The Village Spirit

religious symbolsBy Rev. Kathy Nolte
Pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Oak Park

Each issue of The Oak Parker will feature a piece on an aspect of the religious/spiritual communities in Oak Park.

When you envision God, what do you picture? Michelangelo’s fifteenth-century muscular male with flowing white hair? A long-faced, white-skinned, bearded young man surrounded by children? Or perhaps you prefer an ethereal figure that has no real substance or color.

Often we depict God as something that comes from our own cultural experience or, especially when trying to be open to differences, we strip all cultural distinction from God. Yet neither is particularly helpful and can be inhibiting our value of diversity. Religion is one of our core belief systems; it is often the basis of our values and ethics. When we depict God as “one of us,” we lift our own particular cultural values and ethics as higher than those of others. Alternately, when we strip our image of God of all cultural contexts we put our values and ethics in opposition to culture, as if the purpose of religion is to rise above cultural trappings.

However, a simple look at the diversity of human beings and myriad cultural behaviors and ideas is evidence of the creative capacity of our Divine Maker. Our ability to look and act differently from one another is not our human construct, but that of the One who made us. We reflect God’s image not just through our physical being, but also through our cultural behaviors, ideas, and even our tastes in particular foods.

Therefore, our work to create a village that values diversity is not just a good idea for those with a liberal social viewpoint—it is nothing less than an attempt to see God more clearly, for no single culture or race can fully depict the vast meaning of the Divine Maker. It takes all of us working together, lifting up and celebrating the differences of our culture and race.

It isn’t enough to make space for people who look and act differently from us. We must reach out on a personal level and invite people to bring their customs and foods into our homes, schools and businesses. We must take a look through the eyes of a Hindu who celebrates holidays with Rama or Vishnu. As our children celebrate their friend’s bar-mitzvah or bat-mitzvah, they don’t just have a cultural experience, but rather their understanding of the Divine Maker expands. When the block party potluck table has pitas, naans, rye bread, and corn bread from a variety of favorite family recipes, we begin to see God with greater clarity.

It is easy to imagine that the diversity of plant and animal life as part of God’s intention for the world. That is why I believe that human diversity, in all its fullness, is part of God’s intention. The more we embrace this diversity, whether in the physical attributes of human beings or in the cultural trappings from our particular tribe, the more we understand God and live into the fullness of God’s intention for the world.

Photo: Flickr user Ben Sutherland