Below this post is my favorite story from 2007, “Can a Diverse Church Be Unified?” It originally appeared on my blog for Today's Christian Woman. Here's a bit about why I chose it as H-n-T's Pick of 2007.
When I wrote “Can a Diverse Church Be Unified?”, I had an epiphany: I really need other people! That's because the story almost didn't happen.
I felt moved to discuss race and the church on my TCW blog, but I was afraid. I shared these fears with a writer buddy, Jim. He knows me well enough to be extremely blunt: Jim told me to grow a backbone and write whatever God put on my heart!
His words made me resolved to write on the topic, but then I stalled, thinking, Do I really have anything to say that might bring about positive thought and change? Or am I just going to open old wounds and tick people off? Being controversial for controversy's sake ain't my thing. I wanted to write something meaningful. And it seemed I had nothing meaningful to say.
Then along came my dear friend LaTonya, a professional writer and editor who also blogs. She spent hours discussing the story with me, and even more hours editing it. Her help was particularly meaningful because she gave me permission to write about an experience I'd had at her church. (Perhaps the scariest words I can say to someone are, "Can I write about you?") It was brave of her to allow me to discuss such personal material.
As I was writing, I mentioned this story to a few friends. Word got around to a few more friends. Everyone who heard about it was thrilled to offer their observations and insight. Upward of 20 people contributed ideas and feedback on the piece. I must've made a dozen revisions before my TCW editors even saw it.
Initially, all these revisions made me feel tremendously discouraged. I was shocked my writing needed so much help! After all, wasn’t I supposed to be good at this stuff? At one point I thought, This sucks—this story isn't even mine anymore!
That's when it hit me. The story never was mine. This was a story about unity, not individualism. It was a story about community, not independence. I wouldn't have written this story without the pushing, encouraging, discussions, stories, and prayers of my friends and my editors. What an amazing illustration of what happens when the church is unified and purposed. And how ironic that a story about church division would provide an illustration of church unity. My writer friend Jim summed it up thus: "God knew what he was doing when he set up this ‘Body of Christ’ business, eh!"
It seems appropriate to reprint a story which caused such a great spiritual epiphany during the season of Epiphany, which began January 6 and continues up until the start of Lent (February 6). Epiphany celebrates the early moments when Jesus was revealed as divine, beginning with the visit from the Magi. Dennis Bratcher, a Nazarene ordained minister and a visiting professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, describes it thus:
"The term epiphany means 'to show' or 'to make known' or even 'to reveal.' In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing 'reveal' Jesus to the world as Lord and King."
While the Bible doesn't specify who the Magi were, we know they came from a great distance, and they are widely considered the first non-Jews who acknowledged Christ. Epiphany is thus a celebration of inclusiveness, when we recognize Jesus came for everyone. Bratcher describes it as "a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children."
I hope “Can a Diverse Church Be Unified?” will provide some interesting thinking for you. I am thankful for the epiphany I received from it: I work best when I'm functioning within—and in conjunction with—the body of Christ.
1) Have you had any spiritual epiphanies this year?
2) Do you feel connected or disconnected in your church? What has caused you to feel this way?
3) For some interesting reading on racial reconciliation and the church, check out Ed Gilbreath's blog: http://edwardg.wordpress.com/. Ed (pictured) is the author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. He worked at Christianity Today for years, and is currently director of editorial for Urban Ministries, Inc. (Plus, he's a good friend, an amazing writer, and an all-around way cool guy.)