Love and Particularity

This is a reprint of my column from the October 2019 Carillon Notes. Read the whole newsletter here.

There’s a video on YouTube where musician Jacob Collier explains the concept of harmony (the way that different notes go together) at five different levels. He explains it to a child, a teenager, a college music student, a professional musician, and, finally, to jazz and funk legend Herbie Hancock. And as you can imagine, those explanations build on each other a little bit, but they are very different from each other.

I like this video because it illustrates a very simple principle: treating each other well isn’t about treating everyone the same, it’s about treating each person in the way that person needs and wants to be treated. 

If Collier had talked to the child the same way he talked to the professional, the child would have been very confused. And if he had talked to Herbie Hancock the same way he talked to the teenager, the jazz legend would have been very bored. Collier had to treat each of his partners differently in order to give them what they needed.

Sometimes we worry that if people know something about us, they will treat us differently. And the truth is that sometimes they won’t, and sometimes they will, and that’s okay.

Being part of a caring faith community is not about treating everyone the same. I don’t have the same conversation with the person I see at Smiley’s that I have with the person I visit in the hospital. And I don’t give the same sermon to the young people who come to the front of the sanctuary during worship that I give to the adults from the pulpit. Ministry is about loving and caring for people in the way that is right, given who they are and where they are on life’s journey, in all of their particularity.

So here is my promise to you, and I hope that it’s a promise that we can all make to each other: I will do my best not to treat you just like I treat everyone else; I will do my best to treat you the way that you need to be treated, and to love you the way that you need to be loved. In that way, we will reflect the love that God has for each and every one of us.

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