One of the principles expressed by my faith community is expressed in the phrase “Unity in Diversity.” I like–and believe in–this ideal, but I am becoming more and more aware how difficult it is to live it.
There are short statements that help clarify the principles; these are three of them related to this one:
- The church embraces diversity and unity through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- We seek agreement or common consent in important matters. If we cannot achieve agreement, we commit to ongoing dialogue and lovingly uphold our common faith in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church.
- We confess that our lack of agreement on certain matters is hurtful to some of God’s beloved children and creation.
While this particular statement is related to my faith community, I believe it is also important to the country–and the world…and right now I see that as a huge challenge.
We often seem to live in alternate universes. We may see the same events…hear the same words…but our perception of them is very different. When we see the world around us so differently, how can we find unity?
I believe that Ronald Rolheiser may help us here. I’ve often wondered about the statement in the Bible often translated as “Be perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect.” Who of us can be perfect? But another understanding of “perfect” in this context has to do with being compassionate. In his book Sacred Fire Rolheiser says this:
This kind of embrace, which radiates God’s compassion and understanding even as it holds its own moral ground, is asked of us not just in families and friendships, but in every area of life. Whether we are Catholic or Protestant, Evangelical or Unitarian, Christian or Jew, Jew or Muslim, Christian or Muslim, prolife or prochoice, liberal or conservative, we all must find the compassion and empathy to be able to embrace in a way that expresses love and understanding even as that embrace does not say that differences are of no importance.
There is a time to stand up for what we believe in, a time to be prophetic, a time to draw a line in the sand, a time to point out differences and the consequences of that, and a time to stand in strong opposition to values and forces that threaten what we hold dear. But there is also a time to embrace across differences, to recognize that we can love and respect each other even when we do not hold the same values, when what is common eclipses our differences. There is a time to be compassionate as God is compassionate, to let our sun shine indiscriminately on both the vegetables and the weeds without denying which is which.
If we can’t learn to embrace our differences…if we continue to demonize those we disagree with…if we can’t figure out how to be compassionate towards each other while still holding to our core beliefs, then our world will die–and us with it.
But I have hope. I believe that we can–and will–find ways to reach across those painful divides…to share our perspectives with each other…to continue to work towards wholeness in our families, our faith communities, our cities and states, our world. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require us to let go of some feelings that have dug themselves deep into our psyche.
Again, Rolheiser says this:
Love, understood properly, is never a reward for being good. Goodness, rather, is always a consequence of having been loved. We are not loved because we are good, but hopefully we become good as we experience love.”
Love…an easy word to say, but a difficult concept to live out. But I believe it’s the only way into the world we really want to live in.