Every human being? Really?
When I was 17, I traveled to India on a student exchange program, where I encountered a depth and breadth of poverty I had not witnessed before as a sheltered, suburban kid. That was a few years ago, but one indelible memory lingers, a moment as I passed through a crowded train station. A boy about my age was lying face down on a dolly with four wheels, pulling his way along the platform at breakneck speed, asking for money. His misshapen legs were nothing but bones, clearly unable to support his body. I wondered about his journey. I found myself thinking about our connection, our brotherhood. Why were his circumstances so different from mine? As you can tell, I still think about that.
Years later, I accompanied my daughter as she began work at a school in Tanzania. It was a five-hour drive from the airport to the school, a trip through desolate terrain. As we bumped along a rugged two-lane road in the desert, I saw a herd of sheep led by a young boy, maybe ten years old. He was out in the middle of nowhere. No village, no parent in sight. Why wasn't he in school? Did God have his eye on this young man as much as God had his eye on my own son?
Last Thursday, an editorial appeared in the NYTimes written by Elizabeth Bruenig, discussing ways that the American Catholic church is responding to the current crisis in race relations. The column quoted Gloria Purvis, who hosts a popular Catholic radio show. Her show recently featured episodes devoted to saints who resisted racism, and the reality of systemic racism itself. Her comments set off a wave of recrimination from indignant listeners. Those attacks caused her to say: "Racism makes a liar of God. It says not everyone is made in his image. What a horrible lie from the pit of hell."
Nkose Johnson died of AIDS at age 12 in South Africa. Before he died, he spoke to an AIDS conference of thousands, sharing the wisdom of John Wesley who said: Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are. The experience of this young boy was chronicled in a book by journalist Jim Wooten. The title of the book: We Are All The Same.
I'm not sure why all these images came to me this past week. I'm not entirely clear on the message behind them. But we are experiencing so much division in our world. Tribalism of the worst sort. The church at its best hears words of scripture that we are in this together. We are all the same, if for no other reason than the one articulated by St. Paul: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The gospel invites us to another way, reflected in biblical passages below:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. -John 17:20-23
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:27-28
Our Prayer Book speaks of the bonds of our common humanity. In the baptismal covenant, we not only promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We also claim to see Christ in all persons, reflecting Gloria Purvis' creed that says everyone is made in God's image. Everyone. We are all the same. Or as Dr. King said, we are "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality" and "tied together in the single garment of destiny."
Think about the expansiveness of that vision this week. In your mind, and in your practice, how do you see the dignity born by every human being? Is it hard to believe? Is there anyone outside of that window? Is it someone in your family, your church, your workplace? Is it someone with a different religious or political point of view? Is it someone who looks different than you? How might you grow just a bit this week in respecting the dignity of every human being? Every one.
I guess what I want to share is that it's a growth edge for me. Maybe it is for you, too.