Diversity

On Friday, I’m sharing my Credo, the current details of the story of my beliefs, the values and ideas that make me what I am.

I’m not where I started and I assume this isn’t where I’ll end up either but for now, these are the elements of me.

My intent isn’t to sway anyone to my credo. The reason I’m writing about this on Fridays is mostly so my kids will have something they can look back on that will explain me to them. To provide an answer to some of their ‘whys.’ Along the way it might be helpful for other people who know me and are wondering why I am the way and I am and why I do things the way I do them.

I believe living a diverse life is an essential element of a life of faith in Jesus.

The gravitational pull I always felt was towards homogeneity. Like gathering with like.

I was most comfortable with people who think like me, feel like me, believe like me and act like me. With people who watch Doctor Who like me. With people who look like me. The M and F on registration forms was all the diversity I needed – and I wasn’t even comfortable around Fs. And while they terrified me, I felt drawn to make space for them in my world.

I grew up white, middle-class and male and those words would be a fair description of what my world was all about when I first went to University.

I didn’t realize it but I was occupying a tiny, insular world. It would be like believing your whole life that pistachio was the only flavor that ice cream came in and then suddenly discovering chocolate. Or strawberry. Or vanilla-chocolate with caramel swirls. Or discovering that all the above exist and they redefine what you’ve always thought about ice cream and how you experience it.

If I was writing a creed for the modern church it would have to include: I believe in the essential nature and experience of diversity as the body of Christ. I can’t be who I am created to be until you are who you are created to be.

And in some part, that makes me responsible for your flourishing and giving you respect for your unique expression of the Imago Dei.

Doing my Masters at St. Stephen University, I discovered I was on a journey, more than academic, the very first day of our module. Part of our pre-reading included a book that we were to read and come prepared to discuss whether the author had a mental illness or profound relationship with God. The ensuing conversation and the range of opinions and diversity of reflections led me to reconsider my own narrow view. Reading that book on my own, I never would have come to the more robust relationship with it that I finally came to through our class conversations and the diversity of perspectives I found there. Ultimately that book became my most referenced book besides the Bible.

And if you’re wondering about our conclusion: yes and yes.

Nearly a year ago now we had friends over for an evening of conversation and adult beverages. As we talked, the conversation turned to the things we believe and to our common Christian experience. I told my new friends that I felt more orthodox at this point in my life than I ever was before, a generous orthodoxy. While my new male friend seemed to be tracking with me I could tell by her face that my new female friend had a problem. When I asked her what was up, she shared a profound insight. The short version that won’t do justice to how she articulated the issue: a bunch of men decided what was orthodox and that makes her suspicious of it.

The lack of diversity in the establishment of orthodoxy should make us suspicious. If my life didn’t include gender diversity and an egalitarian orientation (bookmark that for another credo Friday), I would have never received this obvious but important insight. It’s led to a whole new perspective as I learn and grow and become more like Jesus. If I only allowed for same gendered teachers and authors, I would not be who I am, I would not have experienced the rich spiritual formation that has shaped me.

We moved back to the U.S. a little over 7 years ago. I pastor a church in the South. Not the Deep South but deep enough. It seemed obvious to me that we needed to talk about the sin of Racism and the call on our church to be a reconciling community. As I looked over my bookshelves and thought about my theological education I noticed both were dominated by whiteness. I didn’t have a single book on my shelves by a person of color other than the Bible. Other than seminars and conferences where I’ve chosen who I was going to listen to, I’ve never had a professor or teach who was a person of color.

So I started looking for books by black, Hispanic and Asian theologians. I watch Youtube videos of lectures by theologians and scholars and pastors of color.

Here in our church I decided to talk about white privilege. The pushback was…

Immediate – a few people got up and left while I was talking. Some never came back to our church.
Delayed – a leader told me later that the only problem we had with Racism in our church was that I kept bringing it up. They eventually left our church.
Brewing – a man came to me weeks later to tell me that white privilege was a myth. He was white and he grew up poor, picked on and struggling for every good thing in his life. I tried to explain that “privilege” didn’t mean you were trouble free it just meant that while you might have started with $0 in your bank account, all your friends of color at our church started out with a mortgage size debt they’ve had to deal with their whole lives. He was able to rise above poverty, our friends can’t stop being black. His family eventually left our church.

Jesus talked about our tendency to love people who love us and do good to people who do good to us. Both, he said, are common. The uncommon thing is to love the people who don’t love you, do good to people who don’t do good to you. At the heart of this is a call to diversify our lives. To step out of the bubbles we built for ourselves and enter the world, inhabit the world of the other, develop your empathy through encounter and discover it’s not us vs. them, it’s only ever been us.

The beauty of the Church is seen in doing life together with a group of people who aren’t just like you. Economically, socially, emotionally, politically, gendered, sexually oriented, racially, culturally diverse. A rich life is one that embraces diversity and wants to make mosaics and not melting pots where all of our crayons blend into one glorious shade of grey. One of the things that proves the truth of our Story is not only our capacity for a flourishing life of diversity but our tendency, our orientation to, our felt need for sharing life with people who are not just like us.

If everyone in my life was just like me or even mostly like me, I could never know Jesus the way I know Jesus today because my life has taken some small steps into the much bigger world of diversity.

At the end of this month, 26 people from our church are going on a Sankofa journey. 13 white, 13 people of color. We will visit historic sites connected to the Civil Rights Movement here in the South. We will have pre-read two books. We will watch documentaries. We will have conversation together. We will be with each other all day every day for a few days. It will be many things but most certainly one of them will be a significant act of spiritual formation. Most, if not all, of our participants will come home different from how they left – especially me.

I believe a diverse life is a flourishing life, a kingdom life, a Jesus shaped life.

What are the relationships you nurture with people who aren’t just like you? What author or theologians of color do you recommend? Who is your favorite black, Hispanic, Asian, Queer, other gendered from you, theologian (not named Augustine)? What music do you listen to that comes from outside of your culture and/or ethnicity? What experience of diversity has shaped you?

Published by APastor'sStory

Trying to squeeze this life for all the juice I can get out of it.

4 thoughts on “Diversity

  1. The stance on racial diversity is probably what has attracted me most to this church, and I can see it reflected in the body – even if only in it’s nascent form.

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  2. In answer to one of your questions, the experience that has probably shaped me the most cross-culturally is the friendships I have developed with Muslim co-workers. We have many engineers in our agency who have come from the Middle East. Also, one of my children became a Mormon, and that has brought an entire group of people into my life who I never would have associated with, otherwise. I have found that we all face the same situations and challenges.

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