I've been doing a lot of thinking about community building and hospitality in a church context. When we look to belong we often look to people who are like us. Same social standing, same economic background, same interests, same...... those social groupings are based on our own concept of normalness. To begin to let the group grow beyond that normality is seen as taking risks or messy or rocking the status quo.
Or is it?
I recently came across the 'Parable of the Polygons' which was shared on facebook. This attracted me because of the word Polygon and probably put a lot of people off because it sounds a bit mathematical. Anyway, have a read and a go, it is really interesting - like a game you could play for ages..... and there are graphs.
The general gist of the Parable of the Polygons is that the choices we make in the way we relate to different social groupings and the way we invite people to be part of our own social groupings can cause harm if we don't make those choices carefully. We can say we are seeking equality, we are seeking to embrace all, but in making bad choices as to who we spend time with we could be creating a community made up of unhappy triangles....it'll all make sense if you have a play... go on, I dare you.
The writer wraps up with three points, the last one of which tells us to 'demand diversity near you'. They say that we need to look around us and that if we are all triangles we're going to be 'missing out on some amazing squares in your life - that's unfair to everyone'.
The results of this parable are interesting - that where we demand a bit of diversity in our groupings, this makes a huge positive difference overall.
So, why is this important in the context of a church community?
Well, words are batted around about being welcoming, inclusive, seeking diversity; we say that God's love is for everyone, not just people like us, that Jesus died on the cross for everyone, not just those we like, they just need to respond to him. But then we mourn (or some of us secretly love I reckon) the fact that churches are monochrome, made of one generation, too family orientated, too feminine, too masculine, just too.....
What the Parable of the Polygons shows us is that where a small minority are committed to challenging the biases that naturally exist in our communities, that can make a difference, but that it takes work. It doesn't take giving up and hoping it happens. It doesn't take giving in and saying 'well this inevitable'. It takes 2,3, 4..... people who are committed to being anti-biased to change a community, and as more people see the change, feel the change, recognise it as beneficial to the wider community they will join too.
In recognising the diversity that should naturally exist in the people we group with as a local church, we recognise how society has changed. We'd like to hold on to a time when society was not as it is today, but then we miss the beauty of what we can learn from the God places - the thin places where heaven and earth meet that exist in the communities around us.
So perhaps we need to change where the boundaries are, and that's what those triangles and squares seeking diversity are doing. Where the status quo changes to something more reflective of where people actually are, where the diversity of culture is expressed, then the community we are part of becomes better, more beautiful, more reflective of the Image of God in which we were created. In the end perhaps we'll be happier together....?
I've been reading 'Tracks and Traces' by Paul Fiddes. I love this book... he says on p133....
".... If we are to minister to society as a whole, and to its various social groupings that can no longer be confined to a nuclear family, then we must learn to 'open up space' within the boundaries of the gathered church. We must learn hospitality which is not patronizing and which values people for whom they are. We must let our living space overlap with others".
A type of hospitality that is unbiased? Welcoming the squares and the triangles and the shapes with curved edges? Is that more normal than gathering with people who are like me? Is that what a church with Christ at the head should look like?