We Will Not Be Assimilated
A collision of three occurrences over the last three days:
- On Saturday in a conversation of Presbyterian colleagues some offered a need to have a clear and coherent theological identity. The most extreme version that got offered was a call to have a core belief that made it easy to say who belonged among us and who did not based on their agreement with that common core belief statement.
- A coke commercial that I originally found a bit banal (and then realized was still prophetic) offering America the Beautiful in many of the diverse languages (and images) you will find spoken in our country – and then a reaction of some strongly against that notion because “people should speak English here.”
- Two blocks from my church office this morning a group of advocates gathered (and I am sad that I was not with them this morning) in silent protest on the steps (and inside, many of whom were arrested, updating my post already here is an article on this mornings protest) of the State Capital building to “Add the Words, Idaho” asking the legislature to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act thereby protecting our LGBT neighbors from discrimination and the insecurity of knowing that who they are at the core of their being could be held against them in livelihood and liberty.
(This picture is from a few weeks ago when I joined friend and collegue Marci Glass as part of the “Add the Words, Idaho” Rally also on the steps of the Capital. Here is a sermon I preached the next day that reflected on this experience among others.)
All three of these cause the same reaction to me. Whether we are talking about the church or the country I love, we are not the Borg (sorry folks – Star Trek reference, a race of aliens that forced all civilizations to become a part of their collective consciousness). We do not – or should not – seek to assimilate the world. We are at our best when we celebrate diversity. We have admirable ambition when we seek to protect the minority and their right to be a part of us without having to become “like us.”
There is a particular insidious narcissism that we can name as either Exceptionalism or Zionism that seems to think who we are is the best, and the best we can offer is to convert – assimilate – the other into the exceptional reality we already have. (This narcisissim is made worse because we also add fear – we fear those not like us, the twin emotions of fear and superiority create a very dangerous blend) Whether it be our brand of Spiritual Truth or the particular expression of our national identity, we are sure the best one can be is what we have to offer.
What I love about my understandings of both the United States and the Presbyterian Church is that I believe it is central to who we are that we DO NOT have a cookie cutter look of what is central to who we are. We do not seek to melt away differences to become uniform, but we seek to bring connection to very diverse perspectives, cultures, and expressions of liberty, truth, goodness… whatever. We are in the business of building bridges across divides and not in removing those divides.
Is this harder than assimilation? Absolutely. It is easier to sell a clear product. It is easier to offer an existence in a group of people who think, look, and act similarly along similar goals. It is easier to have a common language, currency, and worldview. Life without the need for translation is easy…
But I also think that is a sad reality – and ultimately rather boring. I am reminded again that in the first creation story of Genesis God did not say let “me” make “Adam”. God said, “Let us make humankind in our imagine.” Singularly we do not reflect God. Together we do. Even God wasn’t singular in the story. Creation was meant to reflect a rich diversity of goodness. I am similarly reminded that our nation is not a democracy where the tyranny of the majority rules, but a Republic whose role is as much to protect the minority from the majority as anything else.
We are not Borg. We do not assimilate otherness – we celebrate it. And this does take work. Work at overcoming fear, and expanding our boundaries, and finding common bridges across differences that are their own blessings.
I do not want to think I can only gather in God’s name around a single sentence of clear Truth – what a small God that world is. I love that my kids go to school with kids whose first language isn’t English because the realize the world they live in every day is VERY VERY SMALL compared to the rich diversity of all creation. And forcing other people to live in fear of their safety because we don’t like who they are or because we think who they are somehow threatens our way of life? That is terrorism.
We are not Borg – we do not assimilate – we celebrate. Thanks be to God, and thanks be that we live in a country that aspires (in its better moments) to let us.