A couple of months ago I wrote a post: How Inclusive Should We Be in which I asked the question How did Jesus practice inclusiveness. I find myself grappling with the same question as I consider all the dimensions of shalom and God’s desire to see all people and all creation flourish and thrive in the way it was created to.
Part of what I realize is that our embracing of God’s shalom depends on our ability to accept ourselves and others as unique reflections of the image of God. So often we exclude those who look, think or act differently from us. Our image of God looks very much like us – like the white blond haired images of Jesus we see. We struggle to think that someone of a different ethnicity, sexual orientation, social position or skill set is just as acceptable to God.
Wear Your Differences Proudly.
Recently ago I met a woman who suffers from a Crohn’s disease a chronic illness that means she can’t eat the foods that most of us do. As a child she struggled with being different and resented her disease. Then one day she told herself “I am not diseased I am different”. It the beginning of a whole new approach to life for her which made it possible for her to accept herself and way God had made her.
I understand her struggle because I have often resented the way I am made too. As a young physician practicing in New Zealand I was made to believe it was wrong for me as a single woman to earn more than a married man. I was told I thought more like a man than a woman and was made to feel guilty for my gifts of leadership and organization as well as my photographic memory. Today I wear these gifts proudly, recognizing that this is who God has made me to be. I am a unique individual designed by God to reflect a unique aspect of who God is.
Learn to Understand and Accept the Differences in Others.
My stepson is schizophrenic. For years we tried to get him to take the usual medications for his symptoms. We wanted him to become like us. He hated them because they made him feel unlike himself. A few years ago however, he discovered a therapist who, rather than trying to get rid of the voices has helped him to listen to those that are good and disregard those that are destructive. There are many aspects of who he is that I am proud of and at times in awe of. In some ways he is a St Francis type of person with a deep love for animals, a generous spirit and little desire to accumulate the stuff that holds so many of us captive.
Learning to accept the differences in others means being willing to sit with them, ask questions and listen to them without judging. It is about trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in other lives just as powerfully as in ours.
Learning what differences are acceptable to God
The image above is one I created to help me visualize God’s shalom relationships. I am sorry it is difficult to read in parts. We are so easily corrupted by our own arrogance that tells us who we think is acceptable to God. We want to exclude. God wants to include. We want people to become like us, God wants people to express their individual uniqueness. God says variety and diversity is the way I create. God will do everything possible to embrace all humankind into a loving family.
I am not a theologian so I am sure that some of you will think that I do not have any authority to answer this question. Like many of us I shied away from accepting many who looked, acted and believed differently because I was afraid that my acceptance of them would make me unacceptable to God. Then I spent some time studying the 10 commandments and realized God gave the Israelites a very few categorical statements on who is unacceptable – murderers, adulterers, those that covert their neighbours property, those that worship other gods… and that’s about all. Most of the commandments are about the good things we should be doing to live as God’s children.
Or as Jesus expresses it:
Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Building bridges, not walls, loving not hating or fearing, reaching out with compassion, generosity and mutual care, that is what shalom living is all about. I think that 2,000 years of Christian history has shown us much about how not to practice our faith and follow Jesus. We have excluded women, children, slaves, gentiles, Jews, black people, native peoples, refugees, muslims, and many others, not because God tells us to but often unfortunately because it strengthens our positions of power and prestige. God’s heart aches for wholeness and unity and it is time ours did too.