We are traveling from Chicago to Kansas today, logging straight highway miles through Iowa and Missouri. National Public Radio is on, and an announcer just spoke of the brutal beating, to death, of a 12-year-old boy in Syria. As I listened to the account, I remembered the suitcase I saw on the side of the highway earlier on this drive. Flopped open and pressed up against the concrete half wall separating the two halves of the interstate, it spewed its contents along the side of the road. Those were important once, I thought when I saw a flutter of pink fabric and then noticed the rest of the lost items. Perhaps some were even treasured, stood for life events or special moments, told stories to their owner. Now they are scattered and exposed; they have become trash. I felt the sorrow of loss, and as I listened to the awful news of this nameless boy’s death, I connected the two images and realized that this young human, truly so precious, had also become a piece of trash to some people.
Like my mind was following a thread, another picture came to mind, this one from a long ago visit to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Near the entrance was a giant bin of shoes, shoes taken from concentration camp victims, each one standing for a person whose value to the Nazis was less than the shoes he wore. Another image, this one from a movie, made me think of the RwandanTutsis, their personhood so unimportant that their slaughtered bodies were allowed to lie in the open air. These are gruesome images, extreme and very separate from my life, but then the Holy Spirit gently brought this sin home to my own heart. I realized that when I pretend I don’t see someone on the street because I have a schedule to keep and no time to chat, when I avoid eye contact simply because a person appears too different from myself, when I switch the news channel from another tale of human suffering, that in doing these things I have denied an innate human right and taken a tiny step toward considering someone else as worthless.
I suspect Philippians chapter 2, which I read this morning, has much to say about this. I am certain that Christ did not ever deny or ignore another’s personhood. What must that have looked like? He encountered all people as fellow human beings; He desired connection with them because each one was a soul, with depths they themselves didn’t understand; He saw them as the workmanship of a creative God. I cannot even imagine what this might be like in my life, but I would like the Holy Spirit to work some of that transformation, to “let this mind be in (me), which was also in Christ Jesus…who counted others as more significant and looked to their interests more than he did His own.”
Sometimes I read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s interactions with people and think His tone sounds combative or blunt, but I wonder if that is because I am unable to fathom someone who actually values each person. His questions to the Pharisees sound harsh, but isn’t anger with a person and the willingness to call out wrong you see in him or her, isn’t that more respectful than simply ignoring or glossing over wrongdoing? When He asked, “Who touched me?” drawing attention to a woman who tried so hard not to be noticed, wasn’t He, in effect, saying, “No, you ARE important. I want others to see you as a person like themselves. I am tired of their ignoring you.” When He spoke to Nicodemus in word pictures that would have left me, too, scratching my head, wasn’t He saying, “I know the brain I have given you. Use it for something greater and higher than devising rules that bear down on people”?
From all the things I have read, Mother Theresa seems to have had some of this gift. Not all of her statements “feel good.” To the downtrodden she spoke hope, but to those blessed with physical wealth, she had less comfortable messages. (My conscience is often stung when I think of her admonition to give the poor the best we have rather than our castoffs, our worst.) What would this intense interest in others as human souls look like in West Chicago and Wheaton, in my worlds?
I’m not sure, but I want to try it. I really