One of the beauties and challenges of living in New York is that you are exposed to a wide array of both philosophical and theological discourse. Just a couple weeks ago, Deepak Chopra was in our sanctuary with a huge crowd, discussing the future of God. After the talk one of my members asked, is it okay for me to be a Christian and explore the teachings of Buddha? It was a question I didn't expect, but one I have continued to ponder. I suggested to her that one of the messages that Christianity has to of-fer is the good news of both a radical equality and a radical grace.
The notion that we are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor fee, male nor female, Buddhist nor Christian. That somehow it’s possible not so much to do away with the differences, but nevertheless to find a way to gather around those differences. For in doing so we create space to discover our faith and grow in our understanding. We had an excellent conversation and both of us left wanting to talk more, not to convince one another of our own thoughts or values, rather ready to learn more and discover a bigger picture of God.
Today, I am on the campus of Dartmouth College. I am once again reminded that growth and learning happen best when there are a wide array of thoughts, values, cultures and opinions. It opens the mind to new possibilities and enlarges the hearts capacity to love and accept.
While out walking around the campus, I recalled that John Shelby Spong shared that the story of Jonah is about human prejudice. He went on to suggest that it was about a prophet who is called by God to speak to people for whom the prophet does not care. Jonah refuses to speak and goes in the opposite direction. But God keeps pushing him back to Nineveh.
To me, that story is designed to demonstrate that the love of God does not have boundaries. Churches have boundaries, religions have boundaries, nations have boundaries, tribes have boundaries, prejudices have boundaries, and fears have boundaries. But the love of God has no boundary. If God can love the Ninevites, there must be something bigger going on here. It goes beyond just tolerating people. It goes on to acceptance and affirmation of people, not despite their differences, but because of their differences. Spong believes that such efforts are at the very heart of the Christian Gospel.
Wherever you find yourself in ministry, there are people with questions about faith and life. They may be very different than our Reformed understanding, which to this day is central to my identity and belief. However, the learning for me has been to be slow to speak and ready to listen and learn, for in doing so I have discovered that our differences help us to see a bigger picture of God.
Rev. Kirsty DePree is an associate minister at Marble Collegiate Church (RCA) in New York, New York.