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.



A place at the table…

“For everyone born, a place at the table…”

That’s a line from a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray that’s become one of my favorites. There are some challenging lines in it as well, because it calls us to consider how we interact with each other as have connect in so many ways.

The hymn is a call for justice for all…for clean water and health–those things that ought to be available to all people. A call for equality…a call for the right to live without fear…to be able to speak out and be heard. Most of all, it’s a call for building communities of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

do believe there’s a place at the table for all people. But–and this is an important “but”–I do not believe there is a place at the table for theologies of exclusion, discrimination, hate…

All are welcome at my table–and I do mean all. I welcome those whose perspectives I agree with as well as those I disagree with. I enjoy learning from those whose understandings are different. In the process, I may even change my own mind! At the very least, I become more clear in my own mind what I believe and why.

But while all people are welcome at my table, all theologies and political beliefs/policies are not. Theologies and policies that tell people they are somehow “less than” and not welcome because of their race, sex, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender attraction, country of origin are not welcome. If you hold to one of those theologies or political beliefs, you are still welcome–as long as you allow others a place at the table as well.

In 2007, scripture was brought to my faith tradition:

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation.

Generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community. The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

There is a place at the table for all who wish to work together to create a community of “justice and joy, compassion and peace.”

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?

Am I a Christian?

For many years, the easy answer would have been “Of course!”

Now…I find myself wondering just how to answer that question in a way that most accurately reflects my thinking. And it’s difficult.

First of all, let me be clear on one thing. I am a follower of the One called Jesus the Christ. I’m not a perfect follower…and I struggle sometimes with where I sense Jesus calling me to be and what I sense myself being called to do. But I have found in him the best example of the love of the Divine…the way to live with integrity…and the one who challenges me to do the best I can to create a world where diversity is welcomed, where people are seen as individuals and not classes to be demonized, where the worth of all people is seen as paramount–even those who seek to destroy me.

But a Christian? It depends on what you mean by that, especially in today’s political climate.

Many people I see being described as “Christian” hold values and attitudes that I find diametrically opposed to the one whose name they claim. If being a Christian means supporting policies that tear families apart with no empathy…or swallowing values in order to be close to the seats of power…or believing that one skin color is superior to all others…or that the poor deserve no safety net…that the rich are somehow supremely blessed by God and deserve everything they have–and everyone else be damned…that those whose gender or sexual expression is different from my own understanding makes them worthy of being killed…then no, I am not a Christian.

The term “Christian” began as an epithet. Then it became a positive descriptive title…and today, for many, it has again become an epithet. I would like to reclaim its positive values, but I am afraid that is going to take many, many years.

But again, am I a Christian? There’s a wonderful portion in the Gospel of Matthew that–in many ways–gives my answer. But for now…I think I’m more comfortable using an earlier description used by those who followed this path…”followers of the Way”…the way described in the passage below (Matthew 25:31-45 The Message).

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’”



A prayer for a new year


We stand at the threshold of a new year. The days stretch before us…clean, bright, waiting for whatever we will write on them. That is both an exhilerating and a frightening prospect; will we write things that will support others…bring us together? or will they be filled with division and hate?

There are so many possibilities!

Grant us the willingness to walk in the path you have called us to…a path of healing, of hope, of wholeness. Give us strength to persevere when things and people around us would conspire to call us to take the easy way.

Help us to look at those around us with empathy…to be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt…to listen with open ears rather than our preconceived notions. May we see you in the faces of “the other.”

Most of all, as we move into the future, give us the courage to truly mean this prayer…to live it, not just say words that disappear into the air.

It will not always be easy. But you promise to walk with us–and we claim that promise as we move into this new year.

We pray this in the name of the One who showed us how to live. Amen.

Healing spiritual wounds…

I’ve mentioned before that a few years ago I was deeply wounded by people in my church–people who were in leadership positions and who made decisions that impacted me and many of my friends in negative ways to the point that I wondered if there was a place for me in the church that I had spent my entire life in, worshiped in, and worked for. Thanks to some wonderful counseling, the gift of presence from a couple of other individuals in leadership positions, and the grace of God I’ve been able to come through that situation with healing, although the scars will always be there.

Recently someone (and I can’t remember who) recommended a book that I checked out of the library and have been reading through. It’s a book I wish I had had during that very dark night–but I also am not sure that I would have been ready to read it then. Because I find myself still sometimes dealing with feelings triggered by actions or words that remind me of that time, it’s a book I’m going to buy and actually work through. With it being a library book, that’s been harder to do…I can’t write in it, and I need to get through reading it so that it can be returned on time!

It’s titled Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church by Carol Howard Merritt. While her experiences were different from mine, she has some good exercises for working through hurts that have been caused by churches and church people. 

Some of those hurts sometimes seem to be intentionally caused because of a specific theology. Sometimes the hurts are unintentional–people simply fail in living up to the ideals they espouse.

But either way, the hurts can be deep…and they can leave us wondering how–and if–we can heal…whether there is a place for us in our spiritual home.

It is possible–and this book can be very helpful in working through the process. 

Outward sign of an inward grace

The title of this blog is a phrase I hear used at times in reference to the sacraments of the church–that they are an outward sign of an inward grace. But I’d like to look at them another way today…

What we do–how we act–is also an outward sign of our inner beliefs. That’s how people see us…and know whether to believe our words or not. If our words and actions are the same, that sends one message; if they’re not, then people get mixed messages–and they’re far more likely to believe our actions than our words. It’s like an expression my minister father used to use in his sermons: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

So…if my words say I’m a follower of Jesus, are my actions an outward sign of that? I hope so, although because I’m not perfect, I know I make mistakes.

But what did Jesus say? and who did he spend his time with? He spent his time with the marginalized…with those who were seen as “less than”…with those who were open to hear his words, regardless of ethnic background, gender, social status…

And what did he say?

  • Love your neighbor.
  • Feed the poor.
  • Visit those who are in prison.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Be peacemakers.

When I look around today and both hear and watch some of those who are either religious leaders or who call themselves followers of this Carpenter, I get very mixed messages. Words and actions don’t match–and I find myself returning to my father’s statement: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

I hope my words and actions match. I try…and try again, because I believe that my actions are an outward sign of my inner beliefs.