Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Necessity of Diversity

A Towering Buddha Statue 
-The Yellow Mountains of East China-

The President of China and the President of the United States are hanging out in my neighborhood today. Yesterday when they arrived here in the desert, the local news showed pictures of the long lines of media trucks from throughout the world parked outside the estate where the summit meeting was taking place. 

Imagine,  the whole wide world in one little place just a few miles away from my little desert retreat house. It made me think once again that we really do live in a global village.

Before moving to Los Angeles eight years ago, I led a rather insular life. The neighborhoods we lived in, the churches I served, the people I encountered every day - all basically looked very much like me. For the most part,  everyone was the same race, the same religion, the same socio-economic status. Everyone spoke the same language as I did. 

Then we moved to Los Angeles and everything changed instantly and radically. I was literally thrown into an ocean of such great diversity that, at first, it caught me off guard. 

As I walked down a neighborhood street, I discovered that English was not the primary language being spoken. I could drive a few blocks from my home and it would seem like I had traveled to another part of the world - Korea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Guatemala, El Salvador, Japan. 

I could sit at a coffee shop and watch Hasidic Jews with long coats and fur hats walk by,  along with beach dudes on their skateboards and veiled women clothed in Burkas. 

My Los Angeles church was also  a reflection of the city. Every Sunday I would look out into the congregation and see Asians, Europeans, Africans dressed in their native costumes of beautifully patterned dresses, tunics and headgear. 

I travelled to Korea and was introduced to Buddhism and then we went to China where a whole new world was opened up to me.

At first,  my new life of radical diversity was overwhelming to me,  but I soon came to deeply cherish the many "differences" that had now been woven into the fabric of my life. It didn't take long for me to realize how important and even necessary it was for me to live with many different others.

My experience of diversity had changed my spiritual life in a significant way, helping me go to a deeper place, a more complete place in my soul.  Instead of distracting me, the experience of diversity focused me on my spiritual journey.

Episcopal priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor, makes this observation:  "The supreme religious challenge is to see God's image in one who is not in our image,  for only then can we see past our own reflection in the mirror to the God we did not make up."

Most of my life I had been looking for God in a mirror - looking for God among those who reflected my self. I finally learned that you need to look through a window to see the face of God. When I was thrown into the ocean of diversity, I saw the face of God, and I loved what I saw. 

As I walk the spiritual path, I relish my experiences of diversity. Actually,  I "need" to continue to surround myself with differences - different languages, different cultures, different perspectives.  I now have a "need" to learn from different religions and seek the wisdom of many different spiritual paths.

I need all this to look out a window and not in a mirror, that I may see the face of God

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