During my later teen years, I was involved in lots of military stuff: I was an army cadet and after that, a Reserve Force officer involved in training cadets. I enjoyed my time in both–I got to do interesting things, travel to interesting places and pay for a couple of years of university. I discovered an interesting paradox about me during that time: I enjoyed the military experience and the military toys but I really wasn’t at home with a culture that required so much conformity.
The uniform I could deal with–clothes are not something that I get all concerned over. But I did get tired of having to do the same thing as everyone else at the same time as everyone else in the same way as everyone else. My boots needed the same shine as everyone else’s; my shirts needed the same pressing as everyone else’s; my pants needed the same crease as everyone else’s; my sleep pattern had to be the same as everyone else’s–well, you get the picture.
On some levels, I thought that I would have a better future in the church–after all, I belong to a part of the church that began because of a commitment on the part of our founders to allow for personal freedom and the ability of the individual to think and approach God on their own. And while that hasn’t always worked out quite the way I thought it might, overall, I have found that my faith has room to grow and develop as I feel God is leading me. That is not to say that I haven’t been confronted by people who feel I need to conform to their understanding of what God wants but whenever that has been an issue, I think God has graciously shown me ways to deal with such pressure.
My faith experience has taught me that God understands, accepts celebrates and even encourages our human diversity. As Creator, God had the option of making us all the same. He chose to create us with a highly variable genetic structure and insures that every human being is going to end up different from every other human being–even identical twins who share the same genetic makeup end up becoming different.
And God carries that diversity even further. As a Christian, I believe that the only way to God is through acceptance of Jesus Christ–but the ways people discover Christ (or are brought to Christ to be theologically correct) are as varied as the number of people in the world. Even those whose experience seems to be the same have significant differences when we take a closer look.
I grew up during the last days of successful evangelistic campaigns. Many of my friends and I “walked the aisle” during the yearly crusade, as was the expected custom in our day. But even though the outward appearance was the same, the experience of God through Christ was very different. I walked the aisle because it was expected–but I realize now that I had been a believer for months before that. One friend walked the aisle because of family pressure but somewhere in the process, he genuinely encountered God. Another, well, maybe he walked the aisle physically but spiritually, he was still sitting in his seat.
In my spiritual growth after that time, I have followed a different path from others–not a strange or weird path–unless you consider frequent sojourns in Kenya strange. I followed a ministry path–but even there, my path wasn’t the same as everyone else. Some in the class focused on working with youth. Some wanted to be great preachers. Some actually liked and understood Patristic Theology. We weren’t the same then and we aren’t the same now–after 40 years of ordained ministry, I am pastoring the same churches I started pastoral ministry in while my peer group from school are pastoring other congregations, leading para-church organizations, being denominational staff–and a few have actually engaged in “secular” work as their ministry.
God celebrates and encourages our diversity. He designed us to be different. One of our greatest strengths as a species is our diversity. And one of our greatest strengths as people of faith is our diversity. As we explore and understand our diversity before God, I think we develop a better picture of who we are and who God is–and that is always a good thing.
May the peace of God be with you.