Embracing Difference, Not Belief

Acts 11:1-18


It’s not easy, is it?

Based on a real conversation…

Imagine that for the last 20 years of your life, you have always received the Sunday newspaper, and had your coffee and breakfast while you read it. Enjoyable, comfortable. Then, one day, you’re told that you now have the option to subscribe to the paper online. No paper, no delivery, just turn on your computer or use your phone…and it’s there. Though you remember plenty of times when your Sunday paper was either: not delivered; delivered late; delivered soaking wet; or missing sections—you still cannot fathom changing that routine. Reading the paper online? You admit that having the ability to interact with news stories and being able to even watch video or listen to audio related to the columns really excites you. A whole new world opens up to you. And yet, you just can’t. You keep ignoring the alerts and subscription notices. You hang on for dear life to that Sunday paper, hoping beyond all hope that it will get delivered while your coffee is still hot.

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this decision. You prefer the physical Sunday paper? Fine. No big deal. I myself still prefer paper books to books on Kindle. Point is, change is hard.

And I will suggest that change is even more difficult when there isn’t any participation [even if it’s minimal] in the new thing or idea that’s being proposed.

Say that you don’t cancel your Sunday paper subscription, but instead do both. You still receive the physical paper but also explore the online version. Any articles that intrigue you lead you to watch their respective videos online; you find yourself doing even more research and follow up. You use both mediums. You’ve changed, but you haven’t thrown out that which gave you comfort or safety. You’ve simply recognized that there is more out there, more to explore, more to the news than just your Sunday paper.

Change was hard too for the community in the book of Acts. See, Acts is really a sequel to Luke’s Gospel [same author, remember]. It’s an account [though not historical] of the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth after his death. Remember that almost all of these followers identified as Jews. So they had certain customs and laws and even dietary restrictions and dress codes.

Their law also stipulated who they could share a meal with. The act of “breaking bread together” was a sacred moment. Sitting at table was a moment in which God was present.

Image result for breaking bread together

A person therefore could not render that moment profane by eating with people who were considered unclean. So Peter, in this story, is in trouble with his Jewish friends. Peter was eating with Gentiles, and particularly the Gentiles that most Jewish folk deemed unkosher to share a table with.

Embedded in this story is the dichotomy of people, the labels:

-Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised
-Clean vs. Unclean
-Gentile vs. Jew
-Judean vs. Roman
We could go further: male vs. female, kosher vs unkosher, head covered vs. uncovered, poor vs. wealthy, straight vs. gay, binary vs. non-binary, etc., etc.

And as I read this story today it brings me to certain experiences I have had recently. First, the Interfaith Peace Walk for Reconciliation in Center City Philadelphia.

I go every year. I reconnect with old friends. It’s fine.

But this year I noticed something. A lot of us who go on this walk are still reading the Sunday paper, and that’s it. Very comfortable, routine, safe. We walk and eat with those we know and are like-minded. I sat with a dear friend Ashvinder, one of the leaders in the Sikh Society of Philly, and she echoed the same concern. Ashvinder wondered what we were really accomplishing now with this walk—in a world in which faith communities are under attack by white supremacism and hate crimes, a world in which younger generations are becoming more and more estranged from their faith traditions because of xeno, homo, trans and other phobias.

I love and value this walk. It should continue. We need younger generations, though, to lead it now. We need their wisdom and experiences. We need their discontent and passion. Now.

Related image

Just so you know, that’s me in the background. Where I should stay.

Then just recently, I was at New Hope Pride.

Image result for new hope pride

A gathering of thousands of LGBTQ+ people of all ages. Some allies, too. Some curious onlookers too. A big parade that is lots of fun. Music, dancing, great costumes. A Pride Fair. Resources, networking, friendships, solidarity. A wonderfully colorful and beautiful gathering of people. We sit at table—transgender teens and older adults and those in transition. We sit together at table—gay and lesbian couples, bisexual couples, straight couples. We sit at table—allies and curious non-allies and LGBTQ-friendly business owners and wounded and hurt people and those feeling overwhelmed by the crowds.

It’s not enough. It’s a wonderful event. We must do more. People are targeted just because they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. People are KILLED just because they are transgender.

Fast forward to an Iftar at Bait-ul-Aafiyat Mosque in North Philadelphia.

Image result for Bait-ul-Aafiyat

We say the prayers for Ramadan and the fast and do the prostrations.


We break the fast with dates and a samosa and then more food.


We sit at table together—Muslims from West Africa, India, Pakistan, England, West Philly, the Arab Emirates. We sit at table–the Philly Police Chief, a city council person. We sit at table–some evangelical pastors and curious non-Muslim folk. We talk, we eat, we share. We debate—a little.

It’s not enough. Muslims are targeted and attacked. So are Sikhs and Jews.

My friends, what if the question we assume we ought to be asking is not the wise question:

What do we believe?

What if this is the question:

Who do we eat with?

Who is invited to our table? Who do we choose to eat with?

Posted by

Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

Leave a Reply