“[W]e who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 1 Corinthians 10:17
I have great memories of my two uncles on my dad’s side from our many Stuckwisch family vacations. On one occasion, the family was visiting us in Virginia. We had all gone to Mill Mountain for a picnic and to see the Mill Mountain Star because that’s what you take guests to do in Roanoke, Virginia. At some point during our mountain outing, my dad and my uncles took turns swinging my sister and me, with one grabbing our hands and one grabbing our feet, so that it looked like we were about to be hurled off the mountain. It made for some great pictures and it was ridiculously fun for us kids. As I’ve gotten older, time with my uncles has progressed from flying through the air and being mercilessly tickled toward more mature activities like epic family board games and deep conversations.
I grew up in a different Protestant denomination than my dad’s side of the family (as I wrote about here). Both of my uncles are Lutheran ministers in the Missouri Synod denomination, a denomination that a peer who’s a member recently described to me as a more conservative denomination. This past weekend when I went to my cousin’s graduation in Florida, I had a great conversation with one of my uncles. We were talking about faith and beliefs and how some of our family members are more conservative, like my dad and my other uncle, and some of us are more liberal, like his daughter, and my aunt and me. But we’re all followers in our own way. I have friends who are isolated from members of their family because of differences in spiritual or political beliefs, so it’s awesome to be part of a family where we appreciate both our similarities and our differences. We’re both people of faith, and we’re one family.
My conversation with my uncle made me think about the diversity among Christian denominations. Currently, the young adult group at my church is studying Crazy Love, a book by Francis Chan. Chan is definitely more evangelical than most members of our group. However, we’ve learned that when we get bogged down in the things with which we disagree about a book or study, we miss out on the knowledge that we can gain from it. For example, I really admire the passion for developing a deep personal relationship with God that many believers who are more conservative than me hold. I’m also inspired by the sense of urgency around sharing the gospel and bringing others to salvation that my more evangelical friends share. Conversely, some of my more conservative friends have said they’ve gained a deeper understanding of social justice as a spiritual expression from me. Though we have some different beliefs and practices, our diversity can be an asset if we learn from each other.
Speaking of assets, when I joined Teach For America (TFA), I had to attend a diversity training. To use a TFA term, the diversity training in 2007 had a lot of “areas for growth.” However, I did gain one important insight that I’ve carried with me called asset-based thinking, or the idea that you should focus on someone’s strengths rather than their deficiencies. Asset-based thinking is especially helpful when engaging with someone who you find challenging, different, or difficult to understand. This way of thinking came in handy early on in my teaching experience when the woman who was supposed to be my school’s teaching coach never gave me helpful feedback and routinely skipped observations. I could’ve focused and fumed on what I perceived as her deficiencies, but that would’ve been a waste of my time. I decided to employ asset-based thinking to try to improve our relationship and, consequently, our ability to serve our students and school together. I acknowledged how helpful she was as a co-sponsor with me for the senior class, shouldering more of the burden, and how much care and planning she put into our staff celebrations. Asset-based thinking helped me connect with her rather than being isolated and bitter. At the end of the day, we were both trying to serve the school in our own ways.
I think asset-based thinking is what Paul is doing in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Alluding to the practice of the Lord’s Supper, Paul tells them that “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” That’s what practicing communion does; it brings us together despite our differences. Though we are made up of different denominations, worship styles, and political parties, we are united through Jesus’ sacrifice and a common commitment to following his example. As I continue my Christian journey, I’m grateful for those who journey with me as we all attempt to find our own way to follow forward.
What about you? Do you have family members, friends, or neighbors who are different from you and difficult to understand? How could asset-based thinking help you change your perspective and your relationship to them?
As always, thanks for reading and I’d love hear your thoughts in the comment box below.