The Challenge, the Gift of Diversity

Terry Lieb Healing Relationships, Judging Others, Living out your Faith 5 Comments

This year Rita and I elected to spend our winter at the beach. We decided upon New Smyrna, south of Daytona, because very good friends of ours have been wintering there for several years.

One of our friends’ fun hobbies is collecting “sea glass” which they seek out each morning as they walk the beach. Sea glass is ordinary glass that somehow winds up in the ocean. After years of being tumbled around it ends up surfacing on a beach somewhere and folks hunt diligently for these colorful, often highly-polished pieces.

I decided I, too, would be a sea glass collector. After several days of no success I became gradually fascinated with the immeasurable amount of shells and pieces of coral everywhere on the beach. The colors, shapes, and textures are endless. At some locations on the beach there are thousands or millions piled up—and no two the same!

I realized I was no longer frustrated because I wasn’t able to find what I originally thought was interesting and desirable because suddenly I was sorting through a vast, ever-changing array of shells and pieces of coral. I had shifted my attention from something human-made to an unending collection of free gifts fashioned by a creator with an imagination far beyond our understanding!

As I walked along the beach, I thought about how these unique gifts I have been gathering each morning were washed ashore from various locations across the waters just as each of us or our ancestors were also washed ashore from all over this amazing world. All of us very different shapes and colors, all of whom have been tumbled around considerably, many broken or scarred.

I bent down to pick up a shell fragment that had been worn smooth by the waves, wondering, is this little fellow hoping to be recognized, lifted up, and celebrated for its uniqueness? I marveled its delicacy and iridescence. It was no less beautiful than the sea glass I had initially set out to find.

A few mornings ago when I was on my daily quest, a gentleman stopped and asked me what I was hunting for.On the beach searching

I said, “I’m never quite sure but I recognize them when I see them!”

He frowned at me, very confused, and said, “There are millions just like that scattered for miles and miles along these beaches.”

I let that sit for a few seconds and then said, “Actually I’ve been collecting now for weeks and haven’t found two exactly alike!” I reached in my pocket and took out my most amazing find that morning. “If I could find another piece of coral exactly like this I could make a set of earrings for my lady.” I handed the coral to him. “You can borrow it for a week and if you can find another piece just like this one I will pay you $50!”

If he looked confused earlier, he was now way beyond confused. Finally he muttered, “I would like to take you up on your offer but I have a bad back and can’t bend over very well.” As he hurried away he said, “Good luck on your search!”

I asked myself how the diversity before me was crystal clear and to this gentleman they all looked the same? What allowed me to see the diversity and made it difficult for him? What was I being gifted with that he was missing?

When I got home, I told Rita about my conversation with the man on the beach and my offer for him to find a second matching shell to create a pair of earrings.

“Well, I’m glad he didn’t take you up on your offer,” she said, giving me a lopsided grin. “I would actually prefer two different pieces of shell. Everyone has all identical earrings and, as you know, I always like something a little strange and different.” I sure do know it, and it’s lucky for me and her as she surely got her wish when she said ‘yes” to me 48 years ago!

Not only is my hyperactive, “stir the pot” personality, offbeat sense of humor, and unconventional outlook about as “different” as you can get, but she also had to overlook the fact that I was Lutheran while she was a devout Catholic. This might not seem like a big deal, but it meant that both of our families were stridently against the match (although my usually-tolerant mother had passed away before meeting Rita, she had made her feelings on my marrying a Catholic more than clear!).

Despite our families’ concerns and objections, we decided to take the plunge and I can say unequivocally it was the best decision of my life. And far from being a problem, our differing religious backgrounds helped us grow spiritually.

By visiting one another’s churches, we were introduced to valuable elements missing from our own faith traditions. The process of wrestling with various theological questions not only made our convictions stronger, but drew us closer together. The more we opened ourselves up to each other’s faith, the bigger and more embracing our own became.

Seashell in handI don’t think our experience is unique or unexpected. In fact, I think that might be what happens more often than not when we approach “the other” with an open heart and open mind.

I wonder how you and I could heal the divisions in our families, our communities, our country and even our world if we were able to shift our focus from seeing only the beauty we are looking for and begin to open ourselves up to recognize, lift up, and celebrate the amazing diversity God created, especially within the human race.

On each of the occasions when I have managed to do this I know my life has been enriched. That encounter with a person of a different color, different heritage, different faith tradition, or different orientation has expanded my understanding of God’s creation and handiwork. The spectacular diversity somehow makes me even more appreciative of each tiny and unique fragment. It seems like that sneaky God is at work again in my life.

And not only do I feel blessed, but at some level, transformed. Each experience with someone different than I am seems to cultivate a bigger, more sensitive, more caring, more accepting version of myself.  At the same time I become less judgmental, less angry, less resentful, and consequently more at peace with the world around me and equally as important, at peace with myself.




  1. How much interaction—even on a casual or spontaneous basis—do you have with people very different from you? Are most of your friends the same race, age, orientation, religions and political persuasion or do you have a wide diversity of close contacts? Why do you think that is?
  1. Do you actively try to reach out to and cultivate relationships with people different from yourself? Why or why not? How might you do this more—and do you want to? What would be the potential benefits and drawbacks? What do you think God calls you to do?
  1. What is something surprising or enlightening you learned from a personal encounter or relationship with someone outside of your usual group? Has such an experience ever helped you grow in some significant way?
  1. For some people, you are the different “other.” What do you think is unique and beautiful about your “difference” that people are missing out on if they choose not to get to know you?
  1. What type of difference makes you the most uncomfortable and are you least willing to engage with? Why? What does that difference threaten or seem to threaten?
  1. Imagine a world in which everyone looked and thought just like you. What would that be like? Would you prefer to live in that world? Why or why not?
  1. What do you think the benefits of more positive, open-hearted interaction between different groups would be to our entire society? What specific, concrete strategies could we implement to work toward this? What can you do personally?
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February 1, 2021 3:24 pm

For the past 3-4 years I have been part of our church racial justice committee. What a wonderful learning experience it has been in opening up to history and challenges for action in support of those who are less fortunate than I. From growing up in an all white community to developing relationships with all people, it has been a very rewarding experience.

Daniel Raudenbush
Daniel Raudenbush
February 3, 2021 9:57 am

Terry, thanks for this challenge. I see the gift in diversity. And I clearly see this gift active in your faith journey.

February 26, 2021 9:24 pm

While I understand the importance of the separation of church and state, it’s my view that religion and personal politics are inseparably entwined. All human organizations, including churches and other religious institutions have both a political structure that enables them to function as organizations and embody underlying political influences emerging in the actions and view points of the members and the leaders. So it’s not a surprise to me that reflecting on diversity might highlight the political for some. I think of “theology” and “politics” as two of many viable ways to describe the reality we encounter. I would like… Read more »

March 16, 2021 8:02 pm

Hi Terry! I enjoyed the article, in particular the included follow up questions.

Lori Hare
Lori Hare
July 23, 2021 8:23 am

As one who enjoys the walk on the beach and treasure hunt for God’s beauty of the day, I enjoyed how you used this to discuss diversity. We search for new and different things for our collection, how excellent to add to our friendships in the same way.