Essential diversity

It is my custom, sometime on Monday, to scan my calendar for the week to come to see what new appointments, meetings or unusual items mark the week. Of course, my weeks are not predictable, even with a good digital organizer. Interruptions occur. Sometimes, I have to reschedule my appointments because of crises in people’s lives or events that were not predictable. Still, it is good to have a sense of the flow of the week. As I looked forward this week, I noted the wide diversity of meetings that I have set up. I’m not as big a fan of meetings as was the case when I was younger, but there are still quite a few meetings in my schedule. Some are important connections with individuals. I need to visit one-on-one with the members of our church on a regular basis. A few of my colleagues refer to pastoral visits almost exclusively as connections with people who are ill or shut-in. While these visits are important, I have found that it is equally important for pastors to make regular calls and visits with people at other phases of their lives.

It is one of the joys of my work - the opportunity to visit with people at all stages of their lives. There is so much in modern society that divides people by age. Health clubs, including the YMCA tend to program by age, segregating people within their facilities. Educational systems are graded and divided by age. Social events often are dominated by one age or another. Adults may gather to watch children, such as parents and grandparents at children’s sporting events, but if you observe, they spend very little time interacting with one another. The coaches spend more time with the kids than the parents in some cases. In the church we are intentionally intergenerational and I deeply appreciate that. Almost anyone I speak with in our church agrees that they want to be a part of a church that has people of all ages, where elders and children get to know one another and all ages are respected and treasured.

I read a book several years ago that addressed age segregation as a church growth technique. It pointed out that churches tend to attract new members within a narrow age range. By focusing on a single group a church can specialize in the music they like, the programs that meet their needs and get those people to invite their friends. It may be true, but the result isn’t what the members of our congregation want. They don’t want a church that is predominantly one age group.

It isn’t just age, however. There is great diversity in other aspects among the members of our church. One day this week I will have lunch with a member who is unapologetically liberal. He loves politics and is involved in many grass roots political movements. He supports candidates that share his political opinions and attends events where liberals gather. Virtually every conversation with him involves politics at some point or another. He has a brilliant mind and is an astute observer who is often accurate in his predictions. I appreciate his participation in our church and he has served it well by offering leadership to committees and giving generously of his time. I will also have lunch this week with a member of the church who is very right-wing in his political beliefs. He contributes to campaigns of conservative politicians, shares their views on many topics and enjoys attending conservative political events. I seriously doubt that these two men are friends. I doubt that they would choose to have lunch with each other. But I get the privilege of knowing both and listening to both.

There isn’t much in our society today that encourages people to spend time with and get to know those with whom they disagree. Even our media encourage people to choose sides. There re some homes where the only news watched comes from Fox Television. There are other homes where MSNBC or CNN is the preferred brand. In those homes the other channels are not observed. I’ve noticed that even businesses tend to choose a single source of information. The same channel will be playing every visit to their waiting room. Not being much of a television watcher, this doesn’t have much of an effect on me. I tend to look for the remote and push the mute button when I have to spend time in a waiting room. I generally have a book with me. Yesterday, I really enjoyed being the first customer of the morning in a car shop. I went into the empty waiting room and read my book for the whole time that i was waiting. The television wasn’t turned on, even after a couple of other customers entered the area. As far as I know none of us missed it.

Communities are built on discovering our common ground, not on emphasizing our differences. The intense polarization of almost everything in our country does little to remind us that we are all in this together. This was a lesson I learned early in life. My father, who enjoyed politics and a good argument, often held views that were minority points in our community. His customers often disagreed with his political positions. One of his customers referred to him as “my favorite communist.” My father wasn’t communist, but he had a definite anti-fascist bent born of having served in the Army Air Corps during the second world war. That same customer, however, once said of my father, “He has some crazy ideas but he is honest and he sells a good product at a fair price.” They were able to do business over a quarter of a century because they both had shared core values. The fact that they disagreed about politics didn’t interrupt the process of forming community. When my father received a devastating cancer diagnosis, some of those people with whom he disagreed politically were the first to offer care and concern for the family.

Our communities need us to be able to reach out and get to know those who think differently. We need to learn to do business with those with whom we disagree. And, fortunately for me, our congregation is so rich with diversity that I get to practice those skills every week.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!