Through our diversity we reveal God’s beauty

Over the next few months we’ve invited folks from across Mennonite Church USA to reflect on our Journey Forward and consider how they’ve seen Renewed Commitments at work in their lives, their congregation or community. If you’d like to contribute to this series by highlighting stories that bring our shared values to life, email JenniferC@MennoniteUSA.org

Dayna Olson-Getty is a pastor at Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She lives with her husband, one living son, and Fidget the kitten in the Newtown neighborhood. She is currently writing a memoir, with funding from the Louisville Institute, about grief, motherhood and faith. 

“Through worship the Spirit gathers the body of Christ, where our diversity reveals God’s beauty.” — Journey Forward

A few years ago, our congregation received a stained glass window for the prayer room that adjoins our sanctuary. The window, created by artist Zac Nafziger, is a breathtaking collage of deep blues, swirled with eddies of purple and green, interspersed with translucent and semi-translucent arches, and punctuated with small droplets of deep red.

The day Zac’s window was installed, I eagerly joined the other church staff in the tiny prayer room to admire it. The sun shone through the glass, casting shadows in hues from indigo to lavender on the freshly painted white plaster walls. Through the translucent spaces near the middle, I could see the watery impressions of green trees and grass nearby. The colors and shapes filled me with a deep sense of stillness and, at the same time, made me want to dance.

But what did it mean?

It wasn’t until a friend gently pointed it out that I realized Zac’s creation wasn’t entirely abstract. The clear and semi-clear arches near the middle form a pair of cupped, open hands. The rounded deep blue oblongs beneath them are streams overflowing from water pooled in them. Water droplets rush downward and splash back up, creating a dancing symphony of movement and light.

Now that I can see it, I can almost hear the rush of the water, can feel the pulse of burbling stream in my palms, splashing droplets on my face, inviting me to immerse my face, to drink deeply, to be washed and refreshed and made new.

Waters of creation, enfolded by the brooding Spirit. Israel’s parted Red Sea birth waters. Thirst-quenching water from a desert rock. Unending living waters in the glare of mid-day heat. Cool splash from wash basin on dirty, tired feet. Swift current of baptismal waters, enfolding age-old enemies, birthing new kinfolk. Healing river, gushing from eternal headwaters.

And punctuating these blue waters, droplets of deep red. Intoxicating, miraculous wedding wine. Blood of the new covenant. Sweat like blood. Birthing blood. Blood of the matryred ones. Abundant wine of the eternal feast.

The whole story of God’s people is there, dancing in blues and red, giving witness to the God who creates, calls, empowers, restores.

Each piece of glass is needed, needed as it was created to be — its own color, shape, texture, position, opacity, orientation. Only together do these fragments of glass tell a story much more awe-inspiring, more ancient, more transcendent than themselves.

Much of the conversation at our last MC USA assembly named the structures, systems and assumptions that exclude and restrict and devalue some of us, and that distort the image God is creating among us. Many of us called these structures “injustice,” “racism,” “patriarchy,” “colonialism,” “paternalism,” “homophobia.”

Over the last year, I’ve heard deep anxiety and fear from some of my fellow Mennonites about where this naming of injustice might lead us. Is “dismantling the patriarchy” code for undermining and attacking the people who spent their lives building and sustaining this church? If we honestly name ways that some among us have suffered oppression within our church, will those of us who have found opportunities, identity and significance in this community be silenced, shamed or excluded? Will naming the differences in our power and social locations, in the privilege and pain and histories of our peoples, destroy any chance for unity as one church?

My brothers and sisters, hear this good news: God’s call to unity does not require uniformity or conformity. God’s call to unity does not require that difference and dissent be eradicated from among us.

The unity God is calling us to embody together is like a stained-glass window made up of wildly diverse lives and peoples. God is inviting us to come together so that collectively we can give witness to the ancient and future story of God and God’s people. God is inviting us together to create a living image of God’s faithful and everlasting love, and to allow the light of the Spirit to stream through us, making this ancient story visible again in this time and place.

This stained-glass window doesn’t belong to any one of us or to any one group of us. It’s God’s design — God is the master artist, patiently sketching, calculating, measuring, cutting, and fitting our lives together. We need not be afraid, even if we cannot yet see the final image, or if we find that our place is not where we thought it would be. God will not forget or reject any of us in this patient process of creating a beautiful image of redeeming love. We will yet find our places, and together, in our diversity, reveal God’s beauty.

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All congregations are invited to use Journey Forward’s “Pathways” study guide. Find it and all Journey Forward updates here.

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