Love is flexible

For a diverse group of people to truly live and worship together in community, we need to be willing to change.

One Voice Fellowship is a community that celebrates unity among diverse people. We are from all corners of the world, so we think, sing, pray, eat, and live in different ways. This variety of human experience is beautiful and part of God’s design. But it frequently causes division. How can we respond when human differences create friction? R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. tells a helpful story in his book, Building a House for Diversity.

A giraffe built a home perfect for his family, with soaring ceilings, tall doorways, and narrow hallways. While working in his woodshop one day, the giraffe saw an elephant he knew, because their children attend school together. The giraffe decided to invite the elephant in to see his woodshop, because he knew they shared a passion for woodworking.

The elephant gladly accepted. But, as he entered the giraffe’s home, the elephant started breaking things. The stairs cracked under his weight. The doorways and walls crumbled because he was so big.

The giraffe looked around in amazement! Then he said, “I see the problem. The doorway is too narrow for you. We have to make you smaller. If you take some aerobics classes, we could get you down to size.”

“Maybe,” said the elephant, looking unconvinced.

“And the stairs are too weak to carry your weight,” the giraffe continued. “If you go to ballet classes, you won’t weigh as much. I really hope you’ll do it. I like having you here.”

“Perhaps,” the elephant said. “But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure that a house designed for a giraffe would ever really work for an elephant, not unless there are some major changes.”

Mr. Thomas explains his parable this way: “The giraffes are the people in control. They, or their ancestors, built the house. They decide the policies and procedures…and know the unwritten rules for success because they created them…The elephant is warmly invited and generally welcomed, but he is the outsider. The house was not built with the elephant in mind. To get along in someone else’s house, the elephants must leave their needs and their differences at the front door.”

Too often, our churches treat elephants (newcomers who aren’t from the majority culture) like this. We are very glad they’ve come to visit. But as they try to get comfortable, to settle into the community, they learn they are expected to change. In the story, the elephant resists bearing the full burden of change. He thinks maybe the giraffe’s house should make some changes.

One of the central values of One Voice Fellowship is that we are all willing to be flexible, to make changes to accommodate one another. Sometimes we pray in English, but we often pray in other languages. Sometimes a single person prays out loud, but we often pray simultaneously—because that is more comfortable for some of us. Sometimes we sing hymns that are familiar and meaningful to portions of our community. But we also sing new songs, in various languages, perhaps with a tempo that is unfamiliar. We do these things because we love one another, we learn from each other, and we are more complete together!

Would you please pray with us and for us? We want to do the hard but glorious work necessary to “live in such harmony with one another” (Romans 15:5) that it can be explained only by the presence and power of Christ among us.