Accepting our differences can help us build a better world
Allen Sleith, Hillsborough Presbyterian Church
A friend gave me a present for Christmas. While it was neatly enclosed in wrapping paper, the shape suggested the gift was a book. And so it proved to be, a lovely slim volume called Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, written by Padraig O Tuama, the leader of that famous community, with an attractive image on the cover from its Ballycastle coastline site.
The main feature of the book is a month-long cycle of prayers based on texts from the New Testament Gospels.
They are wonderful prayers, written in the collect style, and evoke something of the spiritual insight and poetic touch of Janet Morley and John O'Donohue, both of whom have written in that genre to great effect.
But it was a quote from the introduction or, as the author calls it, Oremus, which means 'Let us pray', that I found most arresting. He writes: "From its beginning, Corrymeela has welcomed people who bring their differences on pilgrimage with them.
"At Corrymeela, we do not seek to undo differences, merely we hope and pray that we can learn to hold our differences differently."
"Learn to hold our differences differently" - that's a standout quote and one that acts as both judge and aspiration for any number of contexts ranging from the intensely personal to the broadly political.
As criterion or standard, it judges us and finds us sorely wanting. Since we humans are not clones or objects churned out by automated machines, we are intrinsically unique and therefore different. Life's experiences further that process of diversification, posing a whole raft of possible responses to the differences we inhabit and encounter.
Recent political phenomena have been illustrative of a depressingly recurrent pattern when people try to deal with those who differ from them.
The collapse of the Stormont Executive, the chaotic rush to Brexit and the even more chaotic tenure of the Trump presidency obviously vary in detail, but all bespeak either an inability or unwillingness or both to deal with differences creatively.
I'd like to say that communities of faith, including the churches, did better here than the world at large, but the evidence in support is sadly lacking.
So a New Year's resolution - let us learn to hold our differences differently.