Embracing Differences

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.


An American Joseph/ine

From James Bratt

The sounds of fatigue and sorrow have been pretty constant on this blog of late, and for good reason. So here’s a curveball. No one’s ever mistaken me for an optimist (hoots of derision from family and friends), but I’d like to offer up a late-summer note of hope.

The wise—that is to say, the historians—among you will recognize that I’m retrieving a distinction made by the late great American historian Christopher Lasch. Optimism, Lasch said, is the consummately American delusion that, since we’re nice people and the world’s a nice place, things are bound to get better. Hope, instead, is earned by looking into the face of darkness and not taking it as the final word. So, a word of hope.

Hope, moreover, from an unexpected angle. Right-thinking Christians have taught by one form of liberation theology or another that it is the poor, the marginalized, the disaffected who are first in the Lord’s favor and most likely to speak the prophetic word. True enough. Imagine, though, if relief came from the top. If someone from the very elite of society, pampered in privilege almost unimaginable to the middle-class, much less to the poor, came out foursquare for the suffering, for justice, for the unseen and unesteemed. What if the voice leading us out of our current wilderness of inequality, violence, rancor, and hate is being formed right now in the stratosphere of the 1 percent? Maybe even the .1 percent? Think not St Joseph the Worker (father of our Lord) but Joseph of Arimathea.


The View from the Back

From Jason Lief

There's a new seating chart in our minivan lately. Usually, I like to drive, my wife sits in the passenger seat, and the kids sit in the back. My youngest, Savannah, sits in the way back—she still needs a car seat. Now that my leg it in a locked brace due to a knee injury I get to sit in the back with my daughter. Everywhere we go, I grab on to one of those previously useless handles above the door and drag my dead leg into the seat. Savannah likes that I'm back there—she reads me books, steals my iphone, and giggles at my aging body. I have to admit it has given me a new perspective. I can see my family from behind, their heads sticking up over the seat. I no longer have control. Though I try to drive from the back seat it really doesn't work—it usually gets me in trouble. So I spend much more time looking out the window, noticing things about the familiar scenery that I've never noticed before. The drive from Sioux Center to Sioux City is beautiful; the terrain, contrary to popular thought, it not at all flat, but full of lush, green, hills. I can also say that I better understand some of my kid's complaints that used to irritate me. My older daughter complains about feeling car sick. I get it...I can't believe how bumpy it is riding in the back. My son yells "turn it up!" when trying to listen to the radio or movie player. I find myself saying the same thing... And my youngest, every trip, complains about being cold. Let's just say the vents in the back work really well. 


When Suffering is Simultaneously Too Near and Too Far

From Theresa Latini

The news of Robin Williams’ severe depression, long battle with addiction, and apparent suicide was the final blow for me this week.  The notice came up on my iPhone, and I was reduced to tears. It wasn’t merely the death of this man whose movies could delight, challenge, and inspire me.  It was the culmination of what Scott Hoezee rightly dubbed a summer of sadness: the most vulnerable of the human family terrorized, maimed, raped, blown to pieces, gunned down by police, and otherwise gruesomely killed  . . . all summer long . . . in far too many places.

When my NPR app popped up with the news of Williams’ death, my heart sank into a hollow cavern excavated by sorrows past. In this vacuous place, I had no words other than “How long, O Lord?” and “Come Lord Jesus.” This lament and maranatha were made all the more poignant by simultaneously holding my newborn daughter, so precious to me.

A number of my colleagues on this blog have shared their experiences, analysis, and wisdom in response to this woeful news. To this, I’ll add one small piece: the complexity of ministry when suffering is simultaneously too near and too far from us. As for the former, we are inundated daily with tragic news. Ours is an unprecedented age, when to quote a recent New York Times op-ed piece: “on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986.” As the article explains, the brain is simply not wired for this constant deluge. It saps energy, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.  And when the information includes an onslaught of inhumanity, we can be overwhelmed with helplessness, rage, and despair. Or we can insulate ourselves emotionally and become numb, calloused, jaded, and judgmental.


Holy Habitation

From Jennifer L. Holberg

Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English at Calvin College. Her wedding china is Wedgewood, "India" pattern (because what else would a Victorianist have?).

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
--Psalm 46*

My house felt holy yesterday.

All day long we had little friends visiting us for a play date while their parents worked to paint their new house and pack up their old house. My boys are kind of at the end of their summertime good humor (or maybe I am), and believe it or not, adding two more kids to the mix gave everybody a boost of cheerfulness.

Five happy children make for a surprisingly quiet house, so all day long I wore an apron and cooked and puttered in the kitchen and listened to podcasts on food. At dinnertime, our adult houseguests returned from the conference they are attending this week at Calvin. Ron is one of my oldest friends—we’ve known each other since we were ten—and Chris is a new friend I met just a day ago but who already feels like a part of the extended family.

While Ron and I talked in the kitchen, Chris sat down at the piano. “Oh!” I apologized. “It needs to be tuned, and it’s missing two black keys where the kids have broken them off.”

Reader, that piano has never sounded better.