Our garden is looking really good. In this little corner of Texas, we’ve had just the right amount of rain and sun so our enthusiastic seedlings are all pretty happy right now.
I call it our “garden” as if it is one thing; and it is. But our tomatoes, okra and beans; our lilies, marigolds and daisies; our oregano, thyme and basil are obviously very different elements of our one garden. We planted for diversity on purpose.
Diversity is the whole point of a garden.
Our garden is one whole thing – and all the very different plants make up the unified whole. Like our bodies – arms and legs and hearts and kidneys: one body with all its parts. Like our families – moms and dads and babies and teens and grandparents: one family with all its members.
Like our nation.
Over the years since our founding, America’s diversity has mushroomed. Not surprisingly. Here is a land of opportunity. Here is a nation of welcome. Here is a people who have benefited immensely from the gifts and gratitude of those who have been folded into this American community. No wonder people across the globe find their way to America. No wonder the face of America has changed dramatically from its early days.
But this growing diversity has created tension again and again throughout our history and the sharp outcries we hear today shouldn’t surprise us. Resisting diversity and resenting those who are “different” has long been a shadow side of this nation of welcome.
I’m thinking one reason we humans have trouble with this is because we sometimes work out of a mistaken definition of “unity.” If I define this “one nation” as a united people just because they look and think and speak like I do, then I am not describing unity. Rather what I am actually describing is “uniformity.”
Uniformity is quite comfortable and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Throughout human history, we tend to find others who are like us and so we create homogeneous groups for ourselves. Clubs, churches, political parties… This shouldn’t surprise us either. Our tribal instincts run deep.
But there is another way.
We can find comfort with like-minded people at the same time we appreciate the stimulation of people who look and think and speak differently. We can enjoy both the security of a uniform group and realize the value of a diverse group.
Homogeneous groups can help affirm who we are.
Diverse groups can help us grow to be better than we are.
What a boring world this would be if uniformity were the natural pattern! Instead, nature itself teaches us that unity-in-diversity is the norm. My beautiful garden. Our remarkable bodies. Oceans and ecosystems and galaxies. Our precious sometimes crazy, mixed up families.
“Unity” is not “uniformity.”
So too, our “one nation under God indivisible” is not a uniform, homogeneous nation. It is not supposed to be, and we never have, never can find our unity in any sort of cookie-cutter uniformity. Instead our unity has always, will always arise out of our shared values and our common dreams: liberty and justice for all.
“We the people…” our founding document declares; “in order to form a more perfect union…”
It is a union our Fathers birthed for us; all of us – the people. These fifty wildly different states. Our precious sometimes crazy, mixed up nation.
It was a union the Founders conceived in the midst of the creative diversity of their day and it is a union still being perfected here in the ethnic, religious and intellectual diversity of our own day.
And it is here – only here – in our differences; right here in all our wild and amazing diversity that we will ever find our true unity.
Old and Young. Rich and Poor. Gay and Straight. Religious and Humanist. Black and White and Brown.
E pluribus unum. From many, one.
When we move out of our uniform, homogeneous tribes and recognize the shared humanity inherent within our wide-ranging diversity, that’s when we will discover a glimpse of a true unity that is far better than any sort of uniformity.
Like in my garden, our mothers and fathers planted the seeds and then passed on to us the task of tending, nourishing and relishing the vibrancy of this rich estate. If we are wise, cultivating the founding vision of this great nation, then we will be able to reap an abundant harvest of peace and prosperity, fairness and security, liberty and justice for all.
The above photo isn’t really our garden although it’s similar. This is a James Quinn photo from the University of Missouri Extension.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.