Unity in Diversity

Recently my wife and I have been attending St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in the valley of Syracuse. They are part of the Anglican Missions in the Americas and are currently the only representing church from AMiA in the Syracuse region. Father Bob Hackendorf, the pastor of the church, has asked me to teach their adult Sunday School, which has been a great and humbling experience. This has also resulted in us being there more often, which is been unbelievably great and is the reason for this post.

St. Andrew’s is a small congregation that rents a small space in a small stripmall. By all accounts, most Western church people would write them off as an impotent, tiny congregation and thus must be doing something wrong or irrelevant because of their small stature. This could not be further from the truth. I honestly don’t think I have been in a more vibrant, alive community in, dare I say, the majority of my life. And I think their secret is their unity in their diversity.

The community is comprised of a mishmash of ages, socio-economic statuses, and ethnic backgrounds among other diversifying categories. People from all walks of life are united together in the worship of Jesus. It is their love for God that drives them to see past their cultural differences and to see each other as family. Hugs, kisses, and warm greetings flow to and from each other as signs of what God has done for them. The barriers the world holds up in regards to their differences melt away in the warmth of Jesus’ love.

It is inspiring and moving to see the wealthy family hug the ones who have very little. The teenage girl with different color hair is welcomed with open arms by the grandmotherly women there. The Indian priest encourages the teenage boy suffering from physical disabilities. Children and adults alike partake of the Eucharist demonstrating the reality that all are welcome in the Church; younger ones don’t have to wait to be actively participating.

It has been said that the church is a signpost directing people towards the future: the people of God themselves are the future of humanity to be seen in the present. This is most evident in the interaction and sharing of life by those who if they were outside of Christ’s family would probably pass by each other. Thankfully, the walls have been broken and peace grabs these people by the hand and says, “Love each other as you have been loved.”

They do and it has made all the difference.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton – Some quotes

“A man’s friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else…Love is not blind; that is the last thing it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”

“Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

“Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.”

“But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciations implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and the, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

“In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”

“Of all the horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within.”

“In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners.”

“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.”

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”

“There is a phrase of facile liberality uttered again and again at ethical societies and parliaments of religion: ‘the religions of the earth differ in rites and forms, but they are the same in what they teach.’ It is false; it is the opposite of the fact. The religions of the earth do not greatly differ in rites and forms; they do greatly differ in what they teach.

“How can we say the Church wants to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.”

“I Believe in a God of Love” – excerpt from The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

“During my college years and my early twenties I, like so many other, questioned the Christian faith I was raised in. There were subjective reasons for my doubts. Christianity just didn’t seem real to me experientially. I had not developed a prayer life and had never experienced God personally. There were also intellectual problems I was having with Christianity, all of which I am addressing elsewhere in this book. There was one, however, I will talk about here.

I was troubled by those Christians who stressed hellfire and damnation. Like so many of my generation I believed that, if there was a core to all religions, it was a loving God. I wanted to believe in a God of love who accepted people regardless of their beliefs and practices. I began to take courses in the other major religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, and Judaism. I have profited to this day from those studies. However, my explorations in other faiths proved me wrong on this particular point about the centrality of a loving God.

I found no other religious text outside of the Bible that said God created the world out of love and delight. Most ancient pagan religions believed the world was created through struggles and violent battles between opposing gods and supernatural forces. I turned to look more closely at Buddhism, the religion I liked best at the time. However, despite its great emphasis on selflessness and detached service to others, Buddhism did not believe in a personal God at all, and love is the action of a person.

Later on, after I became a minister, I was a speaker and panelist for several years in a monthly discussion program in Philadelphia between a Christian church and a mosque. Each month a speaker from the church and a speaker from the mosque would give a Biblical and Qu’ranic perspective on a topic. When we covered the topic of God’s love, it was striking how different our conceptions were. I was told repeatedly by Muslim speakers that God was indeed loving in the sense of being merciful and kind to us. But when Christians spoke of the Lord as our spouse, of knowing God intimately and personally, and of having powerful effusions of his love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, our Muslim friends balked. They told us that it was disrespectful, in their view, to speak of anyone knowing God personally.

Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can’t believe in the God of the Bible, who punishes and judges people, because they ‘believe in a God of Love.’ I now ask, what makes them think God is Love? Can they look at life in the world today and say, ‘This proves that the God of the world is a God of love’? Can they look at history and say, ‘This all shows that the God of history is a God of love’? Can they look at the religious texts of the world and conclude that God is a God of love? By no means is that the dominant, ruling attribute of God as understood in any of the major faiths. I must conclude that the source of of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.

The belief in a God of pure love – who accepts everyone and judges no one – is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.” – Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc., 2008), 81-83.