One of the hallmarks of the Generous Space Community is the willingness to embrace “both / and.” Much of our world is split into an “either / or” mentality. Either you are liberal or you are conservative. Either you are affirming or you are non-affirming. Such polarity can quickly deteriorate into extremes and in worst case scenarios the vilifying and scapegoating of the other. Either you are with me or you are against me. Either agree with me 100% or I cannot trust you and must see you as the enemy.
In contrast, “both / and” invites us into a space where we see nuance, mystery, and even paradox as fertile places for growth and transformation. Difference doesn’t need to be threatening and it doesn’t have to be a problem to fix. Difference might actually enlarge the values that we hold dear: compassion, understanding, patience, humility, forgiveness, love.
Difference might actually enlarge the values that we hold dear: compassion, understanding, patience, humility, forgiveness, love.
I am both a committed follower of Jesus and I want to learn from those of a different faith. I am both pursuing justice for LGBTQ+ people and I want to listen deeply to the hearts of those who hold traditional views on sexuality and marriage within the church. I am both strongly independent and I choose to intentionally cultivate interdependent relationships in community.
“Both / and” is, in many ways, a very freeing place to be. I can anticipate seeing good and finding God at work in the one who is very different than I am. And I, myself, don’t need to be limited to compartmentalized little boxes, but can express the reality of the tensions I live with as I seek to learn and to love well.
“Both / and” can also be a draining place to be. It requires us to be fully present, attuned to what is going on inside of ourselves. It challenges our quick, defensive reactions and reminds us to hit “pause” before taking offense. It continually asks us to see things from the other’s perspective. It calls us to live out the words, “If I diminish you…I diminish myself” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu). And this is hard. Instead of harvesting the energy that the fear and anger of “us vs. them” creates, “both / and” cultivates a spirit of relinquishment – that when you’re first practicing feels exhausting.
If I diminish you…I diminish myself.
~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu
That is why we need the “both / and” of affinity and difference. We need to find people who are like us, who think and believe like us, who understand us without much effort, and who share similar dreams, goals, and commitments. And we need to find people who are different than us, who stretch us, who enlarge in us the fruits of the Spirit, who invite us to see things from another perspective, who offer a mirror to our blind-spots, prejudices, and privilege. Both affinity and difference.
We seek to experience this at our retreats. The Ontario Generous Space Retreat is coming up May 4 – 7th and we will be offering multiple opportunities for dialogue and connection with affinity groups (finding those who are like us) and community groups (encountering those who are different than us). After running six of these retreats, I can honestly say that this integration of both affinity and difference is one of the richest aspects of being together.
One would expect that meaningful friendships would emerge from the affinity groups. What might be surprising is the number of lifelong friendships that have come out of the community groups. There is something deeply humanizing about seeing God in the other. We glimpse our shared image-bearing of God in each other. We taste the shared grace that God pours out. And we experience the beauty of being one in Christ.
Consider these words of Jesus:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Both affinity and difference. One of the beautiful ways we rest and grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Check out our other Generous Space Retreat 2017 Blog Reflections HERE!