We Are Different!
It seems like we are living in a time when differences are perceived as negative. To say - We are different! - is a statement that will be met by silence or maybe even a negative statement in return.
However, as Christ followers guided by the Holy Spirit, we perceive differences differently and we respond to differences differently. What are some typical ways to respond to differences?
One response is to diminish the differences. To pretend or to cover up the differences. To not talk about the differences. To ignore differences. To say that differences don't matter. To make the statement that we focus on what we hold in common with each other, ignoring that which we disagree about. As a person who likes agreement and feels anxious when there are disagreements, I tend to strive to guide conversations away from differences and toward commonality. But when we do that, we devalue that which can bring honor to God. Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and his father are one. Oneness is not sameness because Jesus and God the Father are two different parts of the Trinity. In the same way that we don't diminish the differences between Jesus and God the Father, we resist the temptation to diminish the differences between each other.
Another response is to assign value to the differences in which one is right and the others are wrong. This is what causes some to diminish differences, because it is easy to jump to the place of saying, if you are right, than I must be wrong. And I can't be wrong, so you must be wrong and I am right. Differences can lead people to take their stand like General Custer, and say, "On this hill I take my stand and I won't give an inch." In religious circles, statements about the slippery slope indicate how precarious a position it is to take one's stand on a hill. But what if we allow Jesus to be the one who alone is on the hill, the hill of Calvary, the one who died for all people, even people who are different. And instead of trying to stand on the hill, and resist sliding down the slippery slope, we kneel at the foot of the hill where Jesus alone is on, as he is hanging on the cross for the sins of all people, including my sins. Then we don't need to be concerned about sliding down the slippery slope.
But as followers of Christ who are guided by the Holy Spirit, we see differences as we come to the place of respecting differences. We can respect differences without losing our sense of conviction. We can respect differences without sliding down the slippery slope. We respect the differences so that we do not diminish the differences, differences that come from the immensity of who God is, God who is not able to be tamed but who is wild.
This "wildness" is seen in Paul's thoughts as he reflected on the work of Jesus as they appear in Ephesians 2. Paul in Ephesians 2:11 points out a difference, a huge difference! The difference between Gentiles and Jews, between the uncircumcised and the circumcised. Paul names the elephant in the room, doesn't hide it, does not ignore it, but names it. And then in verse 13, Paul calls attention to the basis of the respect that each other shows for the other. - But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Can you hear Paul's call to see yourself kneeling at the foot of the Calvary hill? Paul continues the picture in verse 14 - For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. Although Paul doesn't use the word respect, it sounds a lot like respect. Respect is the absence of barriers, walls of hostility. Respect is acknowledging the differences with open arms rather than closed fists. Respect and hostility are like oil and water. They don't coexist in the heart.
We are different! Can this actually be a compliment? I believe so within the family of God. We are different! We can say that without going to the place of assigning value. We are different! Allows us to acknowledge the differences without an attempt to erase key parts of the image of God in others that perhaps don't line up with God's image within us.
Can I see the differences in others as stretching my perception and understanding and experience of how I have experienced and come to know God? I desire that God will help me see the differences in others around me to open my eyes to see God in a new way, a way that I have yet to experience God.
Perhaps we can pray this prayer with each other. Perhaps we can pray this prayer respectfully with one who we are different.