When I was living in Tennessee, our church experienced some major conflict. At one point, I naively
thought, “wouldn’t it be great to be part of a church where everyone was on the same page?” In some
ways, it sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Then there wouldn’t be arguments and conflicts…. except that that isn’t
realistic. No two people are ever completely “on the same page,” and there are always things we don’t
see eye to eye about – even with the people to whom we are closest. We lose out when we aren’t willing
to be with others who think, act, look or sound differently than we do.
Being in a community in which one is rarely challenged by new ideas, or differences of opinions and
beliefs means stagnating in one’s limited perspective. Back in Oak Ridge, I quickly realized that if I
only spent time with people of like minds, I wouldn’t grow or learn. I am reminded of my supervisor in
chaplaincy training who said when conversations became particularly heated and sharp, “Good, now
the learning begins.” She encouraged me not to avoid or fear conflict.
Yet nowadays, hate crimes are on the rise. There are people who want to separate and discriminate
against people based on color, economic differences, education levels, sexual orientation or beliefs.
This divisive approach contradicts the way God created us. In God’s wisdom, we were created as both
unique individuals and beings whose genetic make-up is more similar than dissimilar. We are all
children of God, drawn from every nation to the Holy mountain, as Isaiah described so beautifully in
last week’s reading. God created this diverse, multi-cultural world that is infinitely interesting because
of its complexity. God’s vision is for apparent enemies to live peaceably together: the wolf and the
lamb, the leopard and the kid, the child and the adder.
I recently saw a video called The DNA Journey, in which people of different backgrounds and cultures
were asked about their national heritage. They were then questioned about with which countries or
nationalities they felt at odds. After that, they were invited to submit to DNA tests that would trace their
family lineages. When they got the test results, the participants were surprised at the diversity of
nationalities represented in their DNA. Some of them found that they shared DNA with nationalities
towards whom they felt animosity. Faced with this new information, they found it hard to hold onto
their prejudices or nationalistic tendencies. Through this test, the participants discovered commonality
in their shared ancestry.
There are times when we will be at odds with someone or with a group of people. Rather than shutting
them out of your life or avoiding them, why not sit down with them over a cup of tea or coffee or a
meal, and talk? Listen to each other. Hear how they reach their conclusions. Find common ground. See
and love them as fellow children of God. As our Presiding Bishop so eloquently reminds us, “Jesus’
family values are about becoming the human family of God, reconciled with God and each other.”