Unity IN diversity…

Unity…diversity. Those two words seem to be complete opposites, and putting them together an oxymoron. In fact, if we were to try, most of us would probably try something like “diversity in unity.” That version might make at least some sense…

But to reverse them? to say “Unity in diversity”? How is that possible?

I’ve been thinking about that because of a class I just recently taught…and because one of the emphases in my faith tradition is just that: “Unity in diversity.”

So what does that mean to me? It’s difficult..but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If we separate the two words, my thoughts might go something like this:

  • Unity – working towards the same goal; being whole.
  • Diversity – being different

And when I look at those ideas, it’s kind of challenging to see how they might go together.

But there are other aspects to their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Unity –  a totality of related parts; an entity that is a complex or systematic whole
  • Diversity – composed of different elements

When I look at those ideas, then the concept of “unity in diversity” becomes much more possible and makes more sense.

We–as a society/church/group–can be unified when we recognize that we are part of a complex system, made up of related parts. But all the parts make one. Diversity recognizes that multiplicity of those related parts.

And when we put that together as a concept of “unity in diversity,” I can acknowledge our differences in background, life experiences, understandings, and even beliefs…but at the same time recognize that there is something as the foundation of that diversity that makes us a whole.

Hard to understand? You bet!

Hard to live? Oh yeah!

There are times when it seems impossible to achieve agreement, but at those times, we need to commit to ongoing dialogue–to really work at listening to each other and not talk past each other. And at those times, it is important for us to acknowledge that our inability to agree on issues that affect each others’ lives is hurtful–both to humanity and to all of creation.

But it can happen…it can be lived, if we allow the Divine to work within us.



The power of stories

Over the last couple of years, my spiritual advisor and I have been working with a book by Amy-Jill Levine–Short Stories by Jesus. It’s a look at the parables from a new perspective–or rather, from an old one. Levine takes us through a number of parables, helping the reader to hear them as Jesus’ listeners would have. Sometimes it’s been a challenge, because the way they have been shared or preached for many years has become so ingrained in us.

But when I have been willing to listen in new ways, there have been those “Aha!” moments–times when there are new insights…and understandings that have challenged what I thought I knew.

I’ve been reading the last story in preparation for our next meeting–the story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). This one–at least at this point–hasn’t hit me with as many challenges to my understanding as previous ones have…but it has reminded me of the challenges I face as a follower of Jesus. Here’s a version of the story from the Complete Jewish Bible:

“Once there was a rich man who used to dress in the most expensive clothing and spent his days in magnificent luxury. At his gate had been laid a beggar named El‘azar who was covered with sores. He would have been glad to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table; but instead, even the dogs would come and lick his sores. In time the beggar died and was carried away by the angels to Avraham’s side; the rich man also died and was buried.

“In Sh’ol, where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Avraham far away with El‘azar at his side. He called out, ‘Father Avraham, take pity on me, and send El‘azar just to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, because I’m in agony in this fire!’ However, Avraham said, ‘Son, remember that when you were alive, you got the good things while he got the bad; but now he gets his consolation here, while you are the one in agony. Yet that isn’t all: between you and us a deep rift has been established, so that those who would like to pass from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house, where I have five brothers, to warn them; so that they may be spared having to come to this place of torment too.’ But Avraham said, ‘They have Moshe and the Prophets; they should listen to them.’ However, he said, ‘No, father Avraham, they need more. If someone from the dead goes to them, they’ll repent!’ But he replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moshe and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!’”

There are so many ways this story challenges us. It’s very easy to say that the rich man got what was coming to him–but if I delight in his eternal torment, then am I any better? And do I listen any better than he did to the way I should live?

It’s also easy to find reasons to explain why Lazarus ended up poor and hoping for help from the rich man…but the story doesn’t give any–and none are needed for the story to have impact.

I think this parable–and Levine’s “unpacking” of it–spoke so much to me today because of what I see happening in this country that I love. Safety nets for the poor and vulnerable are being dismantled…the prosperity gospel is widely praised and preached…and so many who claim to be Christian take actions that to me seem so incredibly un-Christian.

Levine suggests that

The parable ends with a cautionary note. Heed the commands to aid the poor and the sick and hungry, or you will eventually suffer worse poverty, greater pains, deeper hunger. Do not just contribute to the food drive, but invite the hungry into your home. Do not just put money in the collection plate, but use your resources to provide jobs and support for those in need. Do not treat the sick as burdens, but as beloved family members who deserve love and care. Know the names of the destitute; each has a story to tell….

[W]e do not need supernatural revelation to tell us that we have the poor with us. We do not even need the threats of eternal torture. If we cannot see the poor person at our gate–in the street, in the commercials that come into our homes, in the appeals made in sermons, in the newspapers–then we are lost.

Will we listen?

I am not immortal

When I was younger–much younger–life seemed to stretch before me forever. Oh, I knew there would come an end…sometime. But that seemed so far in the future that I didn’t really worry about it.

Now, though, things are different. I know that I have fewer years before me than those behind me.

That really came into focus with the word that someone I went to high school with…whose wedding I played for…whose family has attended my congregation…had a massive heart attack and died last night. He was my age.

And now, even though I am not worried about death, I do wonder. Just how many years do I have left? and how am I going to use them?

I had so many plans…so many dreams. Some of them I’ve accomplished. Some have been left by the wayside as I realized they weren’t really what I wanted after all. But there are still some left unfulfilled–and still desired.

Yet life intervenes. It’s not all bad when that happens. Sometimes it helps us realize that some dreams need to be released in order to allow room for others to grow.

But I am still coming to grips with the realization that I am not immortal. The future that seemed to stretch so far ahead when I was younger has now shrunk. I still don’t see the end of the road, but I know it’s coming.

So what am I going to do with the time that’s left?

Sure, I can make my bucket list…and check off the items as I accomplish them.

But the important things on my list are these two items:

  • that the people I love know that I have loved them and continue to love them…
  • that I have done what I can to make the world a better place for everyone.


Light in the darkness

Although I’m not a fan of winter cold, I do like the month of December because of all the beautiful Christmas lights that are up. They provide colorful light in the winter darkness.

But then the Christmas season ends–and the lights come down.

The darkness then seems so much stronger. I wonder sometimes just how long it will last…and how long it will be before we see the light again.

It always comes. The darkness cannot conquer the light.

But even more than that, I am reminded of my responsibility to be a bringer of light into the darkness that is part of my world. At times it seems as though the darkness will never end…and at times it seems to be getting stronger and stronger.

But darkness cannot conquer light.

I loved the Harry Potter books and movies. They were a reminder of the constant battle between darkness and light–and the hope that light would eventually triumph (which it did). Sometimes the situation seemed hopeless…and what seemed to be light actually was darkness and vice versa. But, as J.K. Rowling said, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

So who are we?

The winter months give us a choice. We can increase the darkness…or we can be the light that shines in it.

As this new year starts, I am reminded of something that Martin Luther King said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

May we be the light and love that drive out darkness and hate.

In a stable

Nobody wants to give birth in a stable—
	smelly and dirty…
	noisy with animal sounds…
	nothing private or pleasant.

But maybe that’s just why it happened that way--
	Emmanuel…God with us
		not just in pleasant-ness
		but in the dirty-ness of life.

Maybe we seek you in all the wrong places--
	failing to see you in those who are “other”…
	searching again in Herod’s palace
		when—if we open our eyes--
			we find hope in the stable.

Can we talk?

I was challenged in a post on Facebook to begin a respectful dialogue about gun control and safety. I am willing to try just that. But first, a little background about me so you know where I am coming from.

As a young person, I enjoyed target shooting at my grandparents’ farm with a BB gun. But I have never owned a gun—nor wanted to. I do not want a gun in my home.

However, I have friends and family who carry, and I respect their right to do so. Some do it for self-protection, others for hunting. I have eaten some of the meat obtained by hunting, and I enjoy it. So I am not averse to guns being used that way.

I also have family and friends who have served in the military, and I respect their service. I have lost a grandson who was a Marine who died shortly after coming back from Iraq. It was not a gun-related death, but what he experienced in Iraq was—I believe—involved in the depression leading to a poor choice that led to his death.

I also acknowledge that there is a lot about guns that I do not know. Again, because I do not want to own a gun, I’ve not felt the need to learn all the ins and outs.

I’m also aware that regardless of what we do, there are going to be individuals who are going to find ways to get weapons. We’re not going to be able to stop that completely. But that does mean that we shouldn’t try?

So…having said that, I do have some questions that I’d like to pose to try to start a dialogue. These are serious questions—ones I think could be a basis for bipartisan discussion about what I see as common sense changes that could be made. If you are willing, I’d really like to hear your responses.

  1. When is the right time to have a discussion about gun policy? It seems that whenever there is a shooting, there is a cry that that is not the appropriate time…that the focus should be on the victims and their families. I don’t disagree with that—but as time passes, when a discussion is suggested, there always seems to be another reason as to why the time is inappropriate.
  2. What can we do to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns? (And a corollary to that—how do we get more help for those who are mentally ill?)
  3. Should we bar gun purchases by people on federal no-fly or watch lists?
  4. Why shouldn’t we require background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows?
  5. We require training and education before a person can drive a car. Shouldn’t we do the same thing before a person can carry a gun?
  6. Why shouldn’t we require a permit (which, I would assume, would involve training) before allowing concealed carry?
  7. If we’re going to try to solve at least some aspects of gun violence, why is the government not permitted to gather information on shootings? Isn’t this a serious health crisis?

There are other questions I have as well—questions that I know I would disagree with family and friends about. But I hope that these six could at least begin a discussion. Far too many children have lost their lives to accidental shootings…far too many families have lost loved ones to mass shootings. I don’t want to wake up to the news of yet another one.

Carefully taught…

I’m sitting here, listening to the quiet noises of my grandchildren as they take their naps…and it seems so far removed from the events of this weekend. And yet…

There are a couple of pictures I’ve seen as a result of this weekend that have really touched me because of what they say about us. Neither is from this weekend–the first from 1992 and the second from an earlier rally in July 2017. But I think they say a lot about us and the challenges we face.

Many years ago I learned/realized that Rodgers and Hammerstein always put a “teaching song” in their musicals. Never in a way that distracted from the story, but always–somewhere–a song that challenged current thinking. I fell in love with the musical South Pacific…and ached with Lieutenant Cable as he struggled with his love for Liat, a young Tonkinese woman…as well as Nellie’s struggle with accepting Emile DeBecque’s children by a Polynesian mother. The musical–premiered in 1949–had to have been a challenge for those who saw it. After all, we had just come out of a war waged against racism/hatred/genocide, and yet we were still struggling with our own home-grown racism. I wonder what it would have been like to have heard these words for the first time in that context?

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.


The other picture that touched me is one from an earlier KKK rally in Charlottesville (in July).  I wonder what was going through the mind of the policeman standing there, quietly protecting the rights of the individuals protesting behind him–people who, if they had their way, would either gladly force him to leave the USA or kill him. He stood there quietly, listening to hate, and yet protecting those who hated him and what he stands for.

I also watched a video documentary made by HBO on the weekend. A link to it is below. Elle Reeve embedded for some of the time with one of the white supremacist leaders–I can’t imagine how she must have felt by the time the weekend was over. It’s not a long documentary–nor does it sugar coat that some of the counter protestors were also violent. But to listen to the language–the words used towards those who disagreed with the white supremacy beliefs and perspectives…it’s chilling. These people do not represent the America I believe in. But where did they get it from? Where were they taught it?

Children are not born hating others. They have to be carefully taught. But if they can be taught to hate, they can also be taught to love…and that is the task that lies before us. It will not be easy…and we will find ourselves disagreeing at times. But unless we can learn the power of love, we face a bleak future.

Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.–Mohandas Gandhi

We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.–William Gladstone (1809-1898)

Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.–Martin Luther King, Jr.

The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.–Peace Pilgrim

The basis of world peace is the teaching which runs through almost all the great religions of the world. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”–Eleanor Roosevelt