Many Faces, Many Ways



Paulo Ueti-

“When there is true dialogue, Both sides are willing to change” Thich Nhat Hanh

“… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it in your way. (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Because “… God, our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people…” (1Timothy 2:4–6a)

We are increasingly confronted with the issue of diversity and of unity. Racism and many phobias are threatening the fabric of our society and infecting our churches. Modernity and “postmodernity” brought up this human coexistence challenge, which is as old as the world itself. How to coexist with what is different from me or with what my society has determined as a “norm” (normal)? How to ‘harmonise’ with God’s creation? The statistics show that being different from the ‘majority’ has been a reason for performing violent acts, including murder. The education to the normality (be normal, be like everyone else) has shown to be harmful and cause of sickness in people as individuals, and as societies. The “different” has become unbearable, heretic, impossible to coexist with, in need of being erased from existence. This is perverse and is taking charge of religious speeches among our Christian communities.

For many theologies, God has revealed himself to the human beings through his capacity (or is it his essence?) of relationship (koinonia, communion, connection). It is God who always takes initiative. Through God’s words, the world was created. From chaos to order. And the order created is diverse, plural, colourful. The standardisation (hegemony) is a tortuous and dangerous way and not at all pleasant to God. It is violent, dehumaniser, and creates idiots. The text from Gn 11:1–9 about the attempt of building the Babel Tower to “dominate” the world was radically refuted by God, who returned each one to their own culture and language, which according to the text, caused confusion as a side effect. As a sequence of that we have the Pentecost’s experience, where every person, from their own location, language and culture could understand the message of the Gospel and got committed as a community, without ceasing to be who they were, but to enter in a process of continuous conversion where there are losses and gains. So are the relationships.

God loves us the way we are, so we can be something more to Him and to the World. God finds us where we are, so we can take the path and work as a community to reach a “paradisiac” world, where violence, torture and murder are not present in our day-to-day lives, whereas harmony, dialogue and mutual respect are. Even ungratefulness ignites God’s love (cf. Hos 11:1–9) towards ourselves, and “nothing may separate us from the love of Christ” (Rom 8:31–39).

For many lectures of Saint Augustine, particularly his Confessions, this is a recurring subject. Even though he effusively celebrates and insists in the human kind search for God, he always reminds that God is the one who always took the initiative. He wants to know where we are, comes to us where we are, overflows its grace and mercy to us in the way we currently are. It is worth it to read these works once again. God has taken (and continues to take, according to our Christian faith) the initiative, out of unconditional love, of revealing itself and self-communicating itself. One could then say that one of the privileged experiences of God happens in the relationship. God is Relationship (God is Love 1Jo 4:19). God reaches that person who denied, betrayed, and seduces him or her again, because He always loves, and love motivates the encounter movement of that person with that one who is different from ourselves (Os 1–3). It is in the other person (even ungrateful and considered to be a sinner) and in the nature (nowadays harmed and in inflicted suffering) that we experiment God’s revelation: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40) And: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1Jn 4:20). The biblical tradition is witness of this total ‘connection’ between God and people.

During our history, the profound fundamental relevance (ontological) of the diversity, the colourful, the gradients, the dusk and the dawn, was forgotten. We are called, patrolled and forced (we suffer bullying) more and more times to push us into becoming uniform, equal to everyone else: to say the same words, to perform the same rites in the same way, to use the same handbooks, to say the same ideo-theology, to get organized in the same manner.

That is why it is important to turn our hearts and minds to the biblical spirituality: centred in the mercy and in the Kingdom of God. Paul helps us to look at this charismatic and powerful reality within the primitive church, which spreads lights (and shadows along with them, inevitably) for a ‘return to the first love’, a target to Jesus’ original project. Paul uses the body signal (a scandal during that time, as well as it currently is to some people and theologies/spiritualties today) to talk about the church as a sacrament of Christ; the members are different in shape, essence and purpose, however all are equally necessary and with the same dignity to the functioning of the body.

Here is developed what our theology calls as ‘the discipleship of equals’. How to understand this theological premise rooted in every biblical tradition nowadays? How to understand the charisma of diversity and its equality in the life of the church (of the institution and of the faithful followers)?

In this article I would like to specially reflect about the position of the people who were labeled by the political, economic and religious systems as marginal in this discipleship and apostolate/mission process. No one can be left out:

But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty. (1Cor 12:18–23)

The primitive Christianity

The early Christian communities were organised in a very particular way for each place, during the time of Paul. We can realise across the history of the primitive churches the flourish of various ways of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is not possible to say that there was one unique type of Christianity, but several Christianities. At this multi-face feature of the movement that emerged from Jesus and grew across the empire, we should also highlight one of its main traits: the welcoming of diversity and equality among the different. Especially in Paul’s Christianity, this force of equality is definitely a motive for joy among the communities’ members, but also a source of conflicts and tensions.

The ancient Christianity developed itself through the ‘Church at home’ (Rm 16:5; At 18:2– and through the missionary activity of men and women that disseminated the Christian faith across the cities of the known world. The community becomes a decisive element within this new way of experimenting God. It sets a new type of coexistence, it is a space where all are welcomed and a school that teaches how to belong to God and his revelation in the world. It was a space of great diversity: poor and wealthy; men and women, free and slaves have come together in the same place and shared the words and the same table. Of course, it generated many conflicts inside the Christian community: how to stand up to slavery, the women as free and independent person, the ones with double religious traditions, and so on?

At the Church of Corinth, the diversity of the members seemed to have provoked many internal problems in the doctrinal order, as well as in the human relations, which left the Apostle Paul very concerned. The Letter to the Corinthians was one of his attempts of trying to solve these matters that divided them. And the solution was not about everyone behaving the same, neither adapting to the current legal, moral and political/religious system of the time. On the contrary, it was about going on the opposite direction. It was about the proposition of a system that defied the order that was considered to be natural. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2)

New relationships

Reading the text, as well as our insertion in the Christian community, puts us in a movement that there is almost no turning back. We radically change our paradigm of looking to the world and its creation, no longer with the eyes and heart of the sin, but with God’s grace that abounds, even within our limits.

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:8–11)

This text, from the baptismal liturgy is read during the Easter vigil. People that enter the faith community listen to this exhortation and commit themselves into changing their lives (metanoia). It is a calling, a requirement, for us to live a new life in a new way. It is no longer compatible with the Christian life, with the baptism and with the education based on faith, to act upon the self-centering, to wish for evil, to commit bullying and prejudice actions, to humiliate people, to think you are better or more deserving than anyone, to advocate for the exclusion of someone from your community, to be intolerant with the sin and with the difference. To belong to Christ is a very tiring requirement and it can be achieved only in community, in the confidence we support each other, and we leave no one behind, rooted in the faith that God’s love is for ALL. We are invited to a coexistence experience in the diversity environment, in theologies, rites and in spirituality. We have different views of the world, and that isn’t a flaw, but a quality that should be maintained and encouraged in order to enable solicitous and merciful dialogue, and that put ourselves on the path of conversion to the religion that pleases God (read Isaiah, Jeremy and James). This is a problem only when this view translates into exclusion, prejudice, bullying and privileges. Any attempt of creating hegemony conflicts with Jesus’ project. We are all brothers and sisters in the community and according to the Anglicanism, the status of plurality is essential to our identity. We have the right of being different. We don’t have the right of running away from God’s mission or to stop striving to resemble Jesus:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:5–11)

Ora et Labora — always to pray and work so that we don’t become multipliers agents of the systems that create privileges and accumulate wealth (material or immaterial). To pray and work so that people in more vulnerable situations (and sometimes we are included in that) are assisted, and for the ones that hold privileges, to recognise this condition and feel compelled to share their lives and their resources. To pray and work so that we are hospitable people and churches, a safe place and space (that welcomes and takes care of everyone, indistinctly). To pray and work so that our capacity to love is greater than our natural tendency to exclude or to hate. To pray and work so that our religious speeches and our prayers are expressions of love and care, and not of hate or discrimination.

This is the constant challenge for our churches today. And also, to our personal lives marked by the action of the Spirt of God, that ‘makes all things new’.

May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand. (Irish blessing)

Meditation written by request from Diocese of Brasilia, Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, to support the preparation of the CONFELIDER 2018 (Leadership gathering 2018) at the local church.

The author is Philosopher, Theologian and Bible Scholar, Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, Diocese of Brasilia, currently working for Anglican Alliance (Anglican Communion Office), consultant of IASCUFO (Inter-Anglican Steering Committee for Unity, Faith and Order), Advisor for Ecumenical Centre for Biblical Studies Brazil (CEBI), member of SBL — Society of Biblical Literature USA and Brazilian Association for Biblical Research (ABIB).

 HE is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *