Had my life gone the way I had intended, I would now be liv ing out my days as a retired NBA player. After 20 years of wowing fans with my phenomenal ball-handling skills and clutch shoot ing, I would have settled down to a life of quiet community service . . . and lucrative commercial sponsorships.
Alas, at the age of 16, my basketball career tragically ended due to a case of bad genes. I quit growing. If only I could have squeezed out just another measly foot and a half of height, my dreams would have become a reality. It was that close!
Because of this and other life lessons, I learned early on that I cannot do everything others can do. They may have more expertise, a brighter intellect or enhanced physical traits I do not possess, enabling them to excel in ways I simply cannot. While there were a few times when I have wished my lot were different, I’ve come to a place of peace about who and what I am. I feel at home in my own skin and generally feel equally happy for others who are able and willing to do things I cannot do or do as well. It was an added blessing, too, when I finally realized that I am actually normal height, rather than being freakishly large (anyone 5′ 7″ and above).
The testimony of equality arises from our understanding and experience of common value rather than sameness. In the sight of God, all of us have been designed and declared to be of infinite worth. The fingerprints of God are upon each of us and there is a flickering spark of the Holy within all of us, waiting to be fanned into a roaring inferno, if we are willing. Tall, short or normal height like me, God loves us all just the same.
As Friends have worked out the practical implications of this reality in history, the understanding of equality infuses the ways we share our faith and demonstrate compassion, not as superiors offering pity and wisdom to the needy; but, as co-equals simply sharing the truth, wisdom and abundance God has made available to us.
But sometimes we Friends confuse equality for same ness. We can bristle when a person is distinguishable by their unique gifts. Especially in the area of spoken ministry or leadership, Friends do not always know what do with those who have been given talents or traits the rest of us do not possess in equal measure. If all of us can attend to the leading of the Spirit, how dare anyone presume to direct us or take too much initiative within the group!
Instead of rejoicing in the ability of others and releas ing them to serve and enhance the community, Friends sometimes fall prey to the temptation to undermine or minimize uniqueness in people. We are cautious about allowing people to be seemingly elevated in any way among us. Unfortunately, this fixation to keep everyone leveled can stifle the expression of gifts and inadvertently create a culture where leadership and ministry are both externally thwarted and internally inhibited. From my perspective, however, the issue is not really about the equality of persons. Instead, it is about expectations we have made around sameness of function.
Over the years, Friends have lost some gifted leaders and able ministers, ones who only wanted to serve the community, not dominate it. Instead of allowing those gifts to emerge, our fear that no one be elevated in sta tus makes no safe space for these to flower. What could authentic leadership and able ministry look like in an environment undergirded by the foundational values of equality and respect for others? In places where I actually see this happening, the results are ministry and leadership gifts expressed and experienced, not as but different gifts meant to serve and enhance the community.
Equality springs from our common worth, not common roles. Getting comfortable with our own gifts and call, as we encourage others to do the same, creates communities where people actually complement one another. We wind up freeing one another to focus on what is ours to do. It allows for a division of labor and duties that make life together more manageable and sensible. Instead of wor rying that one person is head and shoulders above others in their own unique way, we each are able to stand tall in our own place and own role and be thankful others are able to do the same — even if they are freakishly large.