Embrace Diversity
 — Rev. Dawn Christenson

July 2, 2017

And the Spirit of God, breath of God, [Heb. rûah], moved across the primordial waters and separated the waters from dry land. And God brought forth plant fauna of every kind, on land and in the sea. Then God breathed life to creatures of the sea, air and land. And God breathed life into us … with the same rûah breathed into every other creature of the earth. It is an important common thread that ties all of us together.

Oh the diversity of Creation!!! Think of the flower varieties in our gardens this summer. If we went around the room, each of us would probably have different favorites. And think of the plethora of insects. Why, if it weren’t for insects like bees and butterflies, we wouldn’t have flowers and other plants. Hummingbirds help too. Oh the birds, each one different, beautiful, with unique songs and each with a purpose. Then there are domesticated animals, from livestock to cats and dogs. How many different kinds of dogs are there? Each one is different, even within the same breed among purebred dogs. Yet, each and every dog has the same capacity to serve and more importantly to love. Remember, DOG spelled backwards is GOD – pure love.

Then we have the human animal. Did you catch the subtlety of “let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”? From the diversity of Godself, humanity was created … each person as unique as a snowflake. Each, like dogs, created from the essence of Godself – LOVE. Therefore, each human is inherently good with great capacity to love and serve. And that takes us to our Gospel for today.

Our victim in this parable has been beaten, robbed and left for dead along the road. Mind you, this is not a beautiful country road with a lush, green, gently sloping shoulder. No, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was rocky with a very steep drop off. The victim’s chances of making his way back up to the road to seek help were slim to none and slim already walked out the door.

Now, we don’t really know who the victim is. We assume that he is a Jew. And for Jesus’ parable to have its greatest impact, the victim must be Jewish, to place him at odds with his rescuer. Samaritans and Jews did not get along. They were enemies. Today, the Samaritan would likely be a Palestinian or member of Hezbollah, or perhaps even Isis.

Let’s think about this for a moment. If you were the victim, who do you want coming to your aide? You want someone you trust, right? – like a State or County trooper, EMT, paramedic or firefighter. Or perhaps you would want someone like yourself who you know, like a member of your family, this congregation, or a friend from the Charlotte community.

Is there anyone who would frighten you coming to your aid? – perhaps a big, burly, gruff, biker dude with tattoos everywhere? Or a young black man in a hoody? But what is so frightening about them? They may be the only ones physically able to carry you up the embankment to safety. And they may be the only ones willing to reach out, because they know what it’s like to be shunned, spat upon, and metaphorically left for dead because of outward appearances. You cannot judge a book by its cover.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, shall we? Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Priest and the Levite. What would make you look the other way and walk by? And let’s put this in a context we can really visualize and relate to. The victim is a black, male teen. He’s been beaten beyond recognition, stabbed multiple times, stripped of all his clothes and identification and left for dead on the railroad tracks. He’s a victim of gang violence. Farfetched, you say? Sadly, it’s not. I saw a victim like that during my chaplaincy internship at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. Only police were willing to stop. No one else would. Now, I have questioned myself multiple times since then … Dawn, would you stop? Would you at least call 911 and wait for first responders to arrive? I would like to answer yes to those questions. Logically, the gang members who did this were probably long gone from the crime scene. Still, I don’t know if fear would get the best of me.

In the absence of a crime like that, would I intervene if I saw someone verbally abusing and threatening a young Muslim woman wearing a Hijab or a Hindu woman wearing a sari? Why should I? It’s none of my business. We don’t share the same faith tradition. And we probably have vast cultural and language barriers. Yet, we share the same humanity because there is but one human race. And I know in today’s society that such a woman could be in grave danger. So, I pray that I would have the courage to intervene. But how?

I know that I would not confront the bully. That would only serve to escalate the situation, with potentially lethal consequences. The safe play is to approach the woman with great joy, acting as though she’s a long lost friend. “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it’s you! (big hug) We have to catch up! Do you have time? Let’s grab a cup of coffee and catch up!” Then, ignoring the bully, we could safely exit the area. If he follows, I would make sure to go to a very public place with lots of people, while dialing 911. Of course, I would have to continue the charade on the phone with the dispatcher, as though I’m calling another friend to join us. That makes it very easy to indicate our location. I think I would intervene, would you? Do you have a plan for intervention that minimizes risk for everyone?

I think we would all like to be a Good Samaritan. But are there limits that we place on those we will rescue? What about the filthy, smelly homeless guy being badgered or beaten? What about the gay couple, walking hand in hand down the street, being threatened by others? What about the transgender man or woman who, aside from young black men in America today, is the most likely person to be beaten or murdered? What about the teen who dares to look different with bright blue hair, piercings and tattoos everywhere, and wearing clothing that you wouldn’t dare allow your child to wear in public? Who is it that you would walk past on the other side to leave to fend for themselves? Who are you willing to stick your neck out for?

Let’s face it, each and every one them is different, certainly different from us. And God created them that way. But God did not intend for us to be carbon copies of one another. Why is that so many in society can see beauty and value in the diversity of nature, among the flowers, trees, birds and other animals? Yet, the same view is not held for differences within the human race? It’s because “others” who are different aren’t “normal”, right? Well, as Phil is fond of saying, normal is a setting on the dryer and a place in Illinois. Diversity is normal and is implicit to God’s good Creation.

And Creation was not a one-time event. God’s creativity is ongoing, with each new life, with evolutionary changes, and with divine inspiration of human imagination. Everything, especially each new life, human and animal alike, comes from the essence of God’s self – LOVE. Following creation of all other animals, (yes, dogs came before us) God said: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” From the diversity of God’s self [Love, Lover and Beloved – distinct yet inseparable essences of the Divine], we were created. So, everyone, as different as we are from one another was created from love, has the same capacity to love, and is inherently good. God’s kingdom will only become self-evident if we strive to see each person as a beloved child of God – with all of the beauty and goodness of our Divine heritage.

To embrace diversity is to embrace God. To embrace diversity is to acknowledge our common, divine heritage and goodness. We need to view yellow, brown, black and white skin with the same awe as the colors of the rainbow. Go loves each of us, whether gay, straight, bi, man, woman, trans, or questioning. Why can’t we? God loves Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, spiritual-but-not-religious and atheists alike. Why don’t we? Everyone, regardless of difference is our brother and sister, and is deeply loved by God. Let us do likewise. Think of each person as an individual note or instrument contributing to God’s great symphony of life. Embrace and cherish each person, just as we cherish each note that Ramona plays. Who is my neighbor? – anyone and everyone. And if we are to Be the Church, we must embrace the diversity of all God’s Creation. So, with the help of God, let us follow Jesus, sowing love, compassion and mercy, especially to the outcasts, the discarded, the “least of these”. You never know what the ripple effect will be from a single act of kindness. We can trust in God to magnify and multiply them. Thanks be to God. Amen.