The previous owners of my home put much effort into creating beautiful gardens and landscaping. One of my favorite spaces they created is one they called The Blue Garden. Another is The White Garden. Each of these spaces has bushes, bulbs, and trees that bloom in either blue or white, respectively. They are lovely. And, yet, they feel oddly unnatural. So far no purple or yellow interlopers have attempted to diversify these gardens … but it’s bound to happen!
Nature is full of diversity … so diverse that explorers of the natural world continue to discover previously undiscovered plants, animals, and bacteria. Nothing seems at all odd to me to come across a place in the forest with yellow, white, purple and red blossoms intermingled among the many shades of green growth.
So why is it that we humans tend toward segregation, especially on Sunday morning? A white couple I knew many years ago shared their experience of returning to the United States after a year living in Jamaica. When they first walked into a church upon their return they experienced a sense of dissonance to see a room full of white people … they did not see a Black person anywhere in the room.
Our comfort or discomfort with human diversity depends so much on our intercultural competency which is shaped by our experiences and mindset. Some move through multicultural spaces with joy and gratitude. Some hardly notice diversity … unaware that other cultural perspectives exist. Most minimize diversity leaning towards assimilation to the dominant cultural norms, with the best of intentions, but without making space for full self-expression of ones authentic cultural experience, inviting a wide range of voices to the tables where choices and decisions are made, and unintentionally limiting the level of creativity in the community.
Unitarian Universalist congregations are uniquely poised to be the most diverse religious spaces among the many faiths, in large part because we welcome a wide range of theological perspectives and beliefs. We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people and the promote the interdependent web of all existence, so all ought to feel welcome in our spaces. Yet, we join the large percentage of religious communities that are segregated on Sunday morning. In spite of our hidden diversities, we lack racial and ethnic diversity in most of our congregations.
Who do you notice is missing in your religious spaces? What do you hope for in the diversity of your congregation? What challenges you in being even more welcoming? What changes might be difficult if your religious community were more diverse? What changes might be fabulous?