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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Seeing & saying the other side

This Christian practice lets us live in paradoxical faithfulness

In Scandia, Minn., where I grew up in the early 50s, everybody was Lutheran. Most people were Swedish farmers, belonged to the co-op and drove General Motors cars. It was even less diverse than the fictional Lake Wobegon because there were no Roman Catholics. I was socialized into a common worldview with shared absolutes for living.

Such uniformity is difficult to find today. With more diversity, there is also less certainty. For anybody who remembers and longs for quiet lives in common worlds, difference is unsettling and the promise of certainty can be seductive.

Cultural and religious diversity, once hidden by geographic distance or cultural imperialism, is now in our neighborhoods, churches and families. As a result, learning to honor difference is an unavoidable and irreversible dimension of daily living for more and more people. If the differences become overwhelming, the human inclination is to divide the world between us and them, to look for absolutes or to regard the stranger as necessarilydangerous.

Whenever our world is made larger and more diverse, clarity is diminished. That is the fundamental paradox of life and faith. And the more willing we are to be inclusive, the more we must live with ambiguity and practice paradoxical thinking.


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September issue

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