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.”
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.