Calling Out the Humanity in One Another: Part 3

I hope you have been enjoying the series so far. I know I have. Today is a post from my friend, Audrey Connor. Audrey is a minister and a writer in her own right. Her blog can be found here: http://audreyinlynchburg.blogspot.com/ I hope you will read along.

Friends, this is so important – this idea of speaking to one another’s humanity, and thus calling it out so we can reach across divisions. Today, as I post my friend Audrey’s writing, and realize how close we are to advent, this line keeps playing in my head:

“Let our sad divisions cease. And be yourself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel.”

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Calling Out the Humanity in One Another

By Audrey Connor

He sits alone in a hospital waiting room, wondering if his child will be okay. The gunshot wound made him lose a lot of blood. Thoughts swirl only on one question – will he make it?

She tends to all her patients with the same devotion and care. In the supermarket, she allows herself to wonder how parents can make decisions to buy cigarettes and alcohol when she knows the child’s needs are not being met. But when the children are in her care, she knows only one thing is important: to make the sick child better.

They have not spoken in years, but he knows this is not the time for confrontation. She is dying now and their attention is on her. She was so good to them, how can we say good-bye? He wonders. As he holds her hand and she rubs her face, only one thing matters – to show the love and connection that is real.

I am employed in a chaplain residency program at a local hospital, and I see dividing walls fall down around me all the time. When life is on the line or people are sick, life often comes into sharp focus. I regularly have the honor of joining in prayer where petitions to God, the Great Spirit, Jesus, or whatever the language of the people have is heard silently and aloud – please give our loved one full recovery – or – please help her to pass to the next life peacefully – or – please let your will be done… I often minister in the space where denominations and faith backgrounds fall away.

It makes me wonder what it is that causes us to separate. Do we have to rely on imminent death to forge us together?

Too often, we strip humanity away from others. Whether we separate from one another in order to protect ourselves or because we need a way to control our surroundings or because we think it will help our loved ones, we live in a world where humanity is often not seen. As a gay clergy person, I witness progressive Christians demean faith understandings of people who interpret with a more conservative or literal biblical lens on a fairly regular basis. I believe that to demean another understanding of faith is to demean the person who believes it. And it is hardly ever a one-sided assault.

I live in Lynchburg, Virginia where evangelical Jerry Falwell helped to birth the private Christian institution Liberty University in 1971. According to the latest Wikipedia entry, Liberty is now a 12,600 residential student and 90,000 online student institution. Falwell’s dream was to provide a good college education for young evangelical Christians to be “Champions for Christ”. In my last three years living in Lynchburg, I have learned that residents here either love the local evangelical university or despise it. There is usually no in-between. And I have heard many stories – some that have made my blood boil and others that make me have hope. Some take stock of something Jerry Falwell, Sr. did twenty years ago. Others include aspects of the curriculum that are promulgated each day.

And as a gay minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a person with a passion for justice, I regularly battle it internally. How can I tell people I am a Christian minister when this institution makes claims that right Christian belief calls their love unholy? How can I make sense of my call to ministry when in my backyard there are so many young gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual students being taught that their attractions to people of the same sex or their desire to live in a different body makes them sinful? Don’t I have a duty to confront those misnomers? While Liberty University teaches tenets of faith that are in opposition to my beliefs, I also know that they are trying to be faithful Christians. How can I live with the understanding of our connection and love to each other all the time and promote our oneness in everything that I do – despite our differences?

I have yet to come across easy answers. But I do think answers are out there all the time if we are paying attention. Just yesterday I watched the new Hunger Games movie: Catching Fire. While you, dear reader, may not have seen this movie, I can tell you that there was an answer there for me. The protagonist finds herself amid a social system that strips her of all her humanity so much so that she is forced to fight others like an animal. In my estimation, the movie is about how she reclaims her own humanity not by “calling out” the humanity in others but through embracing her own humanity and her human connection to others. That is one way to understand how to live in difference with others: connecting to our own humanity.

I also learned from colleagues just yesterday. What do chaplains talk about when they are with each other? Faith experiences that are outside their scope of understanding. One chaplain had a visit with a family who talked a lot about the “end times”. What do I do with that? She asked honestly. I admitted I had only read about such faiths, but I had little firsthand knowledge. Growing up a Disciple of Christ, we did not focus on the end times and I was trained to read the book of Revelation as metaphorical. But after we talked some about the particulars of the family in question, we finally asked a chaplain who was Southern Baptist – what do you believe? And for the first time, I was able to hear about the ends times from a person who I consider a friend. I was able to see the humanity in a faith perspective different than mine by simply asking someone for whom this was a normative understanding of faith. There is another way of finding humanity across divides of faith understandings – simply talking to people with curiosity instead of judgment.

When division is rife and humanity in others is being missed, I have yet to have an experience of dividing walls being torn down by anyone being “called out”. In fact, I have yet to ever be in control of other people seeing my humanity when they are determined to see me as a homosexual or a woman or a 36-year-old. At the same time, I have found moments where people surprise me by seeing my humanity or the humanity of others; often, it is when people are low and their spirits have been cut to the core by grief or sadness or surprise. Perhaps those moments involve a shattering of the ego or a slice to humility. I don’t know. When it happens and divisions are gone, I know when God shows up:

  •  It is when people no longer care about their own “stuff” and they are focused in on the care of those around them.
  •  It is that moment when a daughter sees that it is more important her mother not be in pain than live in this life for her daughter.
  •  Or when an old woman knows that it is more important that life goes on without her than for her to stay alive in the condition she is in.
  •  Or when the peace that passes all understanding shows up and I know that it will all be alright no matter what.

Those are the moments when humanity abounds, and we all celebrate together the presence of God and the love we get to share with each other. I just hope I can keep showing up with that God in everything that I do and everyone that I meet. And I hope through my own awareness of this God and presence with this love, I am able to show others some glimpse of humanity in themselves and others too.

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Calling Out the Humanity in One Another: Holding Fast to the Horizon

Today’s post is written by my friend, Daniel, focusing on… well – our focal points in life and how we relate in our current world and environments. Daniel is an amazing writer and thinker, and I highly encourage you to read his blog: http://didwell.wordpress.com/

I hope you will read and ponder on his reflections.

C.

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Philosopher Leon Kass makes an argument in his work, The Hungry Soul, that the human body is our guide to understanding what it means to be human. A part of his exploration deals with our orientation beyond ourselves and, (among the sighted) through our eyes, toward the horizon. The ability to point at something distant–to draw the attention of another to something abstract and beyond the scope of our bodies–is the essence of our language.

In short, he suggests that our communication of ideas, sophisticated use of technology, and long-term planning is rooted in the shape of our bodies.

Because of our upright spines, our line of sight is oriented on a different axis than our digestive track–a distinction from most other mammals. Philosophically, Kass suggests that we are driven to give attention not only to what is immediately satiating us, but to the whole system of the world that is within our sight–we care about what we are aware of.

As I think about the horizons that hem us in; hold us; contain us, I begin to wonder about what all this says about our capacity to care in a “global” society.

Through the technologies of a tall building or an airplane, I can move my wingless body higher than the ground and literally broaden the horizon that surrounds me. There is a reason that mountains and bodies of water have always, across cultures, been associated with thin places. Both mountains and water expand our horizon and the extension of our horizon induces awe, changes how we perceive the world, and offers us new imagination.

Similarly, technologies of transit allow me to physically move across the land, shifting my horizon and telecommunications allow me to virtually glimpse horizons of other places beyond where I am physically located. By logging onto Facebook or watching the news, I am invited to care about the systems of life in other places–victims of Tsunamis across the globe; civil rights in neighboring states; the health of my family in the Southeastern US, the antics of a cat, dressed as a shark, riding a rumba.

But my body quickly begins to be overloaded. While I believe it is crucial to cultivate compassion for those beyond my immediate community (particularly when we are economically linked around the world), global compassion feels bigger, more pressing, and also more comfortable (because of distance and abstraction) than compassion for the people next door.

I believe that we are indeed designed to care about what we are aware of. As a species, we tend to grow more compassionate about any social issue when we are in relationship with people that are impacted.

But we are embodied people. We need to sleep, to eat fresh foods, to drink clean water, to breathe clear air. Our lack of transcendence tells us we are not gods–we are not capable of caring well for a world with limitless horizons.

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This is all well and good for a conversation about sustainability and self-care, but what does this matter of connection between our bodies and the horizon have to tell those of us who are called to work for justice in the world? And isn’t that all of us?

It is a call to let ourselves be small and fragile. We must eat food, sleep, be held and comforted within the safety of a horizon we can trust–a horizon of our neighborhood, our families (of origin and choice), our communities of solidarity. Our capacity to care is limited and our ability to sustain our work for justice depends on our ability to say yes to compassion and no to a scope that dishonors our humanity.

This is a difficult lesson. It does not mean lowering our concern for national and global issues of injustice, but it means trusting that the vast majority of our work should be focused within our own horizons. How many travesties are committed by well meaning activists attempting to solve problems outside our own horizons?

I believe that there is a genius within the local–that indigenous problems need indigenous solutions, faithfully created and played out by the people who know and love a place and community best (to be sure, in a world marked by human migration, we must work to include immigrants as full members of local communities and include their voices as fully members working toward these solutions). This applies to the problems in my community and in communities around the world.

Yes we should collaborate to fight HIV globally, but each African nation and neighborhood must offer the best application for compassion in their own neighborhood, and I must get to know the people living with HIV in my neighborhood of West Seattle.

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The limit of the horizon is about scope and allocation of energy, but it is also about turning toward interdependence and solidarity within my local community. I need care and support to do my work for justice and I need to grow awareness about other types of injustice–particularly ones where my privilege is oppressing my neighbors.

A wise mentor offered this advice to me: for those of us who grow tired fighting oppression directed against us (for me that fight is for dignity and equality for LGBTIQ people in society and the church), we need to give ourselves space to rest and heal from those fights–and the way we do that is by building support through ally-work across communities of oppression.

Because I am not oppressed because of my skin color, citizenship status, or physical abilities, I don’t have to deal with the drain of energy around these issues that I feel after anti-gay micro-aggressions in the workplace.

By locally working to address these oppressions in my own community, I offer a bit of support to those who do deal with these oppressions daily. When we do this reciprocally, these folks also offer me space to not have to address every injustice directed against me.

This kind of intersecting anti-oppression work takes us out of the dramatic cycle between self-advocacy and self-care. Instead, we all begin to fight on behalf of each other and our community advocacy becomes community care that allows us all to participate in a more sustainable rhythm and system–we all grow to need and provide for the community within our own horizon.

This is why my fight against homophobia, while deeply personal and costly, is not where I am called to devote the greatest amount of my energy. In fact it is the place where I most deeply need the care of my community–both my LGBTIQ community and more, my straight family and community who don’t personally experience this oppression.

The place I am most called to focus my energy is along my line of sight– the oppression within my own horizon that lies outside of my own bodily experience–this is the very nature of compassion. I am called to care for my community by fighting misogyny, racism, ableism, nationalism, ageism, and other oppressions of which I may be unaware until I allow a neighbor’s pointing finger to guide my sight and awareness of the impact of my privilege in my own world.

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I am aware that all of this sounds heady, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably someone inclined to sit at your computer and play with ideas. So am I. That’s why I am writing this–this is for us.

We are bodied people. We experience the stress of oppression in our bodies. Our bodies have limits (horizons). We also experience care in our bodies.

And we are not alone–even if you are the only person in your community experiencing a particular kind of oppression, you exist within the horizon of a community where you can work on your own privilege and ask others to show you care by working on theirs.

This isn’t to minimize the importance of connection–particularly through the internet–to others who share an experience of our own type of oppression. God knows, online communities have saved the lives of many small-town LGBTIQ folks, people who cannot leave their own homes, and many others. But that can’t be everything.

As helpful as these technologies are, they can also serve to distance us from our own bodies–or abstract our bodies out of the developmental growth rooted in the context of our lives. Whatever can be said about bars, bathhouses, and bookstores in the history of the Gay male community, I’m convinced that solidarity, community, and growth are more likely to occur in physical spaces than via online hookup apps.

This isn’t a call for something simpler; a nostalgia for times when the world felt more manageable. When we are present with each other–and I don’t mean this as touchy-feely psycho babble, I mean having our bodies on the same turf–we are invited to notice the complexity within our own community.

Focusing on the world and community within our own horizon pushes us to look deeper and notice the differences between us that we gloss over in our attempts to feel comfortable. We start to build real community by seeing and honoring space for all the actual members in our community.

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My hope is that we will care for each other by holding to our horizons and growing in a healthy, secure attachment so that we all begin to trust that the wildly complex community within our horizons is reciprocally holding us.

We don’t always have to put on our own oxygen mask before helping our neighbor; sometimes (within the limitations of our ability) our work is to fight on behalf of those with whom we make our community in order to make sure we all have some air to breathe

Calling Out The Humanity (Thoughts on Immigration Reform)

During this week, I will be posting a new (and the first ever for this blog!) series. The name of the series is “Calling Out the Humanity in One Another.” I have asked some dear friends to help me out with this project – because I think it is so important for us all to put our heads and voices together to have conversations with one another about how we can better relate to each other, and to better promote justice and peace.

Tonight, you will be reading the words of Kate Stulce, one of our pastoral assistants at our church. We were so privileged to have her serve as pastor while Pastor Dave was on sabbatical this past summer. I admire Kate so much, and am so honored that she is participating in this project. Kate has shared some of her thoughts on immigration reform. I hope they will spark many conversations and thoughts of your own. As you read, I hope you will remember this quote:

“No human being is illegal.” Elie Wiesel

Immigration Reform
by Kate Stulce

                 So many issues are related to immigration reform that one hardly can decide where to begin to address it.  One of the most recent startling stories came out on national public radio this week reporting on the detention bed mandate.  Although this became law in 2009, the mandate seems to have flown under the radar.  The mandate requires that every day 34,000 beds are to be filled with immigrant detainees in the 250 detention facilities across the country.  Supposedly this is to compel immigration and customs enforcement agency to enforce existing immigration law.  Never mind that per person at $120 a day, the cost to the nation is $2 billion a year.  Never mind that the law results in ice and  local police departments arresting more and more people for lesser and lesser offenses.

There are certainly alternatives that would be less expensive and more reasonable, such as GPS –monitored ankle bracelets and routine check-ins with ice.  NPR reported those alternatives can cost less than $10 a day, but the budget for alternatives is only about 3 percent of the federal budget for detention.

Now John Boehner refuses to bring to the house floor the comprehensive reform bill that passed the senate in June.   Many republicans are saying that there “isn’t time” to bring the bill up for a vote this year.  Isn’t time??  Are you kidding me?  When you aren’t doing anything how do you not have time?  Or maybe resisting doing anything constructive takes so much energy that you have none left for action?   Does anyone have any memory of Terri Schiavo?  In 2005 republicans put a bill together post haste to give president bush the authority to take charge of her care in order to prevent her feeding tube from being removed.  And the president rushed back from his vacation to sign the bill.  Were there the will to make reforms, there would certainly be “time” to do so.

We are reminded of the passage in Leviticus where it is written:  “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33)

Unless we are Native Americans, none of us can claim that our ancestors weren’t immigrants at some time.    My great grandparents came from Germany.   They were “aliens in the land of Egypt” so to speak.   What blindness to ignore that our own roots are immigrant roots.

Our task is to maintain our own will to continue to bring immigration to the attention of our representatives, to make our voices heard, to educate ourselves and others regarding this issue.  Eventually we will reach a tipping point.  Our history is evidence of how immigrant group after immigrant group have over the long run have become integrated into society.  Let us keep the faith in and continue to give our energies to this cause.

Kate Stulce