"Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there."
Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th Century mystic poet
I've come to believe that when communities of faith intentionally practice "diversity" they nurture health and well being both within themselves and their surrounding neighborhoods.
Rev. George Morris
Diana Butler Bass was curious to learn why some mainline churches were flourishing. She gathered a team of researchers and set-out to discover what contributed to some thriving when so many were declining. Fifty vital congregations were selected and studied. One factor contributing to revitalization was their intentional practice of diversity.
Sounds strange practice of diversity. We think of worship, prayer, hospitality, and the like as religious practices, but not so much diversity. As Bass described her findings in "Christianity for the Rest of Us," it is clear she wasn't talking about differences that exist within a group just as happenstance, or that are at best tolerated with the hope they might disappear. She was describing an active, intentional welcoming and making space for different ways of being Christian.
As we witness an epidemic of polarization and division in American religious and political communities today, we sense how problematic it is for some to embrace the practice of diversity. Many religious traditions define a fairly narrow range of acceptable beliefs, behaviors, and practices that have a place within their communities. Others fear the loss of identity if ideology is too vague.
Practicing diversity, seeking the common ground that binds people together, takes courage, humility, patience and openness. Committing to this practice grows out of our acknowledging a God given desire for connection, relationship, and life enriching community. Though expressed in Christian idiom, these words by Avery and Marsh help visualize the gift to be realized:
No foreign kind, no alien race, In Christ (God) we all have found a welcome place. The spirit binds, our voices blend. No longer strangers, we're sisters, brothers, friends.
As faith communities practice diversity they experience health within and extend health and wholeness beyond themselves to neighbor and stranger alike.
I grew up in the upstate New York village of Ballston Spa. One of the unique features of the village during my early childhood was the main street (Milton Avenue) lined with huge, graceful, old beautiful elm trees. When Dutch elm disease came along in the late 1950's all the trees were killed and cut down a devastating loss.
As I remember that loss more than 50 years later, I think it fair to suggest that a lack of diversity in trees made for a barren landscape for several years. If the street had been lined with a mixture of elms, maples, oaks and beaches the loss would not have been so terrible.
Health nurturing community is ours to realize as we seek the field beyond our differences where we practice and celebrate diversity.