The Gift of God

Paul Tillich is a well known 20th Century Christian theologian. He published his Systematic Theology in 1951. “What is a systematic theology?” you ask. It represents the totality of one’s beliefs, from A to Z. It’s a big book. I read it.Late in life Tillich spent a year living in Japan. When he came back to the States he was asked about the yearlong experience. His reply was, “I have to re-write my systematic theology.”What changed in that one year? He experienced a way of life, a worldview, unlike anything he had experienced to that point. You see, he had lived a pretty homogeneous life focused on his theological work. What his Japan experience revealed to him was the pluralistic nature of the world.And that experience made him a better theologian. Dynamics of Faith and The Courage to Be are two later publications that are widely reviewed as important theological works.I wanted to share that because it seems to me that the heart of the deep divisions within our country, the harmful polarization, the demonization of “others” is a result of homogeneous thinking that cannot acknowledge diversity as a gift from God.For example. I was stopped by a friend while I was taking my morning walk. She had noticed our new church sign and the fact we had removed the word united from our name. We simply said we are the El Centro Methodist Church. I explained that, due to the deep divisions within our denomination over interpretations of scripture regarding human sexuality (there are actually only six references to the topic, and none are conclusive when the original languages are taken into account) we decided that saying we were united was inaccurate. What we do say is we are Methodists, a centuries old Christian Tradition founded on the life and work of John Wesley. She also asked about the other sign, one that says Imperial Valley Vineyard Church. Vineyard is a global church that is more recently founded on core values of historical, Biblical orthodoxy—embracing the authority of Scripture, and the activity of the Spirit. Imperial Valley Vineyard is a growing Hispanic congregation that had run out of space where they had been worshipping. For the past year we have been in dialog with them, honoring the activity of the Spirit, believing that the Spirit was calling our two congregations to bear witness to the gift of God’s diversity.And so, in May, we began a covenant relationship with Vineyard Church. And I believe that as congregations we are both better witnesses of God’s presence in the world. Vineyard has an energy and focus that is different from our energy and focus. But our differences do not keep us apart. In fact, our energies and focus are both derived from the same place—the activity of the Holy Spirit. So, while we respond differently to the Spirit in one sense, we bear witness to God’s love much better together than we can by remaining apart. Think about salsa. How many places in the valley can we get good salsa? Do they taste exactly the same? Same basic ingredients. Different recipes. Still salsa.Doesn’t it make sense that Christianity would be a much better witness to God’s love in the world if Christians actually took seriously Paul’s description of who we are: The Body of Christ? We Methodists are one aspect of the Body. Vineyard is another aspect of the Body. Different approaches. Same Body.And if you can imagine how God is working with us, can you imagine what God is trying to do through everyone? I don’t simply mean all Christians. I mean everyone. Why would anyone think God can’t work with everyone?How narrowminded is that?