Several years ago, I took a course called The History of [Christian] Doctrine. Our professor, Dr. John D. Hannah, said something that has always stuck with me. He said that, over the course of history, Catholics and Protestants walked through the same field of theological wildflowers, picking as they went. When they arrived at the other end of the field, they found that they were holding very different bouquets.
In fact, each individual person holds a different bouquet, don’t we? Not only do we hold different orthodoxies (beliefs) of varying priority and importance to us, but we each hold different orthopraxes (practices, traditions, expressions of faith) of varying priority and importance.
A lot of us can tend to feel quite unsettled about this. We feel considerably more comfortable and unified when everyone is speaking in unison. But that is not the nature of unity! Unity is unnecessary when all are in unison. Unity is a moot point when the vote is unanimous. Unity is essential exactly because unison is never quite achieved. We will always disagree about something. Unity is a gift for which Jesus prayed desperately exactly because utter unanimity is impossible.
Picture the flower market – I do hope you’ve been! Every color of the rainbow. Every combination of flowers imaginable. The Merchant puts her whole heart into her art – the fragile art of everything goes. Sometimes the customer chooses the arrangement that fits him best; sometimes the arrangement chooses him.
Take my friend Megan. Her mom has a degree in special education. Megan herself obtained a degree in special education. Then, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy (who is now a strong and handsome 8-year-old young man) who has Down syndrome. Her bouquet has a gorgeous lily right in the center – the Lily of Compassion for the Underrepresented, Strength for the Marginalized, and Passionate Conviction that Jesus Came to Include Everybody.
Take my husband Jason. He is a renaissance man: an inquisitive mind and a burgeoning creativity are his great gifts. By day, he is – for better and for worse – the living Google for all the people around him. By trade, he puts his brains together with other people to help them launch businesses that take care of people (owners, staff, and patrons + physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional care). His bouquet is wildly eclectic – poppies and ferns and so many trailing vines! His dominant beliefs and rhythmic practices change often, but they are awake and alive and ever stretching out of his life, reaching out to others. And all are tied firmly together by his singular bottom line: How can what we do lead to greater human flourishing around here?
Take my friend Laura. Her dad was a geology professor. She is a hydrologist; her husband is a hydrogeologist. They have worked all their lives taking care – and helping other people take care – of the earth: rock, soil, water. Near the center of her bouquet is a stunning Daisy of Protection and Conservation of our Planet.
What are you holding in your bouquet? We need every single one. We need all of them together! We need them to be different, unique, and opened toward the sun. Jesus is Creator and ongoing Savior of every single molecule in the universe; how can any bouquet be excluded?!
Just hold your bouquet. Carry it with you wherever you go. Keep it nourished, watered, and open to the sun. Let the sun decide which flowers it will unfold to a bigger blossom and which flowers it will shrivel over time. Yes, it still has some weedy, rotting stems mixed throughout. It is still beautiful.
So, proudly and humbly bring your Tulip of Compassion for the Homeless into groups where there are no tulips yet – where, perhaps, the flowers of safety and city beautification dominate the bouquets. Maybe some people have never even seen tulips before. Or maybe they’ve banned them for convenience. I think that all the flowers can go together. Somehow.
So, proudly and humbly bring your Peony of Women in Spiritual Leadership into institutions where there are very few peonies yet – where, perhaps, most people think that all peonies are aphid-infested. Maybe some people have no idea how they’re missing out! Show them the striking and substantial bulk of beauty that peonies can bring to any bouquet.
Just hold your bouquet. Carry it with you wherever you go. And let others hold and carry theirs. Expect them to bring theirs; welcome each and every flower, even with what feel like thorns to you. Resist the urge to clean up others’ bouquets to be how you think they ought to be. Let the Spirit of God himself be responsible for that. We need every bouquet. May we all keep them well watered and turned toward the sun.