For the month of June we will be exploring the theme “faith leads to loving action.” To get started you can watch the introductory video at right.
Holy Love sees every person as sacred, as bearing God’s image. Every person. For now, let’s leave to the side violent criminals and bloodthirsty terrorists. Let’s concentrate on people we avoid because, to us, they are ugly and disgusting—those who don’t bathe, who have no social skills, who are overly hostile and aggressive, or who are simply poor and needy.
Few things are as sadly unattractive as a prostitute wandering the streets, undernourished and under-dressed, trying to trade sex for money or drugs. Or a homeless person with part of his face gone, shuffling through the commuter train asking for change. Yet I see these people and many other unlovely folks in daily city life.
The rural community in which I grew up labeled certain people “welfare trash.” We children were instructed to steer clear of them. With enough skill, a good Christian could avoid close contact with a person who wasn’t well-washed and well-mannered. And if we did consider reaching out to such people, the warning inevitably murmured from family and friends: “You’ll just be taken advantage of. He’s been this way for years.”
Group think hardly ever arrives at compassion. Popular culture is more judgmental than any holier-than-thou religious zealot. Our communal ideals of beauty and strength are impossible to attain. If we can choose between punishment and rehabilitation, we’ll go for punishment every time. We nearly always focus on what we don’t like about a person. In the absence of real information, we imagine the worst in people and expect from them stupidity, lies, and incompetence. We are ruthless—just watch a bit of reality TV if you doubt that. My first inclination is not to gaze upon a person to see the quality of being God-breathed or God-loved.
Nowadays I’m trying to look “unlovely” people in the eye and acknowledge their existence. If I’m determined to be like Jesus, I pause, greet the person, and ask her name. I offer my hand and tell her I hope her day goes well. And yes, when asked I offer some cash, making a point to always have a dollar accessible in an outer pocket. I’m sure my dollars never buy enough and that they get used for a lot of things I wouldn’t approve of, but that’s not the point. At least I have looked into a human being’s eyes and said her name aloud, reminding her that she is a person after all, someone I deem worthy of respect. Someone in whom I see God’s beauty.
If you want to begin reprogramming the way you look at people, spend some time with Gary Smith’s stunning story, Radical Compassion. This week you’ll meet Melinda and Shea. Read this excerpt from Radical Compassion from our sample at right (pages 67-69 and 105-106).
Here’s an exercise:
Identify the qualities that make people seem unlovely to you. Where did you learn those judgments? If you move beyond those reactions, what do you really see in people?