Tuesday, August 28, 2007

more from A Mile in My Shoes

Trevor Hudson’s book is super relevant to this journey I’m on, so I’m very glad it made the last minute book pile cut on packing day.

“We cannot meet all the needs that surround us, but tragic consequences flow from our failure to recognize the suffering neighbor for who he or she really is. These consequences range from a cold indifference to the human cries around us to cynicism and even resentment toward people’s needs; a lack of engagement with those ‘principalities and powers’ that crush and oppress—to a tragic loss of our own humanness. However (and this is one of the aims of the pilgrimage experience), when we share personally with those who suffer, put names to faces, listen to life stories, receive the gifts they offer, it creates a climate in which we learn to see differently. These personal encounters help pilgrims see the suffering neighbor as a brother or sister made in the image of God and in whom Christ dwells. Such recognition and awareness generates a new way of relating that makes genuine compassion possible.” (p. 44-45)

Hudson then offers several questions to help readers consider how they view others:
· Is my seeing limited by the other person’s color, class or culture?
· Do I focus upon outward appearances in my dealings with people?
· Do I see people primarily as groups?
· Do I view others based on first impressions rather than hearing them out?
· Do I look at possessions as being more important than persons?

It’s so easy to visit another culture, especially one that has acquired the stereotypes and reputations that African cultures have, and refuse to really connect with the people you meet here, to assume that you are different from each other and that friendship isn’t possible. And it’s amazing to watch how that rather simple decision can affect one’s perception of and involvement in the lives of people in this new culture. It leads to always holding back, to always viewing your hosts as the “other” instead of connecting with them as brothers and sisters, as Hudson describes. When this happens, it’s such a loss for everyone involved as it keeps real sharing of God’s love from happening.

In American culture, at least—though perhaps the phenomenon is actually part of human nature—we rush to categorize everything because once we put it in a category we don’t have to think about it anymore and don’t have to really interact with it in order to understand it. The category defines it, and as long we understand the category we obviously understand and know all the things that have been placed in that category. But, when people are so firmly categorized, some of their humanity is stripped away. Instead of a unique individual full peaks and valleys and unendingly interesting terrain, the person is reduced to a measurable, definable entity…which, incidentally, isn’t so far different from what we do to God sometimes, too.

As Hudson says, “Constant media bombardment of human need often breeds a bland familiarity that generalizes suffering men and women into groups like the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the elderly. Within these generalizations we lose sight of the spiritual dimensions present in each human being.” (p. 44)

May we all seek to recognize the humanity, the God-createdness, of each of the varied people we encounter today.

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