Living in harmony with difference

Reflections

Reflecting on two recent Anglican conferences, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall explores how we can live in harmony with ourselves and others: “How can we live in harmony as one church when we have deep convictions that seem to be directly opposed to each other?”

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Each year the bishops and the heads of Anglican schools in southern Queensland spend two days together to reflect, converse and pray. We did so again last month. Each year we choose a book to read beforehand as a kind of catalyst or thought provoker for our time together. This year’s book was Other, by Kester Brewin, an English maths teacher and theologian.

Brewin is fascinated by the question ‘what kind of selves do we need to be in order to live in harmony with others?’ Brewin thinks the key is found in Jesus’ summary of the law: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. So he explores how you can love yourself, even ‘the other’ within yourself (the bits we don’t like and try to hide or even bits we don’t know about); how can you love your neighbour, even those whom you find strange and off-putting; and how can you love God who is totally other and strangest of all.

Our world desperately needs answers to these questions if we are to avoid descending into chaotic violence where the strongest rule by annihilating the weaker. Violence can be physical violence with firearms and other weapons. It can be verbal, shouting louder and longer than opponents. More and more violence is digital: bullying, campaigns of outrage, manipulation. We see it everywhere. Our TV’s and smartphones are full of it.

The national bishops meeting also occurred in March. It had a similar theme: living with theological difference. Our conversations this year centred on same-sex relationships and marriage. There are considerable differences in theological views, yes even among the bishops. How can we live in harmony as one church when we have deep convictions that seem to be directly opposed to each other?

In families, in schools, in workplaces, in churches there is increasing diversity of all sorts: diversity of identity and sense of self, gender diversity, diversity in sexual orientation, different interpretations of the bible, different perceptions of God and what God expects of us. In wider society and internationally this diversity is multiplied and amplified many times over: different faiths, different ideologies, different political theories, different values, different economic frameworks.

Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. It sounds straight forward. But, as Kester Brewin reminds us:

“It is easy to love what is lovely, but we are called to love what is other.

It is easy to love what is familiar, but we are called to love what is strange.

It is easy to love what is comforting, but we are called to love what is disturbing…”

 

‘What kind of selves do we need to be in order to live in harmony with others?’

With every blessing for the Easter season,

Archbishop Phillip Aspinall

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