In volume 8 of the Tonari no Seki-kun manga, Seki continues to distract Rumi with his games at his desk. This time, we see Seki create a small little playground for Lego-style mini-brick figurines. He also creates a clay figure which looks exactly like the other figurines. Rumi watches him play, mesmerized as she always is in the classroom. The clay figurine hides and does not want to join the others, but eventually gets coaxed into playing with them.
Rumi stares as the figures play around, gasping with each passing moment. The figures do not seem to notice that one of them is made of clay. Then they fall off some of the fake playground equipment. The clay figurine catches them, saving the mini-brick figurines. The moment that happens, the clay figure is stretched and no longer the same shape. It’s clear now that he is not like them and he walks away in shame. What happens next shocks Rumi.
The mini-brick figures decide to keep playing with their clay friend. They each add in a few extra blocks into their midsection so they are as large as their stretched clay friend and play together. They just did not care about the physical differences and just saw a friend.
Why is that so striking to Rumi? Why was it so striking to me when I read it too?
Often we choose to surround ourselves with similar people. Christians especially find themselves inside of a little Christian bubble surrounded by the people who look, act, and behave as we do. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. Yet, real life isn’t just easy and we are not always going to be surrounded by people who are similar to ourselves. To limit ourselves to only similar friends is an arbitrary limit and, honestly, says something not great about us as individuals.
Yet, we do it anyway and that’s why it is so striking when these situations occur. That’s why it struck a nerve with Rumi. It’s why unlikely animal friendships make people smile. It shocks us because we know when we look deep within ourselves that we too are not living up to the unlikely and dissimilar friendships we are seeing. We are sticking to the familiar.
Let’s stop and learn from this silly example, befriending those who are different. Yet, let’s also take a note from this situation – the mini-figures did not pretend the differences did not exist. In essence, they weren’t color blind – they just accepted that their friend was different. That’s a key I think we often forget.
People like to talk about how we want a color blind society. I get it. It’s a lovely sentiment about how we should not have barriers born of racism between people. That’s a good sentiment, but to pretend we’re all the same is foolish and wrong. We’re not. I am different than you. You are different than your neighbor. That’s okay. That’s good, in fact. If we were all the same, the world would be so incredibly boring. Yet the Lord created this amazing world with the tapestry that is humanity filled with people of all races, personalities, colors, genders, and types. Embrace the differences, don’t pretend they do not exist.
In the early church, people tried to force Gentile believes to be circumcised saying they needed to adapt and become like them in order to come to Jesus. Paul rejected that notion outright. In his mind, there were no Greek and Jew in Jesus – there were people. We did not need to all become the same in order to be accepted, we were already saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’s act of salvation on the cross. We came as we were – unique individuals with different skills, talents, ideas, and backgrounds. We use our different backgrounds to do good works for the Lord’s people connecting to others in different ways. Together, each uniquely talented in our own way, we come together.
Friendship does not require sameness and we often forget that. While we may be drawn to similar people, let’s not restrict ourselves only to those who are like ourselves.