Diversity and Unity: Necessary Inconveniences

This past Sunday evening we gathered together with various churches, denominations, ministries, ethnicities, and generations. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement. It was so utterly normal and unimpressive on so many human levels, but the message this gathering shouted reverberated throughout my soul. It shook the heavens. It defied cultural norms. It was a corrective to the usual Christian gathering.

Each church/ministry/ethnicity/gender was able to contribute to our time of worshiping Jesus. Multiple gifts were exchanged. Blessings were offered. Confessions were made. And the Lord’s table brought us together as one broken body. All this was done on a Sunday night when some families were stressed trying to get there, others sacrificed other routines, and a night at home to rest alone or with friends and family was forsaken.

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The inconvenient exchange was a night to display the brining together of diverse peoples and beliefs, a foretaste of the “every tongue, every tribe, every nation” reality that is proclaimed in the book of Revelations. It was beautiful, but disrupting of rhythm and comfort, and as we all worshipped together, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the way in which we’ve formed our typical weekly worship experiences.

We live in a culture that is fairly homogenous (ethnically, denominationally, generationally, etc.) when it comes to Christian worship. Some say we’ve splintered the table of the Lord into little pieces, and each Sunday we partake, we are only getting scraps compared to what God intended to offer his people. I’m not sure about that, but I do know we’ve been divided over the Lord’s table, and as the words of a good friend once said, ” It’s not our table to divide.” Some will read this and begin to defend their church, or stance, etc. My point isn’t to stir up a defense, but to call us to something altogether different than what we’re normally used to.

I’m reading a book by James K.A. Smith entitled You Are What You Love. In this new book, he shares a short vignette about the polar expedition of the USS Jeanette in the late 1800’s. The whole mission was established on a faulty map and false visions of what the Arctic was really like. In short, the ship and crew got stuck in polar ice, only to break free months later and eventually parish in the cruel Arctic. After this vignette he writes this:

“We become misdirected and miscalibrated–not because our intellect has been hijacked by bad ideas but because our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing… this contest of cultural practices is a competition for your heart… More precisely, at stake in the formation of your loves is your religious and spiritual identity, which is manifested not only in what you think or what you believe but in what you do – and what those practices do to you.” 22

It’s my opinion that our ideas of church and how we form as corporate entities have been terribly misguided by cultural homogenous norms. What we do and how the practices of what we do actually affects us is not fully known. But what we do know is that we are changed by the habits we have in life. What we believe to be the way life is supposed to be is made known to us by how we behave, who we gather with, and the things we make time for. What we love shines brightly in our thought life and in the way we organize our social world.

To say we love diversity and unity and are “All for it!”, yet have little to no experiences of eating, praying, worshiping with those who are radically different from us, is to prove that we “like” the idea of diversity and unity, but we do not “love” it. We are not committed to it. We make time for the things we love. We sacrifice other good things to ensure our “loves” get primary time in our lives.

This is precisely why a worship gathering with those who love Jesus and are of various ethnicities, tribes, denominations, and generations is a corrective voice to our typical way of living. These gatherings stimulate our prophetic imaginations. This is why an evening like last Sunday is worth the inconvenience, discomfort, or any awkwardness you may have while joining a gathering like this.

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We’ve had many cultural practices that compete for our hearts, our loves. And if diversity and unity isn’t an intentional part of our lives, it will be left out every time, and we will either admit we don’t really love it, or will make excuses as to why diversity and unity aren’t a major part of our Christian worship.

What are you calibrated to? What is it that you love? Be slow to answer these questions. Take a life survey of the last month before you answer. Who do you hang out with? Who do you worship and pray with most? What’s your church look like? Does your church intentionally connect with other ethnicities and denominations? Or are the gathering mostly a single local church focus? What events are promoted in your tribe?

I hope you can admit with me that we can do better, that we have work to do. We have some decisions to make and some things to consider sacrificing for the sake of glueing the splintered table of the Lord back together, metaphorically of course. And we need to be able to do this in humility without pointing the finger; offer a voice of correction, YES… start accusing certain people, churches and movements, NO. Look around you. Who’s crossing the aisles, joining other tribes, carving out space to do life together with those who are different than they are?

Join them, but don’t leave your church. Invite others from your tribe to join you. Be a change maker, a trendsetter. Make it attractive and mainstream to be uncomfortable and uncommitted to homogenous worship gatherings and leadership teams. We need new normals, and I know that our time this past Sunday night was one of many of gatherings that have already been laboring towards this end. I pray for more to come and for a flood of professed Jesus lovers to welcome inconveniences for the sake of diversity and unity.

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:14

Many people are afraid of the slippery slope of unity because there have been many pursuits towards unity, by well (and surely some unwell) intended believers who have let the idea of unity become greater than the God of unity. Today, we turn our gaze once again to the orchestrator, the conductor if you will, and to keep the symphony theme going, the very source of all the diverse instruments that are used to play together in harmony, Christ Jesus. If He is lost in all of our pursuits of unity, we will never have unity.

The Armored Body – Ephesians 4:14

Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent.

There is a danger is desiring unity at the expense of losing Jesus as the center. There is also danger in thinking that our ways are the best ways, and everyone else has missed out on God’s purpose for the Church. Many of the church divisions of the past and present end up forming churches and parishes that often look nothing like what we learn from the apostle Paul.

Jesus clearly called out the religious leaders of his day. In fact, it was always the leaders with whom Jesus was angry— those who were out to make money on the weak, the emotionally fragile, the naive, the ones who were full of guilt. Jesus called them a brood of vipers, hypocrites. They had an outward appearance of holiness, but their insides, their hearts, were far from God (Matthew 23).

God has equipped the body of Christ to withstand the schemes of the devil and the trickery of those who do not want Jesus, but prefer profit and selfish gain (those who suffer from the “me” and now” syndrome we discussed in the previous post). God wants the Church to grow up, rejecting hypocrisy. We must not be known in the world as those who say holy things with their lips, but live deceitful lives. God desires that we recognize the counterfeits and resist them, so that Jesus is the One who is followed, not denominations, movements, or church leaders.

Paul knows this will be a struggle within the Church, and this is why, at the end of this letter, he speaks of the Church arming herself, not with a material armor, but a spiritual armor to combat the real enemy, the rulers and authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:10-20).

Putting Christ at the center of our pursuit, and allowing Him to stay the center of our pursuit are two different things, and we must be intentional to labor towards both. Christ is Lord, we are not. May the journey towards unity lead us closer to (and more intimately united with) Jesus and not our ideas of unity.

A Prayer For Us Today

Lord Jesus Christ, we are all susceptible to lies and schemes that twist the truth. Grant us grace that we would have the wisdom and discernment to see counterfeits and run from them. Help us as we labor toward maturity and the building up of the whole body, so that we are not children tossed and broken as if by the waves of the sea. We don’t want to bring shame upon your name through our actions. Purify your Church, remove corrupt leaders, and bring us to unity in your Son, for your glory. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

The ways of the devil are tricky and he desires to disrupt the life of Christ’s body, the Church. Is there trickery in your life that you need to confess and move on from? Bringing things to light in love is always the best way to combat the schemes of the enemy (1 John 1:5-10).

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Liberty Plaza

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This is the plaza at the corner of 37th Ave. and Camelback. It’s one of the staple symbols of my hood. It’s also a picture of the diversity of my hood, which has been fun to live in the middle of such celebrated differences. The Middle Eastern culture, the Latino culture, some American culture, and across the street there’s lots of Asian culture. At the top of the sign is the name of the plaza, Liberty Plaza. This is an old name that was given to this shopping center years ago when hope of a middle class neighborhood would make it’s mark on the city, but it never has risen to be “the desired location” it wanted to be over the years.

Around 30 years ago, most of the property owners moved out of this hood and began buying “nicer” homes in “safer” neighborhoods because “different” cultures were coming in and changing the safety of the desired liberty the homeowners (the gentry) wanted. In pursuit of a better life, the gentry took flight and left our hood. Differences aren’t celebrated by all. For many, differences are threatening, scary, and feel invasive on the comfort of our lives.

Liberty Plaza 30 years ago thought they were “losing” their freedom because of the different colors and cultures of people moving in, so the “old” guard left. And now the “new” guard, even though Liberty Plaza doesn’t seem very liberated in a material sense, is experiencing liberty. Embracing, even celebrating differences. I am praying for Liberty Plaza, for the success of the businesses here, and for my neighbors who work and own these businesses. I pray that the gentry’s who are moving back in the hood will honor and respect those who stayed when they and their money left. I pray that as the local university grows and takes over the hood, that they will make room for our diverse friends who have weathered the hard economic years and that justice will be a top priority as corporate growth happens.

Liberty Plaza, thanks for teaching us to embrace and celebrate diversity!