Unity and uniformity are not the same thing.
And thank goodness! Imagine what the world would be like if we were all the same. Imagine what the world would be like if all the trees and flowers, animals and birds were all the same.
Well, you can't, really, can you? Such perfect uniformity is beyond our ability to comprehend. Thank goodness again.
We're all unique, not only in appearance but in age, gender, sexual orientation, personality, skills, philosophy, culture, religion - the list goes on. In fact, all of creation is unique and different. But we are all still part of the one world in which we live.
In one of his letters to the people in Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds them of that. He was responding to squabbles and divisions in their community. So he reminds them that everyone has their own gifts - abilities, skills, talents - but there is only one source of life from which those gifts come. Paul calls it the Spirit or the power of God, that gives these gifts, but we might also know it as the power of creation or the energy of life, or we might know it simply as love. However you know it, it’s both the source of our life and the thing that connects us all.
If only Paul could think of a metaphor for how unique and diverse we are, that also shows how we’re connected. Something that reminds us that we all need each other. Something that includes everything and everyone, even the things we’d rather not have to deal with, and reminds us that they’re all important. All of them. We could really use that now, Paul.
Together, Paul writes, we are one body and each is a different and individual part of that one body. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12). Furthermore, everyone is a different part of that body, just as everyone has different gifts and abilities, and every member is important to the body. Everyone is needed. Everyone is equal.
Yes, equal. Though, in fairness, Paul says that the least are in fact greater: "God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). That’s how we have health and wholeness.
But that isn't what we do, is it? It wasn’t the practice in Paul’s day, either. Back then, the metaphor of the body was already in use as a way to describe a city or town. And it was used as a means to assign not only gifts and abilities but status as well. Those that did the work that made them feet and hands did not have the same status as those who did the thinking, for example. While everyone was necessary to the whole, your status was determined by the value of your ability to the whole. For many, it still is.
But Paul's body isn’t about commodities, it’s about people. The body that Paul describes reflects love for everyone, no matter who they are, what they do, what they think or know or feel or even what they believe. In this body, every member is a part of the whole simply by "being" in the first place. In fact, in this body, the strong care for the weak, the wise care for the foolish, the big care for the small, everyone respects everyone and we’ve learned that everyone is a gift worthy of love and sharing.
If we want our communities to be healthy and whole, maybe this is a good place to start.