Being married to someone from a different culture is an experience that simultaneously can make you feel wonderful and vulnerable all over. It’s like sleeping naked. (For the record, I don’t sleep naked because I have young kids and I have taken this one issue off the table for their future therapy. Plus, after a certain age, it’s just gross.)
What I remember from my days of sleeping in the nude is that it feels extremely liberating in the moment, but there is an underlying anxiety about anything outside that moment. For instance, what if the doorbell rings? what if there is a fire? what if the kids outside throw a ball through my window? how close does the landscaper actually get to my window?
In other words, while you’re in bed, it’s fine. It’s the moments you are out of bed that require a great deal of panic/thinking. Such is the intercultural marriage.
My problem is that when I get out of bed, I’m a pastor (what a weird way to introduce my occupation - smh). In any case, going to church and cultivating a spiritual life with someone of a different culture is a line of panic/thinking that doesn’t get much attention, especially by clergy.
Honestly, once we verify that people from two different cultures may get in bed together, by the grace of God (and John Piper — thanks John!), evangelical Christians seem to have no further questions. But getting in bed is not the problem, it’s everything outside of that.
Here’s the thing, to be married to a culturally/racially/ethnically different “other” is adding a whole new dimension to the traditional male/female divide. It’s adding the “Jew and Gentile” to your “male and female”. And if you’re coming from different social strata, then you may have the whole “slave and free” thing going on as well (this is all a poorly text-proofed reference to Galatians by the way).
And this is why multicultural marriage arguments are intrinsically so complex. When I come to a disagreement with my wife, whose family hails from India, I don’t know if I’m dealing with a preference of hers, her family’s, or worst case scenario, a billion other people’s. And if I get meta about it, maybe I or my family or the Republic of Korea is the one with the problem.
On top of that we both grew up here in U.S. of A. In the South no less. Trying to diagnose the root of our marital strife could be a horrible reality show on the Travel Network with Anthony Bourdain and Dr. Phil.
But in terms of faith, adding the degrees of separation of ethnicity and culture, I at least have some tangible way of understanding how “other” my significant other is. The longer our marriage goes, it requires less room for presumption. How could I know? How could she understand?
We are constantly learning to communicate, to try and uncover and make sense of the riddles we are to ourselves, and the other person. This helps me understand the theology of incarnation and the presence of God because the greater the relational distance, the greater the need for communication.
I say communication because I don’t always mean talking. Too much talking is a characteristic of fools and toddlers. And I am one and have the other. But listening is also communication, at least half of it, right?
Asians are typically thought of as poor communicators — too quiet, too deferential, too indirect. I used to think that too, but now I think serving and waiting and breathing the same air can be good forms of communication, if you recognize them.
A persistent presence communicates something even without words or understanding. It requires a great deal of patience too. God also speaks in these ways. These methods of communication in a multiethnic marriage help me understand God’s ways of speaking and listening.
I don’t mean to make my multicultural marriage sound more spiritual, that would be hyperbole. It’s as much of a happy accident to be a long distance runner who happens to live in Denver — mile high city— or to have a running litany of hypothetical scenarios stemming from the anxious predicament of sleeping naked, that I am married to someone whose cultural and ethnic distance from me forces those questions that give me glimpses of God that a monochromatic marriage may not.
Again, not that I’m a long distance runner or sleep naked, just a pastor trying to make sense of a marriage richer or more diverse than I imagined or deserve.