Reading the recent Atlantic cover story, "The Case for Reparations," does wonders for helping someone like me grasp afresh the injustice and suffering America has inflicted on our black brothers and sisters. I can understand that reality, and as a human being who has endured some measure of suffering, even empathize at some level. But fundamentally, I'm a man with a completely different experience of life. I can't possibly understand what it's like to be a black man in America. And that's a good thing.
The ecumenical work we're called to—to show forth the unity of the body of Christ (John 17; Eph. 4)—does not mean I should try to grasp the world from the perspective of "the other." It does not mean to walk a mile in another person's shoes. That, I believe, is impossible. Instead, I think it means grasping that I cannot grasp it. If I can grasp it, I no longer need the "other"; if I grasp it, I get it, and if I get it, I can move on with this new illumination firmly embedded within.
No, I don't get it. I'll never get it. Which is precisely why I continue to need—desperately need—to stay in fellowship with my black brothers and sisters. And everyone else who is an "other"—Catholics, Pentecostals, Holiness folks, Baptists, not to mention Hispanics, Asian Ameircans, and that most mysterious creation called women. And so forth. We need each other not so we can understand each other, but precisely because we don't. Not because we can become compatible, but precisely because we're not. I need the "other" precisely to remember that they are an "other" and as such, a distinct and unique grace of God, someone with whom I can have genuine fellowship with—not a melding, but a fellowship of persons, each with their own gifts that the other needs.
Again, we get back to the beautiful taspestry of the faith, which allows me to enjoy not just glorious moments when I grasp as never before something true about the faith, but quiet moments when I realize I will never understand some things, that much will remain forever a mystery to me. And both are a work of the illumination of the Spirit, no?
Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.