The invitation has been extended. It reads, “You have been cordially invited to join us at the table.” This warm, gracious, and heartfelt invitation appears to be sincere until the brown face enters the room eager to join in collective participation. Excited about the mission and vision, you pull your chair up to the table and raise your voice to speak. Immediately all heads turn toward you. The atmosphere shifts. The room chills. Without words, it is evident you are to be seen, not heard. Your heart sinks. You are there for appearance purposes only.
I have been a part of some interesting conversations and debates in reference to diversity within many settings, including ministry small groups. It never fails. People who have good intentions are inviting me to the table, but as soon as I accept the invite and pull up my chair, I quickly learn that although I have been invited to the table, what is really being asked of me is to leave “me” outside. The actual invitation is gray. I often share while facilitating diversity workshops, or as I give a keynote talk on diversity, that we claim to want to learn from one another, therefore we invite others to the table. However, once we come to the table, the body language and sometimes the words of others state, “Come…but come and be like me.” The moment this thought is communicated, individuals shut down, stop talking, become defensive, and privilege mentality takes over.
It is impossible for a person to remove their background, experiences, demographics, heritage, race, ethnicity, etc. and adopt the characteristics of the cultural group dominant at the table. One can only pretend to walk in the shoes of another before becoming frustrated with themselves. People say openly how they want to be inclusive and develop multicultural groups, programs, and ministries. However, very often as a minority sits at the table to share thoughts from their background, heritage, demographics, race, and ethnicity they are usually ignored, dismissed, and/or discounted. Sometimes, they are even told they are being overly sensitive. The invitation has been extended; however, the atmosphere suggests otherwise.
Look at Jesus in Luke chapter seven. Most will read this story focused on the woman and how she wept, dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, then anointed his feet with oil and perfume. However, there is another story. The story of invitation. Jesus was invited to have dinner with one of the Pharisees named Simon. Jesus went to Simon’s house and dined at the table in a reclined posture. A woman arrived after hearing Jesus was in attendance and brought with her an alabaster jar of perfume. She stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping and began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped his feet with her hair. She kissed and poured perfume on his feet, the same feet that walked around in sandals and were covered in feces from donkeys. This woman did not care. The one who invited Jesus to the table cared.
Many of us live for the day when we can come to the table as unique and different individuals without judgment. Instead of creating a new narrative, many repeat the one that has been repeated time and time again: we are the same. To some degree this is true., and yet there is another thought that rings even louder: we are different. Maybe this is the struggle. Individuals extending the invitation may not fully grasp the uniqueness of differences. At times the entire experience feels like a riddle that reads something like this:
Same, but different.
Brown eyes, gray eyes, green eyes, blue eyes; different colors but all eyes. English language, Spanish language; different languages, all spoken words. Inner city, rural community, but a region of people, places, and things. You are God’s child; I am God’s child, which makes us both children of the Lord. Same, but different.
These people, those people, exactly what does this mean? First name, last name, age, race, nationality, or status still equals a person uniquely and wonderfully made. Red, yellow, pink, brown, or cream skin—all created by the Creator—all who are seeking may be found. Community is a lens that sees in the supernatural. Rich, poor—same but different. Poverty, illiteracy, wealthy, or educated: we use individual standards to judge each other’s cultural groups. Perceived soiled, therefore, you are soiled. Perceived clean, therefore you are clean. Soiled or cleanliness, same but different. The one making the perception decides who you are.
True or false—believe or trust. Label or fact—by faith or by sight.
Similar, but different. Old wineskins, new wineskins—but wineskins. However, one is discouraged to pour new wine into old wineskins for they will burst. God’s Word is the same today, yesterday, and forever. Same gospel—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we offer Christ to you. Same word, different method used to connect women with God, each other, and their communities.
Same, but different.
1) Why invite someone from a different cultural group to the table to bring about diversity if you are not willing to authentically embrace their differences?
2) Why is it so hard to implement information from minorities to the larger group who are the majority?
3) How can we come together as one Body in Christ and discuss the differences by helping across cultural groups within the community of faith?
4) Does the group truly desire diversity, or is it more about the appearance of having a diverse group?
Same, but different.