Celebrating Diversity

June 16, 2006

DiversityThere are over six billion people in this world.  It never ceases to amaze me.  Six billion.  That is a lot of people.

Each of us has our own unique genetic make-up.  Our own unique look.  Our own unique personality.  Our own unique relational style.

In addition to the genetic composition that is God's gift to us, we have the life experiences that further work to differentiate us in the world.  We experience the brokenness of this world- the imperfection of our parents, our family, our friends, our society, and our church.  We also experience the goodness in the world- all of the world's hope, the potential, the humanity, the love, the joy.

When we get to a point in our lives when we can look back far enough along the path we have traveled, we can see that the journey has, for some, taken many unexpected turns, and for others, been fairly straight and narrow.  It is yet another differentiators in our lives that makes us unique.

With all of this diversity and experience, there are those of us who have experienced others in this context.  Some of us have taken turns on the path that have exposed us to the full diversity and breadth of God's creation in humanity.  If, in the experiences that mold and shape the travels we will take as adults, we learn as children to not only accept, but embrace diversity, we will travel a broad path as adults.  We will understand that our path is not the only path to the destination, but instead one of many equally worthwhile paths that all lead to the same destination.

If, on the other hand, we have parents or other significant people in our lives as children who themselves are broken enough to mold us in such a way that our expectations are set not to embrace difference but to fear it- to set our sights on a narrow road and become distrustful of any path that does not look like our own- it is very difficult as adults to understand other points of view.  The path we are on becomes the "only" path.  All others will be seen as worthless mazes which lead to destruction, while the "single path of truth" will be viewed as the only route to the destination.  There is limited or no value in diversity because it threatens the "single path of truth."  Diversity is feared because of this threat.  It never ceases to amaze me that with six billion people on the earth anyone can think there is only one path, and it always happens to be the one that she or he is walking- that seems so arrogant to me.

To be clear, I am not talking about racial diversity, or gay and lesbian diversity, or any other traditional form of diversity– although the painful effects of discrimination against those groups are a clear effect of the kind of diversity I mean.

I am talking about diversity of opinion.  Diversity of thought.  Diversity of mind.  Diversity of culture.  Diversity of theology.  Diversity in the broadest sense possible.  Diversity of existence.

At issue here is the inability to think outside the box.  The inability to change.  The inability to grow.  The need to hold on to what is known because what is unknown is perceived as a threat.

Embracing diversity is the opposite.  The need for change through growth.  The hope for a broader and broader vision.  The quest for the biggest picture possible.  The search for the unknown, for the infinite, knowing that the search can never come to an end by its very definition- infinity.

I have said time and time again that fundamentalism/orthodoxy is a psychological problem, not a theological one.  It is a psychological problem with theological implications, but the root cause is psychological.  It is my firm belief that we cannot resolve the theological debate without addressing the psychological problem.

How do we do that?  I have been wondering about that for some time.  It is my belief that the New Testament- in fact the entire new covenant- gives us a wonderful basis.

We first focus on ourselves.  We cannot remove the speck from our brother's eye unless we have removed the plank from our own, and all that jazz.  We must be fully at peace with the diversity of the world.  As firmly as I believe in inclusion, I believe God has a purpose for evangelism and to a degree, fundamentalism.  It brings hope to the hopeless.  Many who are so broken that they do not know where to start need a firm, tangible, rule-based launch point for their journey.  Fundamentalism gives them just that- the fundamentals.  I do not deny that and would not want to deny those who need that nourishment their food.  As Jesus told the disciples, there is much to learn yet that you cannot bear to hear, and many who are starting on their journey cannot bear yet to hear and understand the fully inclusive good news of Jesus Christ.  I really like Fowler's stages of faith development.  You can find that elsewhere on my blog (if I have time I'll insert a hyperlink here).  The point of it is that faith development, like psychological development, is cumulative.  You cannot progress from one stage to another without moving through it.  That means that rule-based literalism is a necessary component of moving into embracing diversity.  For some that may happen at 3 years of age.  For others, 30.  For others, never.

I was describing this to a priest friend of mine and she said it bothered her because it assumed that our theology was "better" than others.  I don't agree.  I've been in therapy for many years and in the first few years I would always say to my therapist "I just don't feel like I'm making enough progress.  I should be further along."  His response?  "You are where you are.  It's ok.  There isn't anything you can do about that.  There isn't anything right or wrong about it.  It's just where you are."

So it is with the progression of faith stages- we are all on a journey.  We are where we are.  There is no "value judgement" per se about being in one place or another on the journey.  We are where we are.  I believe we are all here to help support each other.  And, if the "other" doesn't want help or support in moving forward, that is completely within his or her rights.  Many don't believe they need it.  That's ok.  That's between God and the "other" to sort out.  We have to have faith and trust in God to work within each and every life on this planet- all we can do is try.

We also have to make sure that our message, the message of the higher levels of maturity in faith development, is readily available for those who don't need the fundamentalist message.  I don't think it is getting out.  I know from experience that there are people in the world that do not come to a Christian church because they think Christianity is about what the fundamentalists stand for, and not what people of inclusion and peace and justice stand for.  If we get that message out, if we witness to God's action in our lives, if we evangelize, we can have an affect.  A positive effect.

We can start momentum.  The larger the momentum, the more credibility we have.  The more credibility we have, the more people in the pews of the fundamentist churches will start to think about our message.  And people of healthy mind and healthy spirit will pray about this message with an open heart and will hear the voice of God deep within their souls and make a decision about it.  And that decision is between God and that person.  From that point we have to trust the Holy Spirit that our witness is credible, that we have been guided by her, that we are testifying to the will of God as it has been revealed so far.

Diversity is the issue here.  Respect for other opinions, for other ideas is what the core value is.  That can be taught.  With faith, trust, and patience, we can make a difference.  In the fullness of time, we will, with God's help, transform this world into a caring one full of love, hope, and peace.

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