Life is With People is a book I read in college. I’ve never forgotten the title because it’s so true. The book was specifically about Jewish communities throughout history, and how the idea of community is woven so completely into the fabric of Jewish life that it never occurs to them to question the value of it.
I plodded through the book then – it was required reading for a Jewish Studies course I was taking; the course was great, but the book was not – and beyond the simple description I just gave, I don’t remember a thing about it, except that the cover was bright orange. I think of the title often, though.
Here’s the thing: my Aquarian heart knows that life is with people. I was born knowing that. Aquarians are hard-wired for brotherhood, sisterhood, neighborhood; whatever ‘hood you want to name. When in Sunday school they told me that Jesus asked me to love my neighbor as myself, I got it. I did then, and I do now. I embrace the idea of community, completely, wholly, happily.
Exclusion makes me angry. I can sniff it a mile away, and it always turns my stomach. The idea that some people are acceptable, and others are not – for any reason – is simply ridiculous to me. More than ridiculous, it is repulsive. Exclusion requires judgment, intolerance, and fear. People cite all kinds of reasons for exclusion – most often morality – but let’s be clear: it’s about ignorance and fear, and nothing else. There is nothing moral about prejudice. The Bible, supposedly the last word (no pun intended) on morality is pretty clear on this point, too: Judge not, lest ye be judged.
I don’t find any ambiguity in that statement at all. Same as “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Clear, concise; no room for misunderstanding. Is there?
I was a card-carrying, singing-in-the-choir Episcopalian for most of my life. I explored every other religion/belief system/moral tenet out there when I was a young adult. Some resonated with me, others did not. I took what had meaning for me and left the rest. So I had sort of a hybrid personal religion, but I always maintained ties with Christianity in general, and the Episcopal church in particular.
Until 10 years ago, or so. I still love the Episcopal church in general, especially the little one in my tiny town. My parents were married there, I was baptized and confirmed there. I really did sing in the choir. When I got older, and understood the poetry and beauty in the liturgy, I loved it even more. I loved the community spirit of the congregation. I loved coffee hour. I looked forward to Sunday. I was a believer, baby!
I believed in God, though probably I defined that more broadly than even most of my pretty broad-minded-as-Christians-go fellow Episcopalians. And I believed in people – the power of the human spirit. The Episcopal church was the first to appoint an openly gay man as a bishop. Further evidence to me that these were my people.
Then our beloved priest retired, and we got a new one from out east. He was a bigot, misogynist, and a homophobe. A man of God. Believed in Christ. Believed that people of color, women and LBGT people were less than God’s cherished creatures. He protested the appointment of Bishop Robinson, openly and vehemently. When our bishop came to visit the parish, he embarrassed us by spewing his hate following the Bishop’s speech to the congregation.
So I’m thinking, okay, this is a test of my belief that everyone has a place at the table. God has a sense of humor. He’s testing me.
All are welcome?
Okay, how about this guy?
I failed the test. I didn’t condemn the priest as human being, but I couldn’t deal with him and his hypocrisy every Sunday. The worst part was that I discovered that some of the congregants, many of whom I had known and loved since childhood, shared his beliefs.
It broke my heart. I stopped going.
Years later we got a new priest and I started going again, but it was different. It was tainted. I gave up after a couple of years. I realized finally that I no longer trusted any of it, including God.
Mainly I didn’t trust myself, and that’s what I had the most trouble with. Confronted with people who didn’t believe what I believe, I crumbled. Judge not, lest ye be judged. I couldn’t do it. I’m as much a hypocrite as that priest. I judge him for judging others.
I believe there is a place for us all in our community, and yet, when it really comes down to it, there are people I would exclude, maybe. Ideas I would exclude, certainly. Clearly I have more to learn, more work to do. I’m challenged to accept intolerant, judgmental people as readily as I welcome people who think as I do, or I am just as intolerant. That’s the paradox. There’s no way around it.
Life is with people. They only way for us all to survive is to accept and live that. Everyone must be welcome, no matter what. We are each of us unique, and our challenge is to find our common ground and work together to benefit us all. Community.
No small thing.
And yet, everything.
“He was a bigot, misogynist, and a homophobe. A man of God. Believed in Christ….”
This was not a man of God. It’s one thing to ‘believe’ in Christ… it’s another to live your life as Christ-Like.
There’s so much more to the verse, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” The verse [Matthew 7:1-3] in its entirety, tells us that we should not use a standard of measure with others that we don’t apply to ourselves. If we are committing the same sins, it would be hypocrisy to judge another who’s doing the exact same thing. He is not saying that we cannot evaluate whether someone’s behaviors are wrong. He’s saying that if I am a bigot (for example), than I have no right to judge someone else as a bigot.
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in THAT which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” – Rom. 2:1-3
I am freely and admittedly intolerant against those people who abuse animals, children, and the elderly. I feel this is an expression of (Christ-Like) grace and compassion rather than hypocrisy because I am not an abuser of animals, children, and the elderly.
Jesus also said:
This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ — Zechariah 7:9-10
Learn to do right; seek justice. DEFEND the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. — Isaiah 1:17
Great post! Thank you for making want to dust off my old bible and re-affirm the context of the original verse, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” cited in its entirety. 🙂
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Two problems – who gets to define “good human?” Also, the bible is the very document that states that homosexuals are aberrations and women are inferior, so not really reliable as an instruction manual for being a “good human” in my way of thinking.
When I see things like that, I try to remember that it was written by men who had their own agendas and biases. Any inspiration by a higher power doesn’t necessarily manifest when the inspiration enters a biased mind then travels down to the hand holding the pen.
Like I said, not reliable. 🙂