This was hard to write. I thought it would be easy. I would just give some definitions for Unity and Uniformity, throw in some scripture to support my title, and . . . doneski.
This topic has haunted me for a week and a half now. It has come up every time I read my bible, in church, in life group, in work, with my kid, in personal relationships - it's everywhere. I am FINALLY, on Friday morning when I meant to publish Tuesday, sitting down to write this with hopes of putting the ghost to rest. Wish me luck.
This series of "Be You" essays is about overcoming some of the obstacles to being who we were created to be. It is about the tension we experience when we are different from our neighbors, and the ways - positive and negative - we can choose to deal with that tension.
There is tension in seeking unity without demanding, or succumbing to, uniformity and I didn't realize how much this tension was affecting me until last week. So instead of easy and simple, this essay is an attempted breakdown of what I've learned from this week of being assaulted by this concept.
I see three different levels of tension human people experience when we pursue unity in the absence of uniformity.
Novice level tension = When someone does something differently or thinks about something differently from me.
I don't want to send my child to school. I hope I never have to and I believe it is the right thing to do for multiple reasons. BUT I'm the only parent in my group of friends who has made this choice. This is Novice level tension. It is mild but still present. This is where we are tempted to compare and maybe conform - where I might be tempted to go against my convictions in favor of uniformity.
Captain level tension = When someone is doing something differently from you and you think they are WRONG.
If you are a parent in the church, you know this level of tension. How can I be in unity with someone who is parenting their child WRONG? The temptation to criticize is strong with this one.
This level of tension doesn’t particularly bother me. I don't care if you think differently or parent differently or have an different opinion on some issue of the day or we disagree on a few points of theology. Even if I think you're "wrong" about something, when it comes to most topics I'm open to the idea that I'm the one who is wrong. I have strong opinions on a slight few topics (which might surprise some because I have an annoying (endearing? helpful?) willingness to debate almost anything - I am so fun at parties you guys).
It's when those differences cross over a certain line where I struggle. And HOLY BALONEY do I struggle. I was not aware of the depths of this struggle until last week, which is why I think anyone who has mastered maintaining unity in the third level of tension is a sorcerer.
Sorcerer level tension = When a Christian someone thinks differently from you about something and that belief flies in the face of what you believe about God.
This is no small thing. This is the tension of Christians trying to abolish slavery while maintaining unity with those people in the body who defended the institution.
This is the tension of Christians hiding Jews in WWII Europe attempting to have unity in the body with those members who sympathized with the Nazis.
This is the tension of Christians leading the movement for Civil Rights in the U.S. while attempting unity with those members of the body who publicly called for them to stand down and respect the current laws of the land.
It would be like the ear from 1 Corinthians 12:16 telling the eye to just go ahead and stop seeing.
In my life, this is the tension of a person from my church publicly (gotta love social media) condemning my work with refugees as being "from the devil" and telling me I was doing the work of hell. It is the people who wouldn't put it in a public post, but think it anyway. I have tried and been entirely unable to reconcile certain beliefs with my faith and the natural question is, can people with those beliefs possibly share my faith?
How do I have unity with others when our core beliefs about who God is seem to contradict? This is the real question - the ghost following me around this week. How do I stay a part of a body of believers when we are increasingly at odds over what we believe about God?
God took me to Ephesians 4 and later to Colossians 3.
If we both agree that there is one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, then we are one and united as members of the same body. So what about those giant, contradictory beliefs we hold?
With forgiveness, gentleness, and patience - bear with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
Put away bitterness, wrath, slander, anger, and malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
Be kind, be tenderhearted, and forgive as God forgave you in Christ (Ephesians 4:32)
And these things are for ME to do. Commands for MY response.
My job is not ever to conform someone to the patterns of my mind. My job is not to psychoanalyze you and try vainly to understand how you can both love Jesus and maintain certain beliefs. To what end? For what purpose? So that one of us will conform to the other, so we may be uniform?
My job is to put my junk, my hang ups, my issues, my struggles, on the altar and encourage you to do the same.
My job is to be a citizen of the Kingdom.
My job is to love God.
My job is to love you.