I have known for a long time that I am not normal. I neither love nor hate Marmite, I do not have a mobile phone and I am unable to get excited by any sport that involves a ball. I tend to speed read books, taking just a couple of hours to cover what others spend a couple of days on, and I find it almost impossible to concentrate on a single task, being much more at ease when I am trying to do a few things at once.
My brother was probably mildly autistic, and did not possess terribly good social skills, but he was able to identify virtually any piece of music from its first few bars and able to remember the colour and pattern of a pair of socks worn by a casual acquaintance whom we met a few days previously. My traits are quite different from those he possessed but no less off-centre in their own way.
We both shared a fairly agile mind when it came to numbers, and though I struggle to remember names, faces, clothes and what I was doing yesterday, I can remember the price of virtually any food item that I have seen in various shops and supermarkets.
I and some friends were recently discussing enneagrams, and following our conversation I decided to check myself out. It was no great surprise to discover that my highest scores were on two types that are generally considered opposites. A few years ago I went on a course aimed at helping people to discover spiritual gifts. My two highest scores were for hospitality and the prophetic, and the trainer raised an eyebrow as he commented that it is not usually possible to combine those two things.
I am now of an age and experience where I have come to terms with my oddities and am assured that God copes with them as well. I recognise that some people find it strange that I combine very high levels of ability in some areas – I am able to co-ordinate and organise a concert, cook a meal for a couple of hundred people or give a concise history of theological development in the Church over several centuries – with very low levels in other areas. I am unable to use a mobile phone, find a station on the radio or get round to filing that one piece of paper that has been on my desk for six weeks.
In learning how to cope with myself, I have found that God has given me an increasing appreciation of the vast range of differences in others. I have learnt that the God who creates every snowflake with a different pattern, actually loves diversity in the church. I have come to understand that unity and uniformity are not only different but are diametrically opposed to each other. I find myself increasingly disappointed to discover churches where the range of activities, style of service, and songs sung have been copied from either a church up the road or one a couple of thousand miles away. I find it very sad when a standard way of doing things is imposed on the basis of denominational identity, ethnicity or social background. Whilst I recognise that in a fallen world there is natural pull for like to gather with like – it is generally both safe and comfortable – in the new world the lion will lay down with the lamb, and I want to have a foretaste of the new world in this life.
I am committed therefore, to exploring the differences that people can bring into the Kingdom of God as it is expressed through the Church. Social background, ethnicity, age, abilities, preferences of style and of course the full range of gifts, natural, spiritual and supernatural. Not everything will be acceptable. Because we are fallen, some things will need to be repented of, left behind and laid aside, but many things will be far more enriching than we can possibly imagine.
I have done some preparation on my own funeral service, and the words I have chosen to accompany the photo on the service sheet are: ‘He was excellent in parts’. These could probably apply to many of us. I am persuaded that it is a far better use of our time to seek out and appreciate the excellent parts that are likely to be there somewhere, rather than the often much easier task of identifying and exposing the bad.