Last night I spoke with a woman who was going alone to South Dakota to attend a family reunion. It was the first time that a representative of her clan was attending the annual gathering organized by her far, distant, cousins, who long ago, had split off and added one letter to their name. She was apprehensive that she wouldn’t have anything in common with these people. We had this conversation fifteen minutes after a fairly homogenous group of board members for a local non-profit had nearly come to blows over a trivial issue. In Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-26, he asks the Father to provide a spirit that will unite his diverse followers into one. Jesus and the Father-God are one. They exhibit harmony and shared purpose. With the exception of Jesus’ 33 year stint on earth, they are eternally inseparable.
However we talk about doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the iota of difference between Jesus being of the same substance as the Father or being almost the same, the heart of our Christianity is the one-ness of Jesus and God. As Jesus prays, he gives the same gift to us. Has this prayer gone unheard? How does one have unity in the church? How do we go about being in families, and joining organizations, where we will feel a dependable connection with the other members?
First we need to recognize that what made Jesus and the Father one was not race, gender, or personal experience. Jesus was a dark-skinned, man, whose current lifestyle was one of brutal poverty in a cultural backwater. God the Creator (we assume) lacks skin, gender, and material substance. God the Creator’s experience is marked by a failure to encounter insurmountable obstacles. Jesus was having a very different trip.
We pay too much attention to our similarities as we form relationships. We too often fall prey to the myth that people who are similar are more likely to form productive, respectful, and friendly alliances. I am convinced that compatibility begins with our prayerful acceptance and respect for diversity. We need to verbally state this value, both in our communal gatherings and in our families. We need to stop telling our children to date “the right” people. We need to leave the shelter of our secure neighborhoods. We need to welcome what challenges our respectability, for it is in becoming vulnerable to the strangeness of someone else’s experience that we see Jesus. We discover the answer to his prayer for one-ness in the situations where our hearts are desperate to find common ground. Holy Love triumphs.