It is what makes us a creation. God’s breath in each of us makes us different. In Henri Nouwen’s view, it’s what makes us the Beloved. So why is it that differences are such sources of tension among children of God? I ask this question after 3 months in a city full of differences: a house full of uniqueness, and a job where each week I am presented with a new set of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) volunteers who come with a new set of preconceived notions about what their week of service will entail.
Our house is currently reading “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace” by M. Scott Peck. I find some of the stories interesting, but one thing really stuck out to me recently. Peck writes about the differences in a community he was a part of, saying, “I had not known before that it was possible for a group of people to acknowledge their differences, set them aside, and still love each other.” I couldn’t help but stop and reflect on this. What does it mean for a community to set aside their differences? What would that look like?
I have to disagree with Peck on this, because I feel that the differences are not what stops a community from loving but should be what motivates it. Differences should not be something that need to be set aside and ignored for the purpose of the greater whole. I argue that differences should be embraced and held close. Our differences should be what motivates us to love one another. My closest friends are the ones who recognize the ways we are different and incorporate that into our relationship. I am not loved in spite of my differences, I am loved because of them. That is what makes my community whole.
I’m not saying this is easy in any way. I am constantly frustrated with the ways I am different from others and how that affects our relationship. In times of frustration, I try to remind myself that the things I love most about myself may frustrate other people, but also that those things I find frustrating about other people might be the one thing they cherish about themselves. This is a hard realization to come to and even harder to live out.
Community, in its deepest sense, is loving others for the way in which God has made them special, which can only happen once you love yourself for the differences God has given you. But what’s the point? Why does real community even matter?
Peck writes, “Simply seek happiness, and you are not likely to find it. Seek to create and love without regard to your happiness, and you will likely be happy much of the time. Seeking joy in and of itself will not bring it to you. Do the work of creating community, and you will obtain it- although never exactly according to your schedule. Joy is an uncaptured yet utterly predictable side effect of genuine community.”