The Idol of Being Different

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Some of my favorite times to pray are my least favorite times of day, like 2:22 am. While I am confident God created everything, including time, I am sure it was humanity that came up with these unsightly numbers. Recently—awake at 2:22 am—God seemed to want to have a “conversation.”

I heard the Lord say, “There’s a lot of talk about differences. I love you—that makes the only difference!” So I started looking at society with The Lord. Our differences are being talked about everywhere today. There is a lot of emphasis on respecting our differences. There is almost an honorary badge given to people for simply being different. And, in my observation, the more different a person is, the more of a following and a greater sense of authority seems to be given them without question. I agree, we could certainly do with more respectful conversations in our society. In fact, what if the way we talk with one another is an indication of our life of prayer? This brings me back to the word conversation.

The Benedictines in Kansas taught me that the word for conversation has the same Latin root as the word for conversion, conversatio. I have often found myself challenged by it. I have thought that if I cannot have a conversation with someone simply because they are different (read conservative/liberal, capitalist/communist, democrat/republican, black/white/Asian/Hispanic, orthodox/heterodox, etc.), how converted am I? I am not advocating some nebulous Christianity where we have no starting position in our conversations with others. I am simply wondering how it is possible to be a Christian who prays (has an ongoing conversation with God) and not respectfully engage with another human being made in God’s image. After all, God seemingly reconciled what people thought were opposites in Jesus Christ (divinity and humanity). I think that is the key, which takes me back to our differences.

Any time we get hung up on our own differences, we may well be close to creating an idol. I will not bore us by elaborating on the easy ones: style of worship (our idolatry of our personality and preferred method of self-expression), planting churches in socioeconomically viable areas (our idolatry of money) or taking on methods of business and social agencies in the church (our idolatry of competition). However, I will say that we, the church, seem distracted by many things these days. Perhaps our society’s preoccupation with everybody’s differences may reflect our scattered focus in the church. People are always watching the church, whether or not they are participating in it. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., we are to be a thermostat not a thermometer. What if the church has set the temperature on being different because we can’t or don’t cross the lines we have created between us?

What I would like to see is a conversation between people whose subject is God, which brings me back to what I heard God say originally at 2:22am (did I already mention the time?): “I love you—that makes the only difference!” When we get hung up on our differences, we substitute something for the Someone that was substituted for us and this will always lead to a breakdown in conversation—and our being converted.

What if we only know how deeply loved we are to the extent that we are free to give up everything that keeps us from loving others (e.g. our theology, our politics, our personality preferences, our socioeconomic class, and on and on)? What if it is God’s love alone that makes us different? How might our conversations change? How healing might our conversations be in our existing relationships? Who might we start having conversations with as a result of this unique internal encounter (by the Holy Spirit) we boast of with a life [read self]—denying and death—defying God?

Duke Walker is a regular contributor to the Soul Care Collective.

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Duke discovered a life-changing relationship with Jesus while at Asbury and has been growing in gratitude since 2003. He has served the church inside and outside the US as well as most recently being Executive Director of a citywide prayer ministry in TN. His doctoral work (D.Min., 2015) explores the convergence of Benedictine spirituality, prayer, transformation & healing ministries for people to know the fullness of Christ in, with and through them. He recently began The Inner Hue: a coaching, spiritual direction, teaching and consulting enterprise that helps people and organizations discover the answer to this question: who wants to come alive in you?

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