Differences are in the news again at the moment and will increasingly be so as the Election approaches. We’ve had the news about the Chelsea ‘fans’ forcing a black person off a train with racist chants and threatening behaviour. We’ve had the troubles around the so called ‘Islamic State’ and their treatment of those who are Westerners or of another religion, and we’ve had plenty of discussion around immigration with the rise of UKIP and euro-scepticism in general.
None of this has directly affected me, although from what I understand of my family history, my family were Huguenots who fled from religious persecution on the continent at some point in the past. It is easy for me to pronounce judgement on others as I have not had to tolerate it, not have I noticeably been threatened by changes caused by others. One who has, however, was Nelson Mandela, locked up because of his resistance to apartheid. It would have been all too easy for him to have emerged from prison with the desire to exact revenge on those whites who treated him and his fellow blacks the way they did. It would have been easy for him to desire to bring about a black South Africa as a response to the white dominated South Africa that there had been before. The astonishing thing was that he did not. With the likes of Desmond Tutu he talked instead of reconciliation and not a black or white nation, but a rainbow nation.
He was not the first. The Bible talks of God’s many coloured or varied grace (1 Peter 4:10, ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ – the original Greek has the sense of multi-coloured grace), grace that is sufficient and open to all no matter what their background or race. It is only after the Fall and the Tower of Babel that we became a divided people, and the work of Christ is to bring reconciliation, to unite in himself all people with God. There are some wonderful glimpses of this future in Revelation where multitudes from all nations gather to worship as one. This picture of a united and yet different family or community is one I’m passionate about, and one I am really excited to see developing at Wormley with our increasingly multicultural, multigenerational, multibackground church. This is something we have to work on, it doesn’t come easily to us, but it is worth it, because this is how we were made to be. It is only in our unity that we gain a fuller understanding of God who himself is a community of different persons, united in will and relationship. Only together can we truly represent him and the Kingdom to our divided world!
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
August, or Auggie, is about to go to school for the first time, having been home-schooled until this point, and he’s terrified about what might happen. Auggie you see is different. He suffers from severe facial disfigurements which he cannot hide and others cannot help but react to when they meet him for the first time. Told in turn from his viewpoint and then those of his friends and family, this book explores the way we see each other and how that affects our relationships. Well-written, perceptive and pacey, this book deserves the plaudits it’s been getting. Definitely recommended.
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Whilst I was at University I was introduced to Stephen Jay Gould, and paleontogist and biologist, who gained quite a name for himself writing popular science books in an attempt to inspire people to become more interested in biology. I recently stumbled across a quote from him, although I must confess to not knowing where he wrote it, or which particular stories he was referring to. It goes:
‘The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best — and therefore never scrutinize or question.’
As a scientist I know these are wise words. As a scientist, there is always the danger of assuming you know how things operate, and so read that understanding into your observations and interpretations of data, and so become blinded to the possibility that in fact in reality things work quite differently. It can take quite a leap of imagination to see the world differently to how it is widely believed to be. For centuries people believed that the Sun went around the Earth, it took the imagination and courage of Galileo to begin to persuade people that they’d got the story wrong. Similarly, since Newton, it was widely believed that these rules governed everything – until a wave of scientists in the 20th Century came along with the concept of Quantum Mechanics. Suddenly the story of the world became a whole lot stranger.
But Gould’s saying doesn’t just relate to science. It can also apply to how we relate to people. It is all too easy to believe we understand other cultures around us, that we know what they believe and what is important to them. Gould’s saying warns us against this and challenges us to make sure this isn’t simple prejudice or misunderstanding.
As a Christian, his words provoked me to think about how I approach the Bible too. The challenge for us is to keep the Bible fresh, to always approach it with an open mind, to never assume that we’ve understood it all. It is all too easy for us to believe we know how it’s story goes, and be blinded by our assumption with the consequence that we are prevented from actually hearing what it really says, or to hearing what God might be trying to say to us through it today because we remember what he said yesterday. The Pharisees thought they knew the story, and yet when the Story became flesh and walked amongst them, they didn’t recognise him as he wasn’t what they thought the Story said. Let us heed Gould’s words and the warning from the Pharisee’s example.