The Gift of Diversity – and Diversity of Gifts

Photo: Australian Youth Orchestra 2018

Most of my readers are probably aware that I’m a passionate bassoon player. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’ve devoted a significant portion of my lifetime to pursuing a professional career in playing the bassoon. You could even say it’s one of the most distinctive things about me. It’s not unusual for me to run in to someone I haven’t seen for years (you know, the kind of person you met that one time at a conference and have long since erased from your memory) and while we’re standing there trying to recall each other’s names, the other person confidently blurts out: “All I remember about you is you’re the guy who plays the bassoon!” Over and over again, people seem to remember my instrument more easily than my name. I guess one of these facts is a lot more distinctive than the other.

Apparently being a bassoonist is a unique trait that sets me apart from all the ‘normal’ people.

This has even happened to me with people I haven’t met yet. A few years ago I moved interstate to study at the Queensland Conservatorium. At the time I was the only bassoonist enrolled at the Con, but word quickly spread that there was a new bassoonist in town. I arrived at uni at 9am the Monday of O-Week, and a few hours later I was queuing up for a free lunch (because what else is O-Week for but free food?). As I was standing in line minding my own business, I watched a guy hurry across the courtyard and jump in line next to me. He seemed to be in a very chatty mood, so we introduced ourselves and got to chatting. Of course, the first question when musicians meet is always, “So what instrument do you play?” but before we even got to start this timeless liturgy, my new friend burst out, “So I’ve heard you’re the bassoon player here!” It turns out our meeting wasn’t random chance at all but he’d been trying to hunt down “that one bassoon player” all morning to ask me to join a chamber music group he was forming.

Apparently being the only one of your kind makes you highly sought after when everyone needs a bassoonist to complete the ensemble.

As a bassoonist, I’ve enjoyed being a rare breed valued for the unique skill sets I bring to the table. In fact, this is exactly the reason why I chose this niche instrument instead of pursuing a career as a flautist. Every orchestra needs couple of bassoons— as a rare minority, we would always be in demand.

I’ve long thought that the orchestra presents a beautiful metaphor for unity in diversity: creating rich harmonies through individual distinctiveness… and I’ve often thought that this is exactly the sort of attitude towards diversity I’d like to see in the church. Most people’s experience of church is that they are anxious to ‘fit in’ and are acutely aware of how different they feel to everyone else… and not in a good way.

So you can imagine my excitement when I was reading a book by one of my favourite Christian authors (who also happens to be a same-sex attracted Christian too) and I came across a page with the heading “The Gift of the Bassoon” making precisely this point. Apart from the fact that I was overjoyed to find an entire page devoted to an extended metaphor of THE MAJESTIC BASSOON (seriously, who else uses such niche metaphors?!), it so beautifully brought to life the gift of diversity in the church. Here are a few excerpts:

“Suppose a church has many members who play the bassoon. … The result is chaos: fifty people playing the bassoon at the same time. … We’re meant to be different and not all have the same gifts. That way we function best.”

“The point he [the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12] is making is not that a spiritual church will have bassoon players, but rather the principle that there is a great variety in the gifts God has given. And he wants us to use those different gifts in the loving service of others.”

Vaughan Roberts, True Worship, 58-59.

I love that image. I love how he makes the same point I’d been thinking about but he does this by taking the same example to the opposite extreme. Bassoons are great, and everyone knows the world would be a better place with more bassoons. But if we all played bassoon? Total chaos. Part of what makes bassoon so special is its distinctiveness, the unique role it plays in the ensemble as it complements all the other instruments. Its diversity is a gift.

But in the church, I fear we don’t always see diversity as a gift. We’ve pathologised diversity. When it comes to sexuality and gender, diversity is seen more as a tragic abnormality than a beautiful distinctiveness.

“We’ve pathologised diversity. When it comes to sexuality and gender, diversity is seen more as a tragic abnormality than a beautiful distinctiveness.”

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul spends a lot of time talking about gifts. The tl;dr of it is this: we are all given different gifts from each other and that is the way it should be because we are different parts of a body each uniquely fulfilling distinctive purposes.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Take a moment to take in how radically progressive it was for a 1st Century Jewish Pharisee rabbi to write these words claiming that Gentiles—the pagan, unclean, non-Jewish people who were seen as second class citizens outside the family of God—could receive not just the Spirit of God himself, but also unique gifts that would bless their Jewish counterparts in the early church. To not merely speak of their inclusion but their unique contribution to the church.

Like I said, this must have been radically progressive for Paul’s time. If Paul were around today, I wonder what he might be saying about the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, or even about the unique gifts they have to bless God’s people. I wonder if the stuff he’d have to say would sound just as radical and just as progressive as his stuff about the Gentiles did.

If you’re reading this as a Christian and your first instinct is to object with a “Yeah, but…” then can I encourage you take a moment to search your heart and consider whether your hesitations might mirror how the first century Jews felt uncomfortable about the full inclusion of Gentile believers into the family of God. There are entire books of the Bible dedicated to this exact debate about whether Gentiles had to become the same as the Jews in order to be fully included into the family of God (see Galatians). Most of the ancient Jews would have been happy to include these Gentile converts as honourary members who knew their place on the fringes: literally not allowed past the outer courtyard of the temple and certainly not eligible to serve or practice leadership in there. And of course their honourary membership was contingent on them adopting the full culture and rituals of the Jewish people and assimilating (these converts to Judaism were called “proselytes”)… so you can imagine the absolute shock everyone felt when, after hearing the good news of Jesus, they saw a bunch of Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit and immediately display their spiritual gifts… all while still standing firmly in their own Gentile identity and culture!!! (See Acts 10:44-46)

Imagine if LGBTQ+ people weren’t seen as a liability but as a gift to the church.

I’m no Paul, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say (with no spiritual authority whatsoever) that I reckon it’s time we move beyond merely thinking about what the church has to offer gay people and open our eyes to the beautiful ways God has gifted gay people to bless the church. I think it’s time to stop pathologising diversity as a tragedy to be mourned and start celebrating it as a rare and valuable gift to the community.

Because here’s the thing about diversity in the church: when we see diversity in the body of Christ, we glimpse how rich and profound and gracious and radically inclusive the gospel really is! If that doesn’t make you wildly excited, read that sentence again. The diversity of the church testifies to the magnitude of the gospel to save all people.

Imagine Paul writing to a church in Corinth which had only Jewish believers. When we see the Gentiles brought into the family and held up as people with unique gifts to serve the church, we get a glimpse into how magnificently expansive the grace of God is. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first Gentile conversion story after Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 8 is a black man who is a eunuch (with eunuchs being the sexual minority of their day)… It’s like God’s trying to make a point about just how radically inclusive his grace is by choosing a non-Jewish, sexual minority POC! We get a glimpse of heaven where we anticipate “a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language” finally being brought together as one body: a body with different parts that continue to look different and each serve distinct purposes in a glorious diversity (Revelation 7).

I think radically biblical inclusion looks like heartily welcoming LGBTQ people in, not as outliers to be pitied, but as full members to be esteemed and aspired to. Celebrating them as we remember that the diversity of the church testifies to the magnitude of the gospel to save all people.

So what would it look like if we truly valued God’s gift of diversity? I’m speaking particularly in regards to sexuality- and gender-diverse people, but consider the following scenarios:

  • A teenager comes out to their youth leader: “I’m aromantic asexual and I want to stay single and follow Jesus.” Instead of the youth leader’s first response being, “I’m so sorry to hear that and I feel for you,” they feel an overwhelming sense of joy hearing this unique story of following Jesus. They say sincerely, “I’m so proud of you, and I love that God made you exactly the person you are. Let’s get some cake.”
  • An older single man has been attending church faithfully for many years. He is a devoted Christian but he has some peculiarities that some find unsettling, and it turns out he is celibate by choice because he is same-sex attracted. Instead of feeling awkward or shameful about his singleness, his church regularly lauds his example of costly obedience as an anecdote in sermon applications and informal conversations. Some young parents approach him to share how much his life has encouraged them in their faith, ask him to be the godfather of their son, and tell him that they are praying that their child might grow up to be just like him one day.
  • You visit a new church and are greeted at the door by a gender diverse person. Seeing someone like this at church makes you feel overwhelmed with joyful gratitude that God would bring such a diversity of people into his family. You don’t see regard them condescendingly as some impossible miracle (“I can’t believe someone like that would become a Christian!”) but you meekly step towards the person with an eagerness to listen and learn from them: because you know they are hugely gifted in areas that you lack.

“I think radically biblical inclusion looks like heartily welcoming LGBTQ people in, not as outliers to be pitied, but as full members to be esteemed and aspired to.”

So to bring the metaphor full circle (and in case you haven’t worked it out yet, bassoon is code for gay people which is also an in-joke that works on several levels, but you have to be extremely niche to get it):

I’m glad bassoonists are a rare and special kind and always will be.

I’m glad that we are valued in our wider community for the unique voice we have.

I’m glad that there are people in the orchestra who are different to me and who play parts I could never play on bassoon, and that we can make the most beautiful music when we play together.

I’m glad that bassoon music makes the most sense when it’s surrounded by the rest of the orchestra playing in harmony but not in unison.

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