I started listening to NPR a number of years ago because I felt a need to hear a different voice, to listen well, and to give consideration to viewpoints that I did not share. Since then, as the tone of challenging conversations around race and politics have become more shrill and as opinions have become more ironclad, I’ve been thankful for quiet voices of reason that remind me of the holiness of diversity and the call to love. “Love that suffers long and is kind” invites me to trade my litmus tests for conversations with real people and to seek out opportunities within the body of Christ to remember that we are one.

Deep divides within the church on everything from immigration and the role of women to worship style and the definition of family challenge the body of Christ to be the force that passes through our differences all the way to grace. Deidra Riggs reminds me in her book 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:

17:20 “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.

Ambassadors of Unity

Riggs traces the path of reconciliation that leads to oneness by way of a humility that 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?” She invites readers into a listening stance in which the soul hears well and is, therefore, enabled to choose the God-honoring, others-serving path that may go against the grain, but is characterized by the willingness to:

  • Ask challenging questions about our motives for living toward the homogeneous and the “safe;”
  • Offer and seek forgiveness;
  • Remind one another continually 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 was not blindsided by our uniqueness—an outcome of his magnificent creativity! Even though differences of opinion can be a challenge, it would be more 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 is bigger than our race, 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 Riggs 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 employed 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 and 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.

Spiritual Integrity

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.

God’s heart of love comes through in biblical images of the Kingdom of God which defy an “us against them” mentality for “the Kingdom of God is us reconciled to one another.” Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker have responded to the brother-against-brother of racism with a collection of five essays on The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation. This slim volume is intended as a primer for equipping believers with sufficient background to free us from our fear of engaging in the conversation on race and to motivate us toward action that will make a difference.

  1.  J. Daniel Hays traces equality among the races—and the dignity of all human beings—to our creation in the image of God, debunking along the way a good many myths and downright lies such as erroneous views of where the Bible comes down on slavery and interracial marriage. Because God depicts a multi-ethnic congregation from every tribe and language and people and nation at the climax of history, it follows then that the gospel is for all people and ethnicities.
  2.  Identity in Christ overshadows all other identities, and Thabiti Anyabwile makes a strong case for the truth that the solution to racial strife will not be simply a matter of re-education. What is called for is a change at the “root of man’s being” which results in a longing for equality for all who bear the image of God.
  3.  Trillia Newbell emphasizes love—for God and for neighbors—as the driving force behind racial reconciliation. Not only is our service more beneficial when we link arms with a diverse workforce, but, more importantly, the church that demonstrates unity in Christ through the gospel is putting the transforming work of the gospel on display. Coming from an era in which I was encouraged to be “color blind,” I appreciated Newbell’s encouragement to “see color” in a celebration of ethnic differences that trumpets God’s creativity. Open conversations about race beat a path away from apathy and its close cousin, racism, and toward open relationships.
  4.  There is a theme of reconciliation that permeates the narrative arc of Scripture, and Eric Mason likens the potential for racial reconciliation in the church to the impact that hip-hop music has had on the culture at large, a restoration of friendly relationships (actual conversations!) based on a shared interest. The unity Paul calls for in Ephesians 4 is an element of the believer’s sanctification. Since, therefore, racism is sin, the believer is directed to war against it.
  5. The quest for diversity within the church must extend beyond Sunday morning, beyond a “reconciliation for hire” approach to staffing, and beyond a forced homogeneity that ignores the beautiful complexity of first-generation realities. Matthew J. Hall and D. A. Horton address the theological influences that shaped our unique, born-in-the-USA-brand of racism, stressing that “if we’re going to get this right, we need to be honest about where we have gotten it wrong.” May God in his mercy allow the church another opportunity to put the beauty of redemption on display and to represent him well in our approach to racial reconciliation.

By looking at the issues at the heart of racism, listening to the positions of those who are different from us, learning out of a generous position of humility, and living life together in a community that is redolent with the sweet nectar of Spirit-borne fruit, it may be that we can earn the right to speak truth into our culture. In the New Testament, there are no fewer than 22 injunctions for believers to love one another, and first-century Christians left their world looking for the reason behind their inexplicable love. What an honor and a miracle of grace it would be if the church could once again engage the culture with the gospel and embody a multicultural, multi-ethnic community that would render present-day culture “with no excuse for not pursuing the God who reconciled us to him and [to] each other.”

These books were provided by the publishers 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.”

Michele Morin
Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who blogs at Living Our Days. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. She is active in educational ministries with her local church and her writing has appeared at SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, (in)courage, and elsewhere. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy, finds joy in sitting around a table surrounded by women with open Bibles, and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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  1. “By looking at the issues at the heart of racism, listening to the positions of those who are different from us, learning out of a generous position of humility, and living life together in a community that is redolent with the sweet nectar of Spirit-borne fruit, it may be that we can earn the right to speak truth into our culture.” I love this. I was of the “color blind” mentality for a long time as well, but seeing color is so much better! Having worked in missions for more than 30 years, I celebrate the beautiful faces of people from all nations. It’s a wonderfully diverse world God has made! Thanks, Michele.

    1. Yes–seeing and celebrating color!
      Stephanie, I honor you and your 30 years of service under the Great Commission. If ever there were a mandate to celebrate all nations, certainly Jesus delivered it when He said to Go and to Make Disciples.

  2. Great resources noted. I am part of a newly gathered group in Richmond, Virginia attempting, with God’s grace, to broach the subject of racial reconciliation in our city and nation. Did I mention Richmond, Virginia? Yes. Capital of the Confederacy. Pray for us.

  3. Deidre’s book is on my stack of “to-read” before the 2018 Festival of Faith and Writing. (I hope to meet you there!) Thank you for this thorough review and treatment of the topic. This statement, especially, resonates with me today: “Spiritual integrity de-emphasizes lines of division, assuring our hearts that all of life is sacred.” Indeed, ALL of life is sacred. May lines be erased, or at least smudged a bit, in our lifetime.

    1. Yes and amen!
      And thank you, Ingrid, for your beautiful piece here in the Post. I read and re-read because I, too, live on a diverse piece of land with deer tracks in the snow and coyotes howling in the winter darkness, but never once had I considered it in the light you shed with your words.

  4. Michele, I’m not sure that everyone who lives in Maine would take the time to think about this issue. Our own history here of struggle with diversity has been less transparent then in some places. Thank you for thinking into what is not always obvious.

    1. Oh, thank you, Carlene. I definitely feel like an outsider and a spectator to much of this conversation, and am endeavoring to listen with respect to those who are in the cross hairs of it all. This post is really an offering of the words of others that have helped me in my own thinking.

  5. Michele … your words are always hefty and thoughtful. What might happened if we put our hidden agendas aside, listened with the intent of hearing the broken heart, and always chose to love well despite the outcome.

    We are not each other’s enemy. The enemy of our souls and unified relationships is Satan. He will not prevail.

    1. Linda, thank you for this thoughtful comment and for your fierce assertion that the enemy will not prevail! As Luther wrote, “His doom is sure,” and in the meantime, we read about the diverse gathering at the end of all things, and our hearts are reassured.
      Thank you for reading.

  6. Your challenge to us comes from a place of not just what you have read but from the heart of digging into these hard issues with others. Deidra has such a wonderful way of sharing so openly and honestly but not at the expense of putting up a wall. She invites us all into the conversation in a stance of learning and listening. We forget to acknowledge love as the foundation for how we interact, what we say and then what we do.

    I needed to read these words today. I have become rather silent on a topic that is important to me. Thank you for the call to love, listen and learn.

    1. Mary, this encouragement from your heart is so affirming–and so appreciated! I agree with you that Deidra has grown into a way of communicating that builds bridges. I’m learning from others and gaining in confidence for this conversation, but have so far to go.

  7. It’s so important to listen to those different voices. I applaud you, Michele. We’re not always comfortable hearing things that contradict our worldview, but we grow just by listening to others.

  8. Michele,
    Isn’t it amazing that it always comes backs to the great commandment: Love God, love others. When we start with that premise we don’t have to conform….we can transform. Very thought provoking post in this day and age when there are so many forces trying to divide vs. unify.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    1. How easily we forget that Great Commandment, and complicate our lives by excusing ourselves from its simple directive. Thanks, Bev, for the bridges you are building through your heart for Redeemer Christian School.

  9. “What an honor and a miracle of grace it would be if the church could once again engage the culture with the gospel and embody a multicultural, multi-ethnic community that would render present-day culture “with no excuse for not pursuing the God who reconciled us to him and [to] each other.” – Amen Beautiful and challenging words, as always!

  10. I hadn’t heard about Deirdre Riggs book, but what a timely topic. It’s so heartbreaking to me to see the polarization in America, over so many topics. My husband and children are Salvadoran, so two weeks ago when President Trump made his slur against our nation, it was the first time ever I felt personally HURT by prejudice. It was the first time I saw it get my husband down. So hard. I thought about how many people face feelings of hurt on a weekly, daily basis. Praying for our nation.

    1. I’m thankful for your multi-cultural perspective on many things, Betsy. And I’m so sorry for the hurt and the disappointment that has come to you and your family. Thank you for your transparency in sharing it here and for the call to continue in prayer.

  11. I listen to NPR often. I find that although they are sometimes more liberal than I am, they are intelligent broadcasts. I don’t think it is possible to make intelligent decisions about your beliefs unless you have plenty of information from all sorts of sources. I believe that we must be able to see both our differences and our similarities in order to truly live together as God has commanded us to do. I am not the same as you…we each have our own stories, beliefs, and heritage. I am the same as you…perhaps we are both parents or spouses, brothers or sisters, friends, maybe we both love ice cream…
    When I read your paragraph about the two chairs, I thought of James 2:13. Mercy triumphs over judgement. When we have mercy, one for another, we will not be able to judge. We will not be able to persecute or discriminate. Our mercy, our love will not allow us to. I pray for that day.

    1. It’s so important for me to hear opinions that rub me the wrong way, and to let the words of articulate and reasonable people run through my head, even if after running the words through a biblical grid, in the end, I reject their opinion as false. The command to love one another does not have an addendum that excuses us from loving those with whom we disagree. It’s helpful to me to remember those two chairs and to defer to the only One who is qualified to sit in both.
      Thanks for this thoughtful interaction with the material.

  12. The cultural division is so sad, isn’t it, Michele? Thanks for sharing such thorough reviews, friend. So much (all?) of the divide could be solved with one simple word — Love. Oh, that we’d love as He loves. xoxo

  13. I can’t watch the news these days without being grieved at the harshness of the debate. I sometimes wonder if the loudest voices on either side aren’t a very small minority, yet they are the ones who capture the press’s attention and the headlines. While we are all sinners and will have opinions and prejudices that shouldn’t be there, most people I know believe in fairness and equality. But as you touched on in your essay, the real answer is not more education, not more government control, certainly not more anger, but genuine heart change one person at a time. May we take your advice to listen well, to love those who disagree with us, and to share the gospel of God’s grace to friend and (perceived) enemy alike.

    1. You’ve hit on the truth that our only hope for reconciliation is found in the gospel. In these days of loud disagreement and crushed feelings, I long for the reality of responses that flow from a new heart.

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