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I started listening to NPR a few years ago because I had entered a season of needing to hear a different voice, of wanting to listen to viewpoints and encounter opinions that I did not share. In these days of challenging conversations around politics and race, it’s important for me to remember that I am called to love, to trade my litmus tests for conversations with real people. In navigating the deep divides within the church on everything from immigration and the role of women to worship style and the definition of family, more than ever the body of Christ must be the force that passes through our differences all the way to grace. Deidra Riggs reminds me in ONE that Unity in a Divided World must be an intentional thing, something that we pray for and work toward. Jesus modeled this focused attention in His prayer recorded in John’s Gospel:
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
This begs the question for this middle-aged, stodgy, and opinionated soul: Can I love my neighbor “without being concerned about whether [my] neighbor is right?” King Solomon and Parker J. Palmer invite me into a Third Way in which my soul hears well and is, therefore, enabled to choose the God-honoring, others-serving path that may go against the grain.
Ambassadors of Unity
Deidra traces the path of reconciliation that leads to oneness, urging readers:
- to ask challenging questions about our motives for living toward the homogeneous and the “safe”;
- to offer and to seek forgiveness;
- to continually remind one another that we are one.
The Two Chairs
Whenever people come together, there are two chairs in the room. One is the seat of justice, and the other is the seat of mercy. “Only God has the credentials to sit in both of those seats and perfectly administer both justice and mercy,” (64) and while we may crave justice, it is critical to recall that God “does not ignore our broken hearts” when He invites us to sit in the seat of mercy and to view life from the perspective of someone who has wronged us. (75)
When Jesus prayed for his followers (present and future), He would not have been blindsided by the fact that an outcome of His magnificent creativity would be uniqueness — manifested in differences of opinions. It would be alarming if we all walked in lockstep on every issue.
“Oneness is not about conforming.
Oneness is about transforming.” (97)
The oneness that Jesus prayed for us is bigger than our position on an issue or our political affiliation. The challenge is to love well — especially if disagreements make love an unlikely thing, for then the radical love of God is put on display.
Going to Ferguson
Because her heart was broken, and because she needed to see the fallout from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Deidra boarded a plane and spent three days in the sweltering heat, living in the midst of the tragedy and joining in the lament. Two years later, when Alton Sterling was killed, she used the internet as a virtual gathering place in which the “Prayers of the People” became an invitation to come together around shared grief. Looking squarely at tragedy, acknowledging together that we live in the space between what is and what will be can be the starting place for God-initiated transformation leading to oneness in heart and in mind.
Like Deidra, I am the bologna in a generational sandwich. Mine comprises an elderly mother on one side, and on the other, a range of adult and teen sons. Add to this a quest for a vibrant marriage, ministry, blogging, and the occasional cup of tea with a friend, and the tendency is to fragment, bringing only part of the self to each aspect of life.
Unity in a divided world requires personal and internal oneness which brings a screeching halt to the sacred/secular dichotomy and nullifies the “requirement” that I be all things to all people. Only Jesus can do that, and it turns out that His prayer in John 17 is a prayer for integrity, a heart’s cry from the Son to the Father against the “massive fault line that runs through the center of my soul.” (156)
The unity that Jesus prayed for among those who believingly follow Him is a product of the “oneness within each follower.” (157) Spiritual integrity de-emphasizes lines of division, assuring our hearts that all of life is sacred. We care for and respect our one-and-only heart through radical practices of grace, going home to our roots for restoration, and recalibrating our perspective through regular observance of Sabbath (which Eugene Peterson defines this way: “Take nothing for granted. And do it every week.”)
Gathered under God’s loving wings, may we look around us at all those within His vast circumference and find, to our great surprise, that this is what it means to be One; that this shared protection and provision is proof that God loves the whole world and delights in each one of us — no exceptions.
This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”