos to share some of the dialogue I had with my parents and to salt it with a bit of history. I won’t cover it in one blog but I’ll try to make some relevant connections to the climate today.

Both sets of my grandparents immigrated from Japan in the 1930’s hoping that the U.S. would provide a better life for them. Interestingly enough, my paternal grandfather, whom I never met because he died young, came from a poor farming family. He was sent to the U.S. to study to be a doctor. My maternal grandfather came to the U.S. to work on the railroad then sending for his wife from an arranged marriage. They all came through San Francisco and eventually migrated down to Los Angeles.

Even before the war, the amount of sentiment against Japanese was at a fever pitch because increased immigration in the early 1900’s alarmed people of a coming “Yellow Peril”. There was quite a bit of pressure on the government to restrict future immigration for fear that jobs would be taken away, neighborhoods would be destroyed, and schools would suffer. Propaganda charicatured the Japanese as subhuman closer to an ape than human, sneaky, morally bankrupt, and mentally and physically less than causasians. Anti-miscegenation laws, a holdover from slavery days, were enforced banning inter-racial marriage. That’s hard to comprehend because those very laws would have made it impossible for Kay and I to be married.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, people, out of fear and pride, felt emboldened to say what was already in their hearts. Signs around cities read, “Japs Keep Moving” and “Save California From the Japs”. Parents paraded their children around holding signs saying, “Down with the Japs”. My parents were too young at the time but my grandparents lived through the deeply held prejudices of people, some of whom were nice church-going folk.

Calvary Church currently has a partnership with a local organization that does amazing work. Compass International Family Center welcomes families from around the world who have landed in Valparaiso, Indiana. Compass exists to warmly welcome, support, educate and advocate for people who are trying to adjust to a foreign culture here in the U.S. It is this wonderful mixture of people from all over the world – Middle Eastern countries, Latin countries, and Asian countries! Kay and I have served with Compass and it’s not surprising for us to come home blessed! It’s really hard to get stuck on “my stuff and problems” when I practice giving my life away to others.

However, the post-election mood has been much more somber around Compass. While the parents regularly express anxiety over what might happen to them in the near future, their children seem to take the brunt of expressed hate. Just like my grandparents’ experience, with the recent election somehow people think they have permission to say what they want now. For instance, one third grader who attends Compass was told by a classmate at school, “You could die and it wouldn’t matter, because you’re not wanted here.” Honestly, I’m conflicted filled with both a deep anger and sorrow that children somehow learn this…

We have to be careful that in going to the gospel we don’t slap it on like a bandaid. Instead, it seems to me that the gospel is not a quick fix but rather it reframes (or in Willard’s thinking, renovates) both our minds and hearts. The gospel is not a middle way between two extremes but rather a whole different way. It is the amazingly counterintuitive good news that those who were “outside”, alien to God’s lovingkindness are now welcome “inside” through faith in Christ. We who know Christ were once aliens, foreigners, strangers to God’s hesed (His lovingkindness), but because of Christ we were hospitably invited in and included in the Father’s magnificent love. In many ways, the gospel levels the playing field in the sense that the reach of His embrace is extended to all nations. There is no nationality or ethnicity that stands above all others when it comes to God’s love and to treat the immigrant in a way that is more ethnocentric than gospel-centric is an affront to God.

I wonder if our understanding of grace is revealed in how we treat others particularly those who are outside the new covenant, the stranger, the foreigner, and the marginalized.

 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19)

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