"Once you get your materials in place the class will pretty much run itself," someone told me. Well, that may have been true if I had no interest in the actual people enrolled in the workshop. What I discovered instead was a very real opportunity to build meaningful community. It really doesn't matter what the setting is; given the chance, most people will build relationships when they find themselves "in the same boat."
We may have been from Florida, Texas, California, New York and a bunch of other states in between; we may have been from a wide variety of backgrounds; and we may have met on a thin slice of virtual space, reaching out to one-another through a trillion miles of fiber-optic cable - but these were real people with real lives, facing real challenges that impacted everything from their ability to keep up with reading to the content of their writing to the focus of their prayers.
The reason we were able to build a viable sense of community was our interest in what we had in common. We talked about the implications of Christ's purposeful coming into this broken world, and what it might mean for each one of us to make our way through December and into Christmas without losing sight of what is important.
But there's a difference between having a common goal and walking there in lockstep. Our goal was "Making it through December with our faith intact". But then our differences kicked in: our unique perspectives, our families, our experiences, our varied creativity, our connection with particular cultures and traditions. All these were and still are opportunities to learn from one another and to help each other along the road.
Rather than drive a wedge between us, our different points of view moved us along as a learning community and contributed much more than I could have brought to the table alone.
I can't help but think about how unfortunate it is that the wonder of diversity is not valued so much in our wider culture. We focus much time and effort in relating to (or talking at) other people on the basis of what separates us rather than what brings us together - as if our differences are weaknesses to be eradicated rather than strengths that will ultimately build us all up.
I don't care if it's the practice of our faith, or social policy, or politics, or international relations, or the debate over health care... there is no one set of narrowly focused rules that could possibly be - exclusively - the absolute correct answer and the only way of looking at the world.
- If you disagree with me, then at that point we both have something to learn.
- If we see the world differently, then it can only strengthen us both to talk about it with respect and mutual interest.
- If either one of us knows beyond a doubt that we hold the only truth and that there's no room for "give and take"conversation... well, then God help us all.