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Through the eyes of others…

Monday 25th January 2016

I was once asked by a Russian television journalist in Kazakhstan if I thought there might one day be a single world religion whereby everyone would live in peace. I said no. His suggestion sounded totalitarian - something the Russians thought they had just escaped from when the Soviet Union collapsed.

One reason for my answer was simply that such a world sounds boring. Yet, as we experience every day, the world is full of colour and difference - or diversity as we now have to call it. Even human beings, made in the image of God (as Genesis puts it), are unique and different.

Now, you might be thinking that a bishop ought to be making the Russian journalist happy by proclaiming that it would be wonderful if everyone in the world was a Christian and behaved as Christians should behave. Well, I think you would be wrong. Even Christians differ widely: in culture, language, styles of worship, lifestyles, priorities, relationships, and so on. In the past these differences were often seen as a problem - the scandal of division. Yet, today they can also be seen as a strength, allowing a wide range of approaches to worship and culture that are appropriate to different contexts and communities. Churches have different ways of organising, shaping authority and order, expressing ministry and evangelism. We have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”, but we are not boringly all the same in the ways we live out our discipleship of that one Lord.

I think this is important. The fact of difference means that we are forced to look at ourselves through the eyes of people or communities who see differently. In fact, we can only really understand ourselves if we look through the eyes of others and see as we are seen. This provides a check on our arrogance and on our self-regard. Unless we are afraid, the fact of difference enables us to see beyond our own horizons and imagine a different way of being.

In fact, this invitation to “see differently” runs through the Bible like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. The word we often use for it is ‘repentance’: dare to look differently at God, the world and us ... in order to see differently in order to think differently and then live differently. The invitation is also a challenge. But, it’s not a boring one.

The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines
Bishop of Leeds

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