I recently had a brief conversation with Jennifer Adams, CEO of Lumina Alliance (formerly RISE SLO + Stand Strong). She talked about all of the ways that Lumina Alliance serves individuals and families in our community, and works for a community free from sexual and intimate partner violence.
One of the things that really stood out to me was an important change in terminology they made. Previously, she said, they talked about providing services to individuals regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities, veteran status, gender identity and expression, political beliefs, religious beliefs, immigration status, etc. Now, she said, they talk about serving individuals in their diversity in all these areas.
To me, that was a huge shift. I’ve never been a fan of the word “regardless.” Doesn’t that mean that you’re trying to overlook or forget something? I looked up synonyms for regardless and found many, including these: in spite of everything, anyhow, anyway, whatever, after all, and inattentive. Antonyms (which sounded better to me) included alert, attentive, concerned, observant, and considerate.
I thought to myself, “When I speak with someone about an important life or health matter, do I want them to work with me regardless of my experiences, beliefs, and self-understanding? In spite of all these things, as if they were a mere appendage, not necessarily connected to me? Or do I want someone to acknowledge these things, and ask how they are a help (or an impediment) to the challenges I’m facing? Of course,” I thought, “I would want all the things that make me, me acknowledged.”
All of these experiences, capacities, and self understandings make us who we are. There is no self without them. A self devoid of all these things simply does not exist. It is an idea.
This is important when we think about our relationship with God. Some believe that only when we transcend our uniqueness and our perspective can we understand the divine. But a better way to think, in my opinion anyway, is to think that we understand God and have a relationship with God in our diversity. We each understand God a little bit differently, we each relate to God a little bit differently.
Recognizing that our (and others’) understandings of and relationships with God are conditioned by our unique experiences and self-understandings might help us make more room for others who think about God differently. We don't need to think of one person being right and another wrong. We can think of God as large enough to contain all of our unique understandings.
In the time of year when Christians like me remember God becoming flesh and dwelling among us through the Christ child, may we imagine God as large enough to contain all flesh, all experiences, all self-understandings, all of humanity, in all of our diversity.