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Essay

Difference: (One of these things is not like the other)

By June 20, 2014 2 Comments
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dif·fer·ence
ˈdif(ə)rəns/
noun
 1. a point or way in which people or things are not the same.
 

Yesterday, Mary spoke of the hopeful steps toward unity between the CRC and RCA that have come out of the joint synod the past few weeks. It’s not that I disagree with Mary, and it’s not that I’m opposed to increased cooperation between the CRC and RCA, I’m just not sure “unity” is always what it claims to be. Like Mary I grew up oblivious to the tension between the RCA and CRC – heck, I was oblivious to the CRC and RCA. I was a Lutheran kid who happened to go to a Christian school. I knew my grandparents, good Lutherans that they were, thought it was stupid. My cousins all thought it was weird. I was oblivious. Even when we moved and began attending a CRC church I had no clue. It wasn’t until I began to teach in a Christian school that the differences became apparent – usually because I was in trouble.

I sometimes refer to my church background as “mutt” like. I grew up Lutheran, with a brief stint in the Evangelical Free Church, attended a CRC church that consisted of mostly RCA transplants, and went to a Roman Catholic high school. Funny how you don’t realize at the time how these seemingly arbitrary experiences leave a hefty imprint. I’m solidly Reformed at the center, with some Lutheran edges, but crave the high liturgy. (I tell people the priests and nuns brainwashed me… they usually look at my funny.) So what’s my point? I’ve come to believe that we engage each other, not out of what we hold in common, but out of our differences. Our differences make each of us unique… they make conversation rich… they make life interesting. This past semester my classroom was filled with all kinds of students. Reformed, Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Pentecostal – it was a blast. We had some heated disagreements, but these discussions broke through the banal blah blah of the classroom routine. There was passion… belief… doubt… anger. These days we’re too quick to avoid any form of confrontation, any form of heated debate. Everything seems to be about finding “common ground” or “unity” – which in many cases becomes the foundation for mediocrity and oversimplification. I’m ok that we have separate churches and denominations. I like to argue about Christian education and Public education – I do it all the time with a good friend new to the Christian education world. Should we be able to talk to each other? Should there be a place for civil dialogue? Are there issues upon which we agree and in the spirit of Christian love find ways to work together? Absolutely. But I’m convinced these things happen best when we are open and honest about our differences. After all, if everyone looked and acted the same, and if everyone believed the same things, what a boring world it would be. 

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

2 Comments

  • Paul says:

    Well said, Jason. It is interesting where the push for "unity" is emphasized and where the push for "diversity" is emphasized. I think the new CRC/RCA hymnal, for example, suffers from attempting to be too many things to too many people—with an accompanying blandness despite very sincere attempts to be inclusive of various ethnic groups. And this is also from someone who did not grow up Reformed or Dutch. It is often like those within the CRC and RCA no longer see what makes them unique–and they strive to toss overboard that very uniqueness that drew people like me and you to them to fit some larger "theme" of unity. Weird.

  • Jeff Japinga says:

    Since I, alongside my CRC counterpart Rebecca Warren, stood in front of the simultaneous session of the RCA & CRC synods to formally propose the resolution that was passed, that probably makes me the "unity" guy. But what I hope, and think, we did with that resolution was not to paper over the differences that have divided us and many that still continue, but rather to promote unity as the bedrock and foundation which allows us to work together when possible and also to have these hard conversations. More and more, the work of unity worldwide is not the desire simply to find (or make) a small piece of common ground on which we can all stand and and be "the same", but rather the will to construct a safe and solid place in which our differences do not point automatically to division. Uniformity? No thanks. But unity–I'll work for that.

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