Our siblings’ keeper

by Phyllis K. Myung

Texts: Genesis 1:27, Galatians 3:26-28

Last year, my family and I took a long-anticipated trip to South Korea. The last time I had been there was nearly thirty years ago. In preparation for this big family trip, I made two lists. One was for all the food we wanted to make sure to eat and the second was a list of all the places I wanted my daughter to experience, most of which were places I had frequented during my childhood visits. I can tell you that almost everything on both of those lists got checked off. It was quite a memorable trip, but there was one experience at a baseball game there that kept tugging at me after we got back.

I love baseball and experiencing it in different countries is so fun—I highly recommend it! While we were standing in line to purchase tickets for the baseball game, I noticed a couple who were speaking English and were white. I assumed they were from the United States and so I gave a wide, knowing smile. I wanted them to know, “Hey! I’m from the States, too and I’m so glad we are sharing this experience together!” And as I tried to catch their eyes with my huge smile, I realized that when they saw me, I must have looked like everyone else in this crowd of Korean baseball fans. I thought to myself, “Could they tell that I was from the United States? That I was like them?” It was in that moment that I had a big revelation—when I thought of an American, it was a white person I imagined. For all I know, there could have been many other Americans in that baseball stadium, except they would have looked like me. Would I have given them that same knowing smile to an Asian American—would I have considered them to be American?

When I returned home from my trip, I couldn’t stop looking at the people around me. I kept asking myself, “Why do I think that being white is being American? Where did I get that assumption? How long have I been thinking that without realizing it?” It was a huge jolt to my system because it also made me realize that I did not see myself as an American. I am a citizen of the United States, but I did not see myself as one because I didn’t fit the image of who I thought an American is. For that brief moment as I stood in that line for the baseball game, I had seen myself as an American, until I was confronted with an image of a person who did not look like me. In that instant, I realized that I was always a perpetual foreigner. I was not an American because I didn’t fit an image that society and culture had delineated.

I would invite you to take a moment right now to imagine what an American looks like. What comes to your mind? Why do you think that particular image comes to mind? Do you imagine someone who looks like yourself or did you imagine someone who looks different from you? When I imagine an American, I do not see someone who is Asian American, Latinx, Indigenous or Black. I still see a white person, and this is the problem that still continues to tug at me.

We read in Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I have read this verse and shared about this verse many times over the twenty-plus years that I have been in children’s ministry. But last year, when I came upon this verse again, it struck me in a different way. When God was creating human beings, God made us in his image. All of us. Whether we are a Christ follower or not, whether we are tall or short, whether we are Asian or Black—we have all, collectively, been made in God’s image. Each of us as individuals share traits of God and reflect different pieces of God, but it is when we are all together, as a whole, that we are “the image of God.” We cannot imagine that only one person or one group of people make up the image of God—it is all of humankind that makes up God’s image. This eye-opening realization was not easy for me to digest because it meant that my enemy was also part of this image of God. I could not disconnect myself from all the people I didn’t like or who were just different from me. We are all inexplicably connected as created beings made in the image of God.

The apostle Paul takes it further in Galatians 3:26-28 by reminding us that we are all children of God in Christ through faith. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” When we become part of this baptismal family, we shed our earthly citizenship for a citizenship in God through Jesus. This citizenship requires us to be different and see the world differently—to see God’s people the way God sees them.

The question that I would have us examine in our own hearts is this: How do we see God’s people? How do we really see our brothers and sisters? Do we see God’s people and God’s image only in people who are like us? Our scripture passages challenge us to consider whether the image we are holding is in fact the image that God intended.

We cannot ignore the plight of our Black siblings, for we are one with them. We are made in God’s image together with them. Our freedom, our identity, our citizenship—in all these things, we are bound together. Our value as humankind is tied together and cannot be separated because it would give us a fractured image of God. When we say, paint, or use the hashtag, “Black Lives Matter,” I wonder if we actually believe this, especially as the church. Throughout American history, our policies, laws, and culture have made it clear that Black lives do not matter. This has been true in the church as well. When we stay silent or we do not address the racism within our churches and church cultures, we are saying that Black lives do not matter, and that people of color must assimilate and fit into the image we have deemed worthy and of value.

Being American is not embodied in a single image, but in every person who calls the United States home. This is a challenge for me, that I too would see myself as an American, but far more important than that, as a part of God’s image. The challenge that lies ahead of us as the body of the church is that we would see our interconnectedness and we would actively live into our role as our sibling’s keeper.