Thinking Anew – The richness of human diversity

 “When we isolate ourselves from those who are different, we lose gifts and talents that God gives us in the richness of human diversity.” Photograph: iStock

“When we isolate ourselves from those who are different, we lose gifts and talents that God gives us in the richness of human diversity.” Photograph: iStock

 

‘We have so many problems in our country, but to have a team like this, we come from different backgrounds, different races but we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it.” These visionary words of the captain of South Africa’s World Cup-winning rugby team, Siya Kolisi, in a postmatch interview were remarkable given his deprived childhood growing up in a township, a victim of apartheid and white supremacy.

In contrast at a recent European Championship football match in Sofia, fans made monkey chants, raised arms in Nazi salutes and verbally abused black players on the England national team.

The president of European soccer’s governing body called the behaviour unacceptable.

He can say that, but racial hatred has deep roots among too many, some even claiming that they are defending our Christian heritage.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom of the Russian Orthodox Church, who knew what it was to be an outsider, stressed the importance of respect for others: “To acknowledge another man’s right to be himself, not to resemble me, is the fundamental act of justice, which alone would make it possible for us to look at a man without trying to see and recognise ourselves in him, but to recognise and beyond within him, to discern the image of the Lord.”

When we isolate ourselves from those who are different, we lose gifts and talents that God gives us in the richness of human diversity.

For example, this year’s London Prom concerts included an event to honour Nina Simone, a talented black musician from North Carolina. whose exceptional talent was recognised early. She had dreams of becoming a concert pianist and enrolled in a New York music school before applying for a scholarship to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. But she was turned down despite a well-received audition, a decision she attributed to racial prejudice.

Many years later and two days before she died in 2003 the same institute gave her an honorary degree, a delayed recognition of a talent once scorned. In September 5,000 people, including her granddaughter, gathered in the Royal Albert Hall in London to celebrate her genius but also to reflect on what might have been.

It is not fashionable nowadays to talk about judgment – a first cousin of accountability – but Sunday’s readings remind us that judgment is always on God’s lips because actions have consequences.

The biblical narrative maintains that God’s judgment is twofold: it is against those who withhold justice and equity from those they don’t like or care about and it promises vindication for their victims. A reading from the prophet Malachi warns “the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble . . . But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”

The gospel reading resonates with an earlier event when Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because they failed to recognise “the things that make for peace”, certain that the city would be destroyed as a consequence.

Tomorrow’s gospel reading is more specific stating that the Temple would be reduced to rubble. That occurred in AD 70, so for the first hearers of Luke’s gospel, possibly written close to the event, the unthinkable may have already taken place. But something greater was happening: a community of faith, the church, was emerging with Jesus Christ at its head, with a vision of peace and reconciliation. And however imperfect the church does its work – and it has failed too often in that regard – that remains a vital part of its calling. Desmond Tutu knew what was required when he wrote: “There is a certain kind of dignity we admire, and to which we aspire, in the person who refuses to meet anger with anger, violence with violence, or hatred with hatred.” His fellow South African Siya Kolisi did all that and more in his moment of rugby glory; he spoke of “the things that make for peace”.

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