In Overland Park, KS, there are two stores next to each other along a strip mall.
One is a Korean restaurant, and next to it is a Middle Eastern Market and Cafe.
How about that? Korea and the Middle East. Sounds like something off of the nightly news. Tense situations happening to foreigners in foreign lands.
And yet, here these two places sit, side by side near my own neighborhood, ready to serve.
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Are you familiar with xenophobia? It’s a human condition, but an irrational one, where people are afraid of people who seem foreign or different from ourselves.
It may be that all of us have some level of xenophobia within us. Perhaps it’s some evolved protection trait, I don’t know.
Nowadays it may manifest in that brief uncomfortable moment when the person at the checkout stand has a different color skin. Or maybe the startled reflex you stifle when you realize the two men sitting in your row at church are actually a gay couple.
It may be the instant stereotype you wish wouldn’t come to your mind when you see someone wearing a turban at your airport gate.
This fear of people different from us has caused centuries of war, slavery, hatred, and racism. That’s what fear does, after all. It devours your common sense and your compassion.
Well I’d like to propose one cure for when Xenophobia starts to eat your lunch:
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This dish is called Bibimbap (pronounced pibimpap). It’s a stone bowl filled with rice and then topped with fresh vegetables, meat, and an egg. It all gets mixed up with a spicy sauce. The version I love is called dolsot Bibimbap. The stone bowl is heated, and the rice and veggies get sizzling hot. It’s amazing. I ask for extra sauce because I like some heat.
When I sit in this restaurant (Chosun Korean BBQ, if you’re hungry) I do not fear what is foreign to me, I celebrate what is new to me.
* * *
The Middle Eastern market next door has row after row of unfamiliar items. Pastry cookies stuffed with dates. Bottles of blueberry juice. Fresh pomegranates. Giant freshly braked flatbreads.
I bought a can of dolmas, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice and various seasoning. I was serving communion the next night, so I bought some fresh pita bread and a bottle of grape juice. We also purchased some creamy hummus from the cafe.
When I shop in this market (Shahrazad Cafe and Market, if you’re hungry) I do not fear what is foreign to me, I celebrate what is new to me.
* * *
People are always saying the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Could it be true? Perhaps so, in my case.
But I have found that the more I am hungry for righteousness in this world, the less I am willing to let xenophobia rule the way I live.
Instead, I find myself more willing to try something new…
And try to love someone new.
Have a great week,