My neighbour asked me to share my thoughts on unity with her. She is preparing a worship service for her church and had recently discovered that I am a theologian. So far our efforts to connect to have the actual conversation hasn't panned out but I've been thinking and thought I'd share some of my thoughts here. I also think that it fits into the theme of the day.
The first thing I think about for unity is that it is not uniformity. This is foundational. Uniformity is, in my thinking, the opposite of unity. It is the inability to recognize others as others but to insist on conformity. In a real sense this represents the devaluing of the human spirit/potential, the inability to allow each of us to explore our unique journeys, or at least to not explore them in the company of those who insist on uniformity. Unity can only occur when there is real difference and a choice to live with the tensions that such differences might produce.
I will take a step further and say that unity, ideally speaking, celebrates difference. Unity is the overcoming of the tensions difference create not by subsuming all differences into some indefinite slurry, but rather by recognizing that we are not all identical and that our dissimilarities are often the sources of our strengths. These strengths are the contribution that makes unity desirable. When we bring our unique selves to the community we enrich the whole. (The opposite is when we force conformity then we rob the community of its ability to act/create.) So, religiously speaking, when I come to community I bring my whole identity with me.
In a very real sense there is a notion of tolerance implicit in unity. Not the kind of tolerance that forces differences to be understated, but the sort that is willing to explore the differences in others to understand why those differences matter to the other. Tolerance means we accept the other as the other truly is, even if we disagree with the position of the other. As a second step we try to understand the other on their own terms. Paying attention to how their difference(s) contribute to a stronger community.
It might be easy to see how this unity, that I describe, can take us beyond even our own religious identities. This is what makes hatred so offensive to me. It is a violence against difference, an intolerance of difference and an enemy of unity.