Many Christians, especially in America, believe that in Christ all our differences should disappear. We should think alike, act alike, feel alike. This belief is tied to the myth of the Great American Melting Pot in which everyone becomes part of one uniform identity. Our tolerance for diversity is therefore often quite low. If some people do not have exactly the same theology or order of worship or type of music, or the same views on the military or homosexuality, then they may not be Christians at all, we say.
~ Thom Hopler in Changing the World Next Door
I was invited to join a group of men and women, friends and strangers, to discuss the topic of sexual diversity in the church, but in a way where stories, and not debates, would take center stage. Some of us came with knowledge drawn from data, others from intuition, some from personal experience.
Some of us were very secure in our stance on the issues; others acknowledged we are on a journey of discovery rather than committed to one particular stance. Some were able to articulate their stories, while others struggled in the presence of so many voices. All of us came with questions that would not be answered over the two-day retreat but left with armfuls of stories and some new friends.
What made this conversation different from any other I had been a part of before was that it was organized with one purpose in mind and one purpose only—to create a safe space in which we could hear and experience the other. We were encouraged to simply show up and be in relationship with others in way that invited us to drop any pretenses or agendas. In leaving our “shoulds,” arguments, and demands at the door, we found that our fears, too, diminished. Two activities that we did were particularly helpful in drawing each of us into the circle of community. In one, we passed a heavy canvas sack, full of rocks, around the circle, noting how wearying it would be to bear such a burden alone. The second time we passed it around, each person removed a rock from the bag and then shared with the group a difficult burden that he or she was dealing with at the moment. Eventually the bag was empty, and we all felt the value not only of lightening our load by sharing with each other but also of acknowledging that each of us, no matter how it appears to others, is carrying something around with us every day.
In another exercise we were invited to bring something—a photograph, song, any object that expressed something about where our heart or life was at that moment. In sharing these things with each other, we were all reminded that although we come with very different stories and from different places in life, the ground is level at the foot of the cross and all are welcome at Christ’s table.
The story sparked by the dialogue has just begun. How much of it I write will be my choice, but together and by the grace of the God of the universe, we have written a really good first chapter.
Martha Hopler works as a medical case manager and a clinical therapist in Seattle, Wash.