BY REV. DR. SARAH ROHRET - CALVARY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
I see so much diversity around the Iowa Great Lakes. There are those who have million dollar houses on West Lake and then there are the waitresses and factory workers. There are those who have lived in Iowa, in this area, their whole lives, and there are globetrotters who return to the Lakes for a taste of home. There are gay, straight, bisexual and transgender, and those who don't know what any of those words mean. There are immigrants and people of color and a vast swath of whiteness, which has its own diversity.
Let's be honest, Dutch, German, Norwegian and Irish are different even if we look a lot alike. But when it comes right down to it, our main culture is Midwestern 21st century American — casseroles, high school sports, weather talk, coffee time and lake life are our main cultural markers.
Yes, there is a lot of diversity in the Iowa Great Lakes. And with diversity there comes division, misunderstandings, and "us vs. them" thinking. There is also great opportunity in diversity for dialogue, learning and mutual enrichment.
There is a huge opportunity to love your neighbor here, and to grow from interacting with people different from us if we resist the temptation to stick with "birds of a feather."
The Prophet Micah says: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8)
Jesus said all the laws can be summarized into two: "Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:36-40)
Notice neither of these said the most important thing is to be right, to win the debate or to have all the answers. Knowledge is good, but it is not the greatest good. Kindness and love for neighbor and God are the greatest goods. As you argue in the coffee shop or debate the latest letter to the editor in the paper, remember this — there are no points in heaven for winning the argument, but to love the person you are arguing with is essential to entering the pearly gates.
What is the point of religion? To remind us of what we know deeply already: life is beautiful and very short. We are all connected to each other, to creation and to something vastly bigger than us (aka God). We need each other. We need rituals, symbols and ways of feeling the connections between us and the eternal. We need an identity and a history to center us in a changing world. Our different beliefs and practices give us identity, but they do not have to pit us against each other. That is anathema to every world religion.
What is the point of being part of a religious community? To practice loving, forgiving and helping each other to be our best selves. We so rarely are our best selves, we stumble and make a lot of mistakes. But by walking with each other and lovingly confronting each other’s worst selves, we help grow the good into better. By sticking with each other through good times and bad we all find more meaning and beauty in life. Religious community is community unlike any other. In other clubs or friendship groups I can be around people who are like me and don’t push me to change too much or challenge my thinking too much. But religious community is supposed to be a place where we love and care for each other and where we get on each other's nerves a bit. We are supposed to push each other to go higher, to look deeper and to become better. That means risking, making mistakes, forgiving and moving forward together.
This is my last pastor's column after 13 years of being among you. I have made a lot of mistakes in the past 13 years. If I have hurt you or not been my best with you, I apologize and deeply regret my shortcomings. Please forgive me and let me know how I can do better so that I can leave you in peace. Thank you to the Calvary United Methodist Church people who have stuck by me and made me a better pastor, and a better person, during these 13 years. Thank you to community members and colleagues who have walked with me and my family and helped us through good times and bad. I am especially grateful for amazing teachers, school counselors and administrators who made a huge difference in our lives. We are so thankful for all of you and for having been here in this beautiful place with beautiful people.
What’s really the point of this life? It’s not being right; it’s being loving. It's remembering that we are all in this together, here in northwest Iowa and around the world. None of us is getting out alive so we might as well make the very best of each moment we have by loving God and loving our neighbors. Go fishing and make music.