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High Theology on
Haleakala

By Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch

I do not know that I have ever been to any place so amazing, so awe-inspiring, or so alien as the top of Haleakala on Maui. Haleakala, one of many inactive volcanoes in the Hawaiian Islands, resides in the clouds, with its own mountain peaks and crater, formed not by a volcano but by millennia of erosion and colors I’ve never seen in this combination in any other place on earth—rust, tan, purple, white, black, grey—plants such as the silver sword that can be found no other place on earth. Margaret and I could easily imagine ourselves on an entirely new planet. We hiked for miles in challenging high altitude conditions and never once lost our sense of wonder.

I confess that I didn’t spend a lot of time contemplating the mighty acts of God while there. I was too busy being amazed and also dealing with the hiking challenges we faced to muse theologically at Haleakala. As is often true in life, I was too caught up in the immediate moment to appreciate the big picture.

But as is also often true in life, I have reflected on the event after the fact. My old theology professor at Union in Richmond, Dr. Otatti, told us about the difference between him and his brother, who was not a believer.

“We can both be skiing in the Grand Tetons,” he said, “and we’ll both stop and take in the view and he’ll say ‘How glorious and wonderful and beautiful nature is!’ and I’ll say, ‘How amazing it is that God made all this beautiful nature!’ We’ll see the same thing and even experience it the same way, but we understand it differently.”

I have never been to a place like Maui where you could experience such different varieties of environments, weather patterns, and natural wonders within a few minutes of each other. Likewise I was awed and appreciative of the variety of people I saw. The first settlers in Hawaii were from different races in the Pacific Islands. Since Hawaii was first reported to the West, there’ve been an influx of many other peoples, with the original Hawaiian Islanders freely mixing with Chinese and Japanese newcomers, predominately, but also every other race and ethnicity you can imagine. “Native” Hawaiians today, people who’ve lived their lives on the Islands and whose families are from the Islands, could look like they’re from almost anywhere.

To an evolutionary scientist, diversity —whether in nature or humanity—serves an essential survival purpose, guaranteeing that life can survive and thrive in all sorts of situations. To me, diversity directs us to the awesome wonder of God, who could create a world with so much that is so different packed into it; and then make people just as differ- ent, multi-faceted, and complicated. We have so much to learn from one another and about one another! Our differences are a doorway to God. Learning to understand a new person different from ourselves, or a new place we’ve never been, makes us better able to understand God, who is as different from us, as “other” from us, as it is possible to be. Difference should never be feared or shunned, but celebrated. It is a doorway to God.

sarah

sarah

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