Diversity and the Mystery of God

A major international football tournament is just what we needed to get that feeling of a normal English summer back, don’t you think?

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I wonder, though, what that deceptive phrase ‘normal English summer’ means to you. Neville Cardus famously said that there can be no summer in England without cricket. I have every sympathy, but the cricket of 2021 is not at all the same thing as the game I grew up watching during the school holidays. Another feature of my childhood summers was the annual trip to Skegness, to visit my grandparents. That image of holidaymakers at the most ‘bracing’ of seasides might also be a symbol of a ‘normal English summer’ to many.

Normality, though, is nothing more than a statistical abstraction, what’s left after you’ve stripped out all the diversity and complexity and reduced everything to an average. Sometimes that can be a useful thing to do, but a lot of the time it can suppress the very thing that is of most value.

Not everybody loves cricket, for example, and some people actively enjoy going to Skegness. I may find it hard to understand either of those perspectives, but others find it just as hard to understand mine. Life would be awfully boring if this were not the case.

Religion, as a human phenomenon, has often feared diversity and sought to enforce compliance to ‘normality’. Not for nothing was the Church of England founded on a series of statutes all called ‘Act of Uniformity’. Those were times when departing from the norm could cost you your life.

I suspect this is partly because if we take our faith at all seriously we will be committed to the idea that it is true. If we fall into the trap of seeing the truth as a narrow thing, a norm that allows no room for diversity of perspective, it’s a short step to condemning everyone who differs from us, even in the tiniest detail.

Thankfully, that is not the Christian idea of truth. The truth of God is quite properly beyond our grasp, a holy mystery, and our understanding of God is often enhanced by sharing different perspectives on the life of faith. The Bible gives us four different accounts of the life of Jesus, it seems to me, precisely because the first generation of Christians thought it important to preserve those different individual perspectives.

We’ll be hearing a lot about normality in the coming weeks and months. It will be as well to remember that each person’s idea of normal is as unique as they are themselves. Diversity is nothing to fear, and something is always lost when we silence the voice that sings a different tune.

May God bless you all,