The beauty and uniqueness of life lies in the unity of diversity.  Mikhail Gorbachev

Ponder with me Gorbachev’s wisdom: “The beauty and uniqueness of life lies in the unity of diversity.”  I deeply resonate with his words.  On a very surface level, I love the art, food, and music of different cultures.  I learn so much from people have been shaped by different upbringings.  Yet, all too often, we confuse unity with uniformity and divisiveness with diversity.  

In my first pastoral call, I served a congregation that ultimately became home to people coming from sixteen different nations.  Potlucks were amazing!  So, also our annual Time & Talent auction to raise money for local mission.  At the time, we had no idea how unique we were.  It was for us a living experiment of the beloved community.  This was all before the angst of 9-11.  I look back and wonder if such diversity would even be possible today.

To be sure, there were challenges.  We covered the whole theological spectrum.  On Memorial Day, when we recognized veterans, we honored people who had served on opposite sides during World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War.  For us, there was a humbling, tender sense that only God’s grace could have made our fellowship possible.  There were many who sojourned with us that were not (at least initially) Christians.   Indeed, God’s call to us was to welcome the stranger on a daily basis; not necessarily to make the stranger one of us, but to afford the space where they might find the space to discover what made them alive—fully alive!

We didn’t try to smooth over our differences.  Instead, we focused on what we could agree upon: our shared call to “renew the ruined city” in which we were located (Isaiah 61:4).  To the degree that we focused outward, we were united in our desire to restore and renew.

Anthropologist Arrien Angeles in Working Together reflects on the many names by which diversity is made known: 

Pluralism, unity, harmony, tolerance, inclusion, conflict mediation, facilitation, equity, intercultural understanding, anti-bias, multicultural education, equal employment, affirmative action, cultural competence, global competitiveness, social justice, racial understanding and being politically correct.  

Some of the descriptors she notes have become (at least in some circles) “bad words.”  Others feel shallow, reflecting the limits of our language in this time of discontinuous change.  It has been said that, in times of rapid change, what you know can mislead you.  I wonder if this is the case with regard to embracing our unity of diversity in the 21st century.

As I read the list, I am given an answer to my question as to why is unity in diversity so hard.  Simply put, living in intentional community is hard—especially in changing times.  Arrien believes that the intentional practice of community requires four very particular practices:

  1. Showing up and choosing to be present.
  2. Paying attention.
  3. Telling the truth.
  4. Surrendering an attachment to a particular outcome.

Peter Block found her practices so compelling that he wrote a book called The Structure of Community.   In it, he suggests that we approach our shared life narratively; that is, that we write “a new story based on restorative community: one of possibility, generosity, (and) accountability.”  As one who is drawn to the power of narrative, I find real invitation in Block’s suggestion.  How will you celebrate our unity in diversity in your context?  Which of the four practices comes most easily to you?  Which is most difficult?  How might you be more intentional in your nurture of community?

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