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A Message from Bishop San
Difference: The Power of Faith in a Conflicted World

Three Pillars of the Difference Movement:
Be Curious! Be Present! Reimagine!

Explore this Topic Further: Join Bishop San for a Lenten Book Study:
 Living Reconciliation by Phil Grover and Angharad Parry Jones
Thursdays at Noon during Lent starting on Thursday, February 17th.
Register in advance for this meeting by clicking here.
Purchase the book online here.

The Fundamental message promulgated in this movement is the overwhelming acknowledgement that all comes from God who has settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.

This call is at the center of our faith. The cross is the story of God’s reconciling us to himself, healing what is broken and calling us to be caught up in this work as well. It is for this reason that Archbishop Justin Welby and the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry have made reconciliation one of their priorities. They both have a vision for the Church to be a reconciling presence in the midst of conflict. Justin Welby said, “to see this vision realized, we want to mobilize a generation to live out their calling as peacemakers and reconcilers so that we might see a just and flourishing society. There’s nothing more personally exciting to me than seeing a movement of Christians flourish in this call to reconcile”. Michael Curry defines this transformation through the wholistic practice of what he termed the ‘Habit of Grace’.

Difference is a movement that is based around our everyday discipleship in a world that has become accustomed to indifference about others and conflict. By developing habits for peaceful engagement with those who do not share our perspective, we believe that a different way is possible. We want to explore what it means to follow Jesus in the face of conflict, and to invite God to be at work in our relationships on every level. It’s our hope, through Difference, to share a framework and a language that helps us consider the practices that make this possible.

The Diocese of Easton is already well underway with our plans to engage the Difference movement, including the completion of a Pilot Course and identifying several Ambassadors to assist in the roll-out. The Bishop’s Lenten book study is another similar offering, open to all in the Diocese.  The next phase should be in full swing this Fall with church-group based offerings of the Difference Course.  The Course is designed for community-based groups to go deeper into learning how we cross divides, disagree well, and practice forgiveness in our relationships. We’ll be offering training events in late Spring and Summer for those who would be interested in running the course in their own context.

In becoming more reconciled people, we want to think about a dynamic of four relationships. It is foremost about being reconciled with God. It is also about being reconciled with oneself, being reconciled with others, and being reconciled with the earth, all of God’s creation. These relationships are interlinked, and so each needs to be examined and reconciled simultaneously; these things all have an impact on each other.

Listen to this figurative language and think about what reconciliation could look like. This is from Isaiah 11: “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. …The infant will play near the Cobras den, and the young child will put its hand into a Viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy all on my holy mountain. So, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

We are created by God to be part of a web of relationships which are deeply connected to one another. In Jesus, and across these relationships, we are brought back into harmony with God. As Paul writes in Colossians 1: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities: all things have been created through him and for him. …For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

On the flip side of this, the relationship we have with God also shapes the relationship we have with others. There’s really no option left open for us to keep our faith to ourselves. God is deeply connected in our encounters with others. We see how our relationship with God impacts our treatment of others in 1 John, where it says: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for this love comes from God.” Everyone who knows love has been born of God, knows God.”

Henry Nouwen, a Dutch priest and theologian wrote: “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved.” When we are reconciled with ourselves, we can nurture healing in others. A healthy and inspired acceptance of ourselves is powerful in enabling others to flourish. But we must say that by no means are we expecting perfect people who act in perfect ways. I’m sure Rowan Williams had just this idea in mind with his description of perhaps one of the most famous reconcilers in the church: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Rowan says: “When I think of people in my own life that I call holy, who have really made an impact …they make me feel that there is hope for my confused and compromised humanity. … Desmond Tutu manifestly loves being Desmond Tutu, there’s no doubt about that. But the effect of that is not to make me feel frozen or shrunk; it makes me feel that just possibly, by God’s infinite grace, I could one day love being Rowan Williams in the way that Desmond Tutu loves being Desmond Tutu.”

Henry Nouwen, as an author and as a man who understood what self-rejection felt like, said: “Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

It’s a very powerful phrase, the idea being a wounded healer. It is the idea of coming to something as fragile, coming to something not needing to be bold and great, but simply being able to offer a hand of healing. It is in these moments, where brokenness meets brokenness, when the Holy Spirit seems most pronounced, these unlikely moments in relationships that would not be forged normally. In moments of brokenness meeting brokenness, there is real power given to the spirit within us. And so it behooves us to reflect on the way we relate to ourselves and on how this connects to our relationships with others, in order that we might fully know the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.

I invite the community of faith in the Diocese of Easton to enter into this work together – to develop the habits of a wounded healer – to reimagine a world where our differences propel us into deeper relationship and not schism. Paul reminded the Athenians community in the first century of this one primary truth about the human race, “from one ancestor (some translations prefer ‘one blood’) God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.” (Acts 17:26). Humans in our brokenness and sinfulness have used race, nationality, ethnicity, financial and educational status, culture, place of origin and the list goes on, to create castes of segregation and polarization. Let us step together into a different way of being. The celebration of the gift of difference is one of the best tributes we could give to God, the architect of diversity is God’s creative wisdom.

With my love and affection!