This week acknowledges and is honest about our diversity. In the Northern Hemisphere, Christians have just concluded a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity happens in the Easter Season. Christians cannot even agree when to pray for unity! Let us be honest about our extreme diversity of beliefs. Let us be honest about our enmity – Christian against Christian. Let us be honest about our disagreements. Let us be honest about the diversity of our actions – from some really good stuff, to quite a bit of downright evil. Let us be honest about getting some things right, and quite a bit wrong.
This week celebrates difference. In the Northern Hemisphere Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I saw quite a lot of ideas that the solution was to clone and cookie-cutter one way of being a Christian and impose that on all. Unity by uniformity. One size fits all. [And a hint: that one size didn't look much like the younger woman of colour that I suspect is greater numerically!] The God, who is the Source of Reality, is diversity held in unity, and brings to birth a universe of uncountable variety. And we, the very ones who are called to point to and embody this Source, appear to be threatened by diversity, we cannot cope with the diversity of the flowers, or the colours of the rainbow, and we try and eradicate this – so that there is only one type of flower, and only one type of colour.
This week is about being more honest. In the Northern Hemisphere Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I saw again a lot of nonsense about church history, and theology, and spirituality, and ecclesiology. “Henry VIII founded a new church because he was a randy old *&^%$! and the pope wouldn’t let him have a divorce…” and nonsense like that. [Yes, only if we agree that John XXIII founded a new church, and annulment = divorce]. And let’s be honest about the mess we are in; the mess we’ve made.
This week is realistic that accepting diversity is the only way forward. Agreeing to disagree is, in our heart of hearts we know, the only solution. Marriage equality, for example. Christians have poured so much time, money, and energy into this issue; it has become the one touchstone of orthodoxy; even to being what many heard as central in Christmas messages! “The purpose of the incarnation was that Jesus came to save us from gays” is the message many inside and outside the church hear. The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity prays that we realise that agreeing to disagree will be the only way forward. Whatever your attitude to post-modernism, its insight that “where you stand affects what you see” is too important to brush off.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity is about a hard core and soft edges. It is founded on the great insight of St. Vincent of Lerins: orthodoxy is defined as quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, that which has been believed by Christians “everywhere, always, by everyone.” And actually, think about it, what has been believed everywhere, always, by everyone is a very, very, very small core. But it is enough.
Maybe during this week we can once again return to reflecting on “orthodoxy” meaning right prayer (much closer to orthopraxy – doing it right, than assenting to the totality of the “right list of beliefs”, mentally assenting to exactly the correct list of propositions in your head, that it has been hijacked as). Shared spiritual disciplines, common prayer, not making windows into people’s souls and minds to check, by the belief police, whether my list of dozens of literally-taken beliefs match up identically to your list. These are the disciplines we have abandoned so that our diversity has no undergirding unity. The diversity in God (and in the universe) is also held in a unity. It is in praying together for the diversity that our unity is already being found.
This week takes care about humour. I’ve got (at least) as much of a sense of humour as the next person. [From time to time some people mishear my points, including ones I make on this site, probably including this particular post, because they haven't watched as much Monty Python as I have]. There was some humour during the Northern Hemisphere Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that I would have been a little more cautious about. So here’s the rules: (1) You can make jokes at the expense of yourselves and your own beliefs and practices but not by putting down, at the expense of, others. To belittle you have to be little. (eg.). (2) Even in humour, don’t put yourselves down too much. Get some therapy for a poor self-image, instead.
Finally, maybe the best bit about the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity: you don’t have to have all your ideas consistently worked out. This week is about lovingly accepting disagreement with others. It is also about loving accepting disagreement within yourself. Thomas Aquinas was definitely a 17.04.159-therefore-17.04.159a kind of guy, but when the true reality of God came home to him he stopped writing his attempt to get Christianity all neatly, consistently worked out. His Summa Theologiae just stops. “Everything that I have written seems like straw to me compared to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.”
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