So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28 TNIV).
I like people who are like me.
I guess that's a pretty obvious statement, and I doubt that I'm all that unusual in liking people who are like me. There's something in us, I guess, that draws us to people who share our experiences, perspectives, and priorities. We have an affinity for people who look like us, talk like us, dress like us, and live like us. Say what you like about appreciating diversity; my guess is that your default reaction upon walking into a room filled with people of various ethnicities, races, and socio-economic standing would be to find the people who are most like you. They wouldn't be hard to find, either, since they'd probably be standing together in a group.
In Chicago, there are Cubs fans and Sox fans. This may be hard for people who are from places that don't have two baseball teams to understand, but I don't mean that people like one team more than the other. I mean that there are White Sox fans and Cubs fans, and if your team doesn't make the postseason, you don't root for the other team. Last week, my wife saw a car decked out with Cubs stickers and pennants stop at a light. A pedestrian walked across the street in front of the car, stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, and unzipped his jacket to show the driver his Sox t-shirt before continuing on his way. There are Sox fans and Cubs fans. Cubs bars and Sox bars. Never the twain shall meet.
Conventional wisdom says that, in order to get along with people who aren't like us, we should forget our differences. That's much more easily said than done, however, and even if you can do it, what's left? I mean, what do you have when you have a group of Cubs fans and a group of Sox fans standing around together trying to forget their team allegiances? Well, whatever else you may have, you definitely have a group of people trying to not talk about baseball.
And maybe that works for baseball. But what if, for example, you have a group of people of different economic strata? The realities — and tensions — of varying lifestyles, concerns, and priorities will come up in countless different ways. Or what about differences in race and ethnicity? Those are hard to overlook, try as we might. Again, when we try to pretend that differences don't exist we wind up with our guard up, trying not to talk about the elephant in the room. And how can you have a relationship with someone when certain realities are off-limits for discussion?
As a white, middle-class American Christian, I'm prone to saying silly things like "race doesn't matter," when of course it matters a great deal. It matters, because it matters if my brother in Christ who's black or Latino has been treated unfairly because of his race, and it matters if — because of my race — I don't try to learn and understand how such an experience leaves deep marks on a person. Race matters, because race is part of who all of us are, and if we can't speak about who we are and out of who we are in the presence of friends, then how can we be friends?
It struck me recently that when Paul wants to speak of the unity of the church, he doesn't speak of it in terms of surrender. He doesn't say that the church should surrender the things that make us different. He doesn't say the church should be a melting pot where differences of culture, language, race, gender, and economic reality are lost or forgotten or ignored. He says, instead, that we are to take a new reality into account as well: as different as we may be, we are alike in one fundamental way.
God has called us to be his children in Jesus Christ, and the things that make us different are to be understood and interpreted now in terms of the One Thing that makes us alike. As different as we are, we are "all one in Christ Jesus." We share in God's promises, and in receiving his grace and mercy, and in trying to live our lives to his glory. So we begin to treat each other in a new way, befitting the new relationship of brothers and sisters that we have with anyone who calls God their Father, follows Jesus as Lord, and lives in communion with the Holy Spirit.
Recently, churches from all over the Chicago metro area met together for "Chicago Celebration." Celebration was a chance for us to get out of those homogenized churches and be with people — sisters and brothers in Christ — who are different from us. We weren't able to ignore the differences, because they were there on display. Different languages. Differently pigmented skin, and the different assumptions and experiences that those different pigments almost always carry with them. Different worship styles and musical tastes. Different politics. Differences in theology, and church culture, and practice.
But it wasn't just about the differences. It was more about what we share, what we have in common — or better, it was about Who has us common. It was about Jesus, and I promise you that when you recognize in people who are different from you in some seemingly significant way the same experience of the gospel that you had, you'll be amazed at the breadth, color, and vitality of God's kingdom.
This kind of celebration was a beginning — a jumping-off place. Hopefully it was a catalyst for healing past wrongs and creating new realities. It was only a start in helping us to live out what we claim to believe, but it was a start.
So find a way to start your own area Celebration! Discover how much you love people who aren't like you. And discover how much they really are like you.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9-10).