In my life as an identical twin, unrealistic expectations of my twin-hood abounded. On the one hand, people presumed my brother and I are identical — I mean perfectly duplicate copies of each other. On the other hand, people loved to compare and contrast, presuming — as I always have — that there are inherent differences.
The ‘identical twin’ designation is nevertheless a misnomer. Being an identical twin doesn’t mean I am a copy-cutter, mirror-image of my twin brother David. We are actually different!
And yet, my twin identity has contributed — I think — to some attitudes with which I’ve lived most of my life, attitudes that may not have been entirely helpful to my growth and maturity and development, spiritual and otherwise.
Particularly, I remember how important it was for me to recognize my own path, my own unique identity — apart from David’s. Until I was able to claim a unique place within the fabric of my family, my community of friends and church I often felt compelled to incessantly compare myself to David, which was exhausting and emotionally draining.
Until I could say to myself that “I am who I am” on my own two feet, I would too easily slip into negativity and self-rejection. Either because I was not good enough compared to David, or I had to be someone that I wasn’t, or better than I was. Or, relish in the victory that I beat out David in some way — for the moment, anyway!
From this kind of thinking emerges a work ethic, which is not unlike what many of us have likely heard or told ourselves growing up: “Try harder!” “You’re no good the way you are; you have to try to be something and someone that you aren’t now.” The striving and activity characterizing religion today has as its starting point: self-negation, self-rejection. “I’m no good the way I am; I have to get better.” Or, “we’re not good the way we are; we have to get better.”
In and of itself, this motivation is not bad. A yearning for completion, for healing and growth, for communion with God and one another is good and healthy. Denying our brokenness and sin is dangerous and ultimately destructive.
But when this desire becomes ego-centric in expressions of false humility or justifications for staying stuck — mired in a pious negativity (“I/we can’t do that; I’m/we’re no good” — we can so easily miss recognizing the whole point of our journeys of faith (“Yes I/we can, because of God’s grace and love!”).
Christians believe we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); we all have the imprint of God on our lives. But everyone doesn’t manifest the same divine qualities. Even identical twins!
Each of us reflects a unique aspect of God’s character. And this truth results in different gifts, different energies. Different ways of dealing with a similar situation, even. All good. All part of the beautiful diversity of creation.
Sometimes I wonder whether we haven’t confused the voice of brokenness and sin in each of us with our diversity. That just because you do something differently from me, just because you react in a different way to a situation we both face, just because you are different from me — that somehow either I have the right way and you have the wrong way, either you are sinful and I am righteous or vice versa, or we’re better than them.
What if by digging a bit deeper we recognize a shared truth about ourselves and our Lord? What if by inquiring a bit further we discover that it’s not that we’re better than them, but that they have simply gone about it in a different way — a way with which we’re merely unfamiliar. What if it’s not either/or? What if it’s both/and? And this awareness starts, I believe, not by insisting on conformity in the church, but by acknowledging, recognizing and celebrating our diversity.
Our diversity and variety make us whole and complete, as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). All parts are needed for the health of the Body, as Paul famously writes in his letter to the Corinthian Church. We can’t all be eyes, or we wouldn’t have a body. We can’t all be legs; that would look like a very funny body! We can’t all be hair, or we would be Tribbles on an old Star Trek episode — the Trouble with Tribbles! We are not like-minded people even though we belong to the same church — but we never were!
And that’s good! The way it ought to be!
During our weekly lectionary study, some of you noticed that John seemed particularly interested in mentioning that the disciples caught precisely 153 fish after following the instruction from Jesus to throw the net on the right side of the boat (John 21:1-19). Why mention an exact number: 153? Why not simply write: “They caught a whole mother-lode of fish!”?
Initially I just thought John throws a number out there simply to indicate that the disciples counted all the fish that would potentially be sold on the market, as professional fishers would do. This is not some made-up story, after all. This post-resurrection account is grounded in the economic reality of the day. These fishermen have to make a living off the fish they catch, right?
An early thinker, writer and leader in the church, Jerome, wrote in the fifth century that at the time it was assumed that there was a grand total of 153 species of fish. He went on to interpret that the 153 was a reference to the “completeness” of the church, which embraces all people (p.11, Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective). Suffice it to say, the citing of a number here is not arbitrary, but has a symbolic value and is therefore intentionally written such.
In the Gospel story, we witness two very different responses to Jesus in Peter and John: Peter, consistent with his impulsive character, jumps in the water and swims to Jesus. He’s all about action.
John, on the other hand, is the first to recognize that it is the Lord (v.7). His gift is recognition. What gift is this, you might ask? A very important one, evidently: It wasn’t just Mary who couldn’t at first recognize the risen Lord standing right in front of her in the garden the morning of the resurrection (20:11-18). In the locked, upper room the text suggests the frightened disciples don’t immediately recognize it is Jesus who comes and says, “Peace be with you”; it isn’t until they see his wounds that they can confess who he is (20:19-29). In Luke’s account of the post-resurrection appearances, the twins walked about ten kilometers from Jerusalem to Emmaus talking to a stranger they didn’t recognize was Jesus himself! (Luke 24:13-35). Being able to recognize the living Jesus in our midst, in the course of our daily lives — this is a gift. And John has it.
Peter is about action. John is about understanding. John doesn’t jump in the water and swim to shore. Peter doesn’t reflect, contemplate and perceive. Each does their part. Both have their unique gifts to bring to the disciples’ collective experience of the risen Lord. One without the other is inadequate. One is not better than the other. Both are equally valuable, even though they represent such diverse expressions of faith.
The church today needs a variety of gifts in order to respond fully to Christ’s presence in the world today, and in our lives. The church today — we — need to set aside our claims of priority and work together in patience, forgiveness and devotion to Jesus Christ who is alive! That goes not only for us in our congregation, but in terms of how we relate to other congregations, our Synod, our national church, other Lutheran and non-Lutheran denominations.
What are our unique gifts? What do we bring to the table? What are the gifts in those we meet who are very different from us?
Let’s dare to be who we are! Let’s embrace our individuality!