Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Strength in diversity

I used to think the best-case scenario would be if everyone had the same values, theology, lifestyle. “Diversity is bad, uniformity is good.” It fits with the idea that there is an ultimate truth, an ultimate understanding of all things, and the whole idea is to reach that wonderful place when you know it all. (Of course, there are those among us who sound like they have reached this point of enlightenment already, and they are only too happy to help us join them.)
More recently I have been coming to the conclusion that in many areas of life, there is more than one way to look at things. Different points of view are equally defensible. “Diversity is OK, uniformity isn't as good as I thought it was.”
Now, even that conclusion is facing some opposition. I am beginning to consider that diversity brings strength. “Diversity is ideal, uniformity is limiting.”

Visualize an underwater communication cable—the kind of technology that first brought telephone communication between continents. Its main purpose is to transmit a large number of different telephone calls over large distances. At first glance, you might think that bunching a large number of bare copper wires together would accomplish this task. But it won't. The interconnecting wires would combine the various calls into one jumbled mess.
No, each wire needs to be insulated from each other wire.
But it doesn't stop there. An underwater cable needs overall waterproofing as well. It needs to have a tough enough outside layer to keep all moisture out.
The ocean floor can be a rough place, so the outer layer needs to also protect from the effect of sharp rocks.
This cable is laid on the ocean floor, often at quite a distance from the surface—so it needs extra strength in order to handle its own weight as it is spooled out.
So, the overall success of this cable depends on the diversity of the components. Some need to conduct electricity well, others need to not conduct electricity at all. “Diversity is ideal, uniformity is limiting.”
Here's another word picture: a piece of hard clear crystalline substance with many facets to refract light is called a diamond. A piece of hard clear substance with one facet is called a pane of glass. It takes the variety of facets to begin to display the beauty within the stone. “Diversity is ideal, uniformity is limiting.”

I expect you are wise enough to see the parallels. The kingdom of God is stronger because of its diversity, not weaker.
And I am not just thinking of the gifts and abilities we have individually.
I am also thinking of the diversity within the traditions and denominations we see within the Church.
--the longevity, history, and artistic beauty of the Roman Catholic church.
--the tranquility and liturgical framework of the Anglican church.
--the joy, immediacy, and power of Charismatics.
--the centrality of the Bible, of Jesus, or of social justice of various groups.
--the compassion and inclusiveness of liberals.
--the passion for a personal connection with God of the conservatives.
Every 'flavor' has its unique value, and adds to the overall strength of the whole. Each also has potential areas of weakness, and no one can stand alone.

I am beginning to see the value of Brian McLaren's “A generous orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”
I used to think that progressive reformations/spin offs/splits were God's way of helping us get closer and closer to the 'real' church He wanted. Now I am trying to see that no one group can fully express the breadth and depth of the kingdom. It takes all of us (and even more) to even begin to demonstrate the fulness of Christ's character.
I suppose the challenge to me is to discover my strength and purpose, which particular facets God wants to reflect Himself through in me, and not try to become a “jack-of-all-trades” kind of Christian.
My purpose here isn't to encourage you to be everything, but to value the combined strength we have because of the diversity we each contribute.

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