Unity Amidst Diversity

The past few week’s readings from Ephesians have lifted up the value of unity amidst diversity, and thus have shed light on one of our modern conundrums of “spirituality” over and against “religion.” I’m sure everyone has heard it said, (or perhaps said it themselves) “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I understand the need to differentiate the two when so many non-religious people see news coverage of “religious people” demonstrating their “religion” in ways that are bigoted, judgmental, and narrow minded. I want to differentiate myself from “those types” as well, but at the same time I am not willing to abandon ship and leave the “Christian banner” in the hands of those with whom I fear are close to hijacking the faith.
Ministry has given me a greater understanding in my own spirituality of the “shared truth” that is a product of organized religion. Just because something doesn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean that I discount it. It seems that many who are my age accept it as a given that “organized religion” is flawed, corrupt, and dangerous, whereas “spirituality” is superior, incorruptible, and beneficial. I understand where this idea comes from, and agree with some of the critique of organized religion, but my experience as a pastor has taught me that while we may arrive at some extremely profound personal insights about God by practicing individual spirituality, we arrive at much broader spiritual truths by participating in a communal spirituality (or, an “organized” religion).
Worshipping God, and especially designing and leading worship in a community, forces me to come to terms with other people’s thoughts and deep convictions about God. While the song “I’ll Fly Away,” may not resonate with my spiritual life, it does with some in my worshipping community, and thus is something with which I must wrestle. In an age when we typically approach spirituality like another commodity to be consumed, this aspect of communal spirituality keeps me from picking and choosing only those aspects of faith life which are agreeable to my spiritual palate. Eugene Peterson writes compellingly about this subject in terms of replacing the Holy Trinity with the “very individualized personal Trinity of my Holy wants, my Holy needs, and my Holy feelings” in the second book of his “Spiritual Theology” series, Eat This Book (Grand Rapids: Eeardman’s, 2006) pp. 31-34.
We are all on a personal spiritual journey, but we do so together. Our faith should be hammered out in community, with “fear and trembling” instead of with a cavalier consumerist mentality. People who claim to follow the same religion as I do sometimes engage in public acts of demonstration that embarrass me to imagine that some of my friends and neighbors might assume that I am “with them.” Though part of me would prefer to simply “cut off communication” with my partners in faith and explain to my friends that “that’s not me,” I think a better representation of Jesus would be to remain in conversation with the people I disagree with to try and arrive at a shared understanding. Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus is always in conversation with the Pharisees in the Gospel story? He certainly disagreed with their practice of their shared faith. Perhaps this heritage is why the author of Ephesians insisted that “unity amidst diversity” is key.

2 Comment(s)
  • Linda muterspaugh Posted 08/09/2012 9:25 am

    Well-stated and thought provoking. Is this part of your church’s newsletter? I’d live to be on an email list tie receive this regularly, and I’d like to quote this to some friends.

  • uumctulsa Posted 08/09/2012 3:59 pm

    Linda – the easiest way to see our newsletter is to “Like” us on Facebook – the Pastor’s Perspective is posted there every Tuesday. They are apart of our newsletter which is available for download on our website, uumctulsa.org. We presently do not email it out. Thanks!

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