Kelly Bean is community cultivator/pastor of Third Saturday Community, co-Coordinator and founder of Convergence, local and international networker and activist, writer and artist. Kelly’s most remarkable endeavor is learning from her three children: Elliot the ace guitarist (age 13), Kate the adventurer (age 19) and Emilie the kind hearted (age 23), and gorgeous grandson Gabriel (age three), along with Kelly’s marvelous Harley riding husband, Ken. More info can be found at Kelly-Bean.com.
Close Encounters of the Real Kind
Words as varied as diversity, strident, tolerant, mission statement, idealism, hope, fear and peace come to mind as I consider the topic of “Plurality.” It brings to mind dark-skinned friends; friends of varied sexual orientation; distinct houses of worship; multicultural kid scenes from Sesame Street as well as recollection of painful theological battles
Thank goodness for The Pluralism Project work developed by Diane Eck of Harvard University. Eck’s work has been my excellent guide to the “real thing” when the waters of plurality get murky. (A nod to fellow Plurality 2.0 blogger Eboo Patel for his May 5th citation of Eck’s work too.) Eck writes:
“Pluralism is…active engagement with plurality. Pluralism and plurality are sometimes used as if they were synonymous. But plurality is just diversity, plain and simple — splendid, colorful, maybe even threatening. Such diversity does not, however, have to affect me. I can observe diversity. I can even celebrate diversity, as the cliche goes. But I have to participate in pluralism….Pluralism requires the cultivation of public space where we all encounter one another.“
Moving from passive “plurality” to active “pluralism” changes everything for me. Eck takes us beyond rainbows and fuzzy idealism, beyond us- and them-ism, beyond who’s right and who’s wrong, toward a groundbreaking, action taking, life re-arranging challenge and opportunity. Eck’s powerful choice of words; cultivation, space and encounter don’t necessarily add up to agreement or uniformity but they do add up to relationship.
Again, Eck strikes a chord:
“Pluralism… is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.”
My own faith community is a microcosm of the possibility of pluralism lived out over time. I lead a small faith community that came together many years ago and has stuck together through thick and thin. Together as a community, our life has given us occasion to navigate theological conversions and diversions, some divorces, the collapse of our mother church, graduations and adoptions, addictions- our own or our loved ones, economic boom and financial collapse. marriages, births and deaths (not always staged in that order).
We started as a rather monolithic group of slightly charismatic Evangelicals in our early years of marriage and of raising young children. Now 20 some years later, although life has taken us on various courses, we faithfully gather to share, worship, study, serve and create together. No longer monolithic, we are a motley mixture of people with affiliation to United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Greek Orthodox, Albanian Orthodox, Baptist, Christian Missionary Alliance and Presbyterian congregations. Some of us have detached from the “institutional” church completely, others have rediscovered faith in artist communities, others embrace doubt. Some are Republicans and others Democrats, some are prochoice and others are prolife. Some hold to Creationism and others are Darwinists. Some doubt the credibility of global warming and others are environmental activists. Some are Universalists and others are staunch Calvinists. Some are black and some are white. Some are grandparents and others are single college students. We are a small enough community that there is no anonymity. We are who we are.
Although all these things are true, we don’t generally think of each other in these categorical ways. We are bound together by shared history, by a heart for the poor, by care and respect that transcends “belief”, by many shared meals, by laughter and tears, by the stories we have trusted each other with, by the burdens we have borne together and by the strong thread of Jesus in our lives and in our midst.
As we have grown and changed over the years I recognize we have continually cultivated relational space which makes it possible to share an encounter of commitments. We retain our unique identities and hold our deepest differences even as we participate in dynamic, creative, life-rearranging relationships together. In a world split by difference, this is a hopeful story.