In many ways I think these kind of ideas were floating about my head anyway. How can they not be when you are part of a church that has as many factions as there are days in the year? We all know it's a naff example to be setting to the world but we can't help ourselves. I'm in, you're out. It's the story of the centuries, of humanity itself and definitely of the church.
The week on conflict taught me that, in some ways, this is all quite natural. We are categorizing creatures. When we see something, including another human being, we want to make sense of it, put it in safely in a box with a recognizable label on it so we know what to do with that person and how to take them. But the problem is these labels are artificial and limiting for the person we stick them on and mind shrinking for ourselves. All the many possibilities that person presents to us are shut down. They are categorized. We have nothing to learn from them. How divisive. How dull!
Jesus was no stranger to in group/out group dynamics. Sometimes I think we can look back on his day with rosy specs on and think he had it so much easier than we do in our multi-faith, media laden culture where opinions are as ubiquitous as air. But I just don't think that's true. About forty years after Jesus died Jerusalem was tragically ransacked by the Romans because of the level of internal revolt. When Jesus was alive there were no shortage of parties pushing one agenda and others the exact opposite. There was the elite temple leaders and a whole bunch of people who thought they shouldn't be there. There were the Samaritans who thought they worshipped the same God as they did in Jerusalem but man, oh man, down at the Temple they did not agree.
And Jesus had his fair share of heated debates. He was hardly a head in the sand man, those kind of people don't tend to get executed. But he was resolute when it came to mixing with all kinds of people. Of resisting pigeon holing. He hung out with women, with Samaritans, with Romans, with temple workers, with revolutionaries and this mantle was taken on after his death by the Apostle Paul whose letters we have so many of in the New Testament. Paul says 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male or Female'. So basically whteher your British or African, work in Tesco or at Canary Wharf, a man or a woman, we are equally valuable in the eyes of God and God wants us to try and see each other as he does.
This doesn't mean sacking off your opinions or compromising what you believe. It just means looking to the other and hearing what they have to say before you put them into that box. It means avoiding like hell that desire to ridicule, to stereotype and assume. It means looking for shared values with others, seeking relationship, respecting their right to a voice as much as you respect your own. It means being a peacemaker. It is pretty hard work. I too am a natural pigeon holer. But it also blows your mind right open to new possibilities, new views, new ways of seeing things.