I grew up in a Texas town that had scores of churches and three Christian colleges: a Baptist, a Methodist, and a Church of Christ – all in a town of 100,000 people. But it wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, that I was introduced to streets called “Church Rows.” Driving into the city from certain directions, you crest a hill and see steeple after steeple lining the road ahead. On these “Church Rows” almost every block offers one or more church buildings, each belonging to a different denomination or sect. That doesn’t count temples and mosques.
Why so many different houses of worship? Why so many divisions, so many different beliefs? God, being God, could surely have spelled out the facts of spiritual reality clearly enough for everyone to understand the exact who and how and where and why of the Divine. God, being God, could have explained with such clarity that we would all agree. But God didn’t. Which leads to another very important why: If God could have made things clear but didn’t, why not?
Obviously, seeing eye to eye is not the point. Agreeing on religious and spiritual belief is not the point. Understanding the who, how, where, and why of the Divine is not the point.
Then what is the point? Love. Specifically, loving kindness. Gracious love.
We’re meant to learn and practice loving kindness, not just toward those who agree with us but toward those who don’t. Is that so we can persuade them to come around to our point of view? No, it’s so our own hearts can open to the giving and receiving of life-giving love, which is not limited to one sect or creed. Life-giving love thrives in abundant variety.
Abundance is Jesus’s word for the life God wants to give us all. Abundance comes to us with open heart, with open eyes and hands and arms. God obviously loves variety, because abundance overflows with it. Look around. Hummingbird and hawk, chickadee and blue jay. Catfish and salmon, swordfish and carp. Daisy and dahlia, rose and periwinkle. Blueberries and carrots, oats and coffee. Sunrises, sunsets, rivers, seas, sun, moon, stars, snowflakes . . .
And humans – tall and short, deep-voiced and high-pitched, introvert and extrovert. We come in a variety of earth tones, every shade of dust. Some of us respond to God loudly, some of us quietly. Some of us wave flags and banners, some sing with bands and organs, some chant quietly or simply listen. Some of us bow, eyes closed. Some of us raise our hands, eyes wide, gazing upward. Some of us feast. Some of us fast. Some of us light candles. Some of us sit cross-legged in meditation. Some of us dance. Some of us do all the above.
I can’t help but believe that’s the way it’s meant to be. A life of gracious love and abundance extends much further than just “live and let live.” It’s live and enjoy, live and appreciate, live and revel in the wonder of it all.
It’s our loss when we demean each other based on our differences rather than welcoming each other based on what we have in common. The demand that everyone see and live life our way divides us and deprives us of abundance, a life rich in diversity.
We’re meant to respect, honor, and generously live beside people who are not like us. They are meant to respect, honor, and generously live beside us. In other words, we’re meant to love. Love has given us the privilege of enjoying the beauty and variety that each of us brings to life’s journey. Love gives us the opportunity to nurture each other’s reach toward God. There are so many ways to give back to the church in this day and age, tithing is something that many people practice and now can be done through mobile giving. Helping the church you love in any way that you can is a wonderful thing to do.
So nurture someone’s reach this week.
I hope you join me again next week for some more thoughts on coming of age in a community of faith. Until then, I wish you well on this unmapped journey of life.
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Text © 2016 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy morguefile.com.