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.