Calling Out The Humanity: Even When Bullied

This post is not what I originally intended it to be, not the original thoughts or plans that I had. Nevertheless, it is my heart, and my current thoughts on “Calling Out The Humanity.” It is much later than I had anticipated, but it is here. This is the close of the series. (At least, for now.)

 

Calling Out The Humanity: Even When Bullied (by Charity)

I was my chubby, short, twelve year-old self. My huge teeth with an overbite were probably coming over my bottom lip, and my shoulders most likely in their nearly constant tensed up position. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and could feel my face going pale and painted with fear. As I looked around me, I saw over half of my gym class, girls with stern faces, surrounding me in a circle, with one girl in the middle – facing me.

I despised gym. I couldn’t keep up, my body was so weird at twelve, and I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Add to that the dreaded locker room, where girls were changing and I needed a place to look and a place to hide and not be seen or to see. Just the week before, I had gone to the bathroom to find my wallet, and some of my other belongings floating in a toilet. My worth and my value to the other girls was clear – I was shit to them.

The girl in the middle of the circle who was facing me had flashed a pen at me, one from my purse which she and whomever else had gone through and taken what they wanted, while dumping the rest in toilet water. She was angry that I called her out on it, and now she was threatening me. She told me she was going to beat me up, and she had her fist in the air. I tried to get out of the ring around me, but the other girls blocked me, even girls who I thought were my friends.

I was filled with fear, shame, and defeat. I haven’t felt like that in years.

Until this week.

Bullying makes the news all the time, and I recently read a beautiful article in our local paper about a high school bully who regretted his actions, and sought out his victim to apologize. It seems there are a lot of stories like that – about the remorse people feel when they finally “grow up.”

But bullying takes many forms, and happens in places that should be safe, and it happens to adults, by adults. It happens in hate speech, in maltreatment, in discrimination, and in gritted teeth and hateful looks and tones. It happens in threats and in abuse of power. It happens in the workplace, in houses of worship, in families, and in organizations and groups.

I found my heart pounding in my chest, fear gripping me, and tears running from my eyes, and I couldn’t stop. All I could do was lean on my wife, very literally, while she tried to console me. Through my tears, I sobbed, “I feel like I’m twelve again, and there is a bully after me.”

The very next day, I had a doctor’s appointment. What through me off guard was the kindness of every single person – the receptionist, the insurance specialist, the phlebotomist who had a hard time finding my veins because I was dehydrated from crying, and the practitioner who saw me that day. I felt surrounded by care and warmth, and felt respected and seen and heard. And somehow, I left there feeling a little better, and a little more hopeful, and as D drove me back to work and I was still fighting my anxiety a little, I started to think on this series.

What do we do when we can’t reason with someone? How in the world do we see humanity in bullies, much less try to appeal to it, calling it forth? Is it a sense of low self worth or misery, or is it inflation of self? Does this even fit into the conversation? What if I don’t want it to?

Rewind back to my seventh grade personal hell.

As I was feeling like I was about to experience being beaten up, to my surprise and my relief, two girls stepped in, and started to defend me: girls who used to make fun of me. They told the girl if she touched me, they would hurt her. The girl hesitated, and looked afraid. I ran for it, yelling for the gym teacher who had been in her office. She came running, and she caught the girl who had been running after me. She restrained her and told me to run to the principal’s office, which I did. Once I got there, my cousin was in there – helping the assistant principal, and she held me and rubbed my hair while I cried and told her what happened. My bully got suspended, and she stopped bothering me.

Perhaps we should try to appeal to bullies’ humanity. It feels so difficult to say that, and impossible in some ways:  Another girl used to make fun of me incessantly. I told her to stop, that I was a person, and didn’t deserve to be treated like dirt. Later that day, I heard someone say “hey Charity,” and as I turned, my twelve year old cheek received it’s first and only punch. I think that deep down, I still fear this type of response when standing up for myself, or for calling people out for their wrongs. This girl got suspended too, because I told my mom, and my mom called the school.

Even with that fear, I think a little deeper about the similarities – and that similarity is the humanity of my helpers. Something in my own person, appealed to their person. Perhaps it was a look, a memory, or the deep calling out to deep. Regardless of what brought it out, help came, and love won.

Maybe we focus too much on fighting, and too little on gaining allies. What if instead of hurling back insults, we respond with listening, stay calm, and then focus our energies in a positive direction? In the direction of our helpers? In calling out the humanity in those whose hearts are open and ready to receive us and defend us? What if we did not resort to name-calling, and only referred to others with their names – would that help? Wouldn’t it at least help us in gaining allies when others see how respectful we are?

It still breaks my heart, and I still have tears about these incidents, and still some anxiety about the current one, but even writing this out has been healing and helpful to me. Helping me to see the hope.

No matter what darkness we are fighting, we need more and more good people to stand against it, to stand on the side of loving one another, and to actively participate in the collective endeavor for justice and peace.

Advent is upon us – my favorite time of year.

I think of Christ, and the candles we light to celebrate his coming to earth. I think of his example, and how the accounts we read seem to be him spending more time with those who love him, than with his accusers, and yes – his bullies. How his response and his focus on the good changed the world. How we are asked to do the same.

We will continue to work for good, and continue to try to respect the divine in one another – the image of God that lies in our humanity.

Love,

C.

Calling Out the Humanity: Jordan’s Thoughts

Today is a post by one of my dearest friends, Jordan. Jordan is a gifted writer, and an amazing friend. I can’t say enough or even begin to describe how much her friendship means to me. Her post deals with a hot topic in Chattanooga, TN. I hope her thoughts will carry far.

Much love,

C.

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Calling Out the Humanity (Jordan Davis Henry)

In conversation with a friend recently, I realized something obvious and eye-opening about myself: when Jesus and I are on pretty good terms, I LOVE people and want to know everything about them and hear their stories and write about their stories and talk to them for hours; when Jesus and I are not doing so well, I HATE EVERYONE. Two things have happened recently in rapid succession that have shed some light on this fun little personality quirk of mine. The first is that I got fired for the first time; the second is that my friend was arrested for doing nothing wrong.

Event 1: For the past year, I had been working in a field that I enjoyed and doing work that I felt good about. There were the normal upsets that you experience as a working human when you’re not self-employed (ie: when you have to talk to other humans). Then there were some deeper frustrations and some breaking of trust that happened more recently, and I did not handle those events very well. Ultimately, I got fired because I behaved like a disrespectful, angry little girl who just couldn’t learn to keep her mouth shut.

Event 2: If you or someone you know live in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area, you’ve probably seen the Facebook groups, the YouTube videos, the Huffington Post article, and local news interviews profiling the events that took place on the UTC campus a few weeks ago. The long and short of it is that my friend was arrested when he very calmly, very politely told a UTC-approved street preacher who had been telling students that they were hell-doomed fornicators that if she wanted to spread the Good Word she shouldn’t be yelling at everybody.

My friend was arrested about two weeks after I was fired. In those two weeks, I had done a lot of complaining to myself about the injustice of it all (as in: “how could they fire me, the Crowned Goddess of the Universe, who had never not once in my whole life done anything wrong?”) There was a lot of hyperbolic self-praise, a lot of internal temper tantrums, and not the tiniest molecule of accepting my part in the whole thing.

And then my friend was arrested, for actually not doing anything wrong. (If you need proof that he didn’t do anything wrong, go watch one of the YouTube videos documenting the event. My point is not to give you a list of reasons he was unfairly arrested – you can see it for yourself.) He approaches this woman, who for a week had been hurling insults and hate speak at the student body, and tried to speak some words of reason and (dare I say) peace.

For many of my friends who grew up in the greater Chattanooga area, the only “gospel” they’ve ever heard is this kind of hate speak. A list of reasons you’re already damned, that you’ll never be worth loving. “I am part of the tiny conglomeration of humans that have figured IT out, and I’ll be laughing up in heaven with Jesus at you while you’re burning in hell.” I have friends who have been so spiritually blasted by their upbringing that they can’t believe in anything – and I don’t blame them.

I’ll be honest: “the tiny conglomeration of humans that have figured IT out” is the demographic I most struggle to love. (Particularly when they also shout things like “Lesbo alert” at a young gay woman in a public forum, as this woman did.) Because they tell people I love that they are unlovable. Because they cause others to confuse Jesus with the devil. Because they are ugly and broken and twisted and ignorant and stupid and evil and unlovable….

Except they aren’t all of those things.

They have hearts that beat and have been broken. They have experienced psychological and spiritual trauma. They have been let down by someone they trusted. They look a whole lot like me.

At my very best (by which I mean “when the Holy Spirit intervenes in my spirit and opens my eyes”), I see potential when I look at people like this street preacher. I see the chance for redemption, for resurrection.

Because I am filthy and ugly and twisted and ignorant and unlovable without grace.

(I in no way mean to suggest that those affected by this woman at UTC should just pipe down already and stop being so pissed off and wounded by the whole thing. They should be angry. I’m still pretty angry. And don’t forget that Jesus did his fair share of turning tables over when he was pissed off, and I think Jesus is pretty mad that my friend was arrested without cause in order to protect a woman who was spreading hate in His name.)

But I also believe that Jesus loves that woman just as much as he loves my peaceful, grace-filled friend. I believe there is redemption for the street preacher, just as I believe there is redemption for me. I believe that the same Creator who draws Spring out of Winter and new life out of decay can change someone’s heart.

I was fired because I spoke out of my anger and woundedness instead of speaking from a place of peace and grace. There’s more to it than that. I could explain all the reasons I was angry and wounded. But that’s not the point. The point is that I realized that it had been many, many months since Christ had been welcome in me. And when I stepped back from the anger and woundedness, I saw the person I had become, and I really, really did not like her.

I saw a person who bore a seriously ugly resemblance to the street preacher who’s spreading her anger and hate around the UTC campus and other campuses. I don’t know this woman. I don’t know the experiences she’s had that have brought her to this point in her life. But I know that there is grace for her, even though she has no grace for the students she’s abused. Even though there seems to be no grace in her worldview. There are still people like my friend in the world who call out the humanity in people like that preacher. Who say, If spreading any kind of Good Word is the goal here, maybe you should start with some grace.

Which is, I suppose, the point: if we’re living the Good Word, this beautiful, rich, exciting message of Shalom, maybe we should start by seeing others through the eyes of grace. And especially to look with grace at those who are just really, really daggum hard to love.

Calling Out The Humanity: Autism

My friend Cam sent me this and graciously agreed to let me re-post it on here. I hope you will read and take to heart the insights coming from someone with autism and how we might better connect and relate. You can read more of Cam’s writing here: http://tornadocam.wordpress.com/

This prayer for the first Sunday in Advent from The Revised Common Lectionary is so fitting as we continue to explore the themes of Calling Out the Humanity in One Another this week, and as we begin the Advent season:

We seek the mighty God
in the most unlikely places
as a child in a stable,
and in an empty tomb.
May God hear these prayers,
which come from the unlikely corners of our lives.

Prayers of the People, concluding with:

Give us ears to hear, O God,
and eyes to watch,
that we may know your presence in our midst
during this holy season of joy
as we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Autism and Humanity

Recently a friend of mine has been blogging a series with the theme of Humanity. Some of the themes that come up are who is human, humanity and Christianity, and the oppressed. As I was reading it made me think about Autism and Humanity. I myself I am Autistic and sometimes I witness, read about and have seen our humanity taken away. We that are Autistic are humans and valuable too. We are also loved by God as well.

I am an Adult who has Autism but yet sometimes the world can be a hostile place. Granted, there is a lot of support for Autistics, but there is a lot of oppression too. If statistics are right we have the highest unemployment rate of any group. Those of us that have a job are often underpaid or denied chances to move up in the work force. Another thing is their are laws that tend to dehumanize us. For example, in some European Countries we that are Autistic can be legally euthanized. In America they are 20 states that have laws that could prevent a person who has Autism from marrying. Autism is not mental it is neurological but some states consider Autism mental. These states’ laws have language that can be interpreted to include Autism under mental thus denying them marriage. Moreover, the media has sometimes labeled us as anti social monsters, who can not show empathy and compassion. All of this is dehumanizing us.

Autistic people are human. We have proven that we can show concern for others, be compassionate, genuine and have empathy. We may or may not be social but we are human. The question is what is humanity. My answer to that is humanity is showing genuine, empathy, compassion, being loyal and having a relationship with God. So yes we who have Autism are human and we are a part of the world. Sometimes when I try to be social I often have a concern how will I be seen? How will I be judged? Will I bee seen as a person who is different and odd or will I bee seen as a fellow human being. The great civil rights leader Martin Luther King said he had a dream were people would not be judged based on their color. I myself have a dream. My dream is that we that are Autistic would not be judged for being different and for being Autistic. But we will be seen as fellow human beings who have a place in the world and can contribute to society. My dream is that we will be seen as and treated as human beings.

Not only I’m I Autistic but I am a Christian. However, sometimes I have been told you cannot be a Christian cause you lack empathy you don’t understand. I even had friends who I thought were Christian abandoned  me cause I was different. But despite these messages I know that I’m a Child of God and that Jesus loved me just like he loves everyone. My other part of my dream is that I would not be seen as a person with Autism who attends Church.  But that I’m a fellow Christian and loved by Christ.  I think faith is an important part of humanity. God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die on the Cross (John 3:16) If you confess and accept Jesus as your savior you shall have eternal life and be saved (taken from Romans 10:9). So we have a loving and forgiving God that wants to have a relationship with us. As I stated to me that is a big part of being human too is having a relationship with God. We that are Autistic can also have this relationship.

I hope we that are Autistic will stop being seen as different, non humans and people who cannot relate. Instead we will be seen as fellow human beings, who have Humanity.