Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dignity, Hospitality, Community

[Edited, from an original blog of mine.]

I am looking at where the fault lines lie our in our society and what needs to change to make certain that our republic truly holds out life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens and indeed all residents, citizens or not.

And that brings us to the culture wars.  The battleground of wedge politics.  The place of hatred and exclusion and bigotry.  A really terrible moral blot upon our nation.  Something we must address, because it destroys dignity and community for all of us.I am convinced that the dignity of each of us is inextricably connected to the dignity of every one of us.  And that the concept of community is meaningless if dignity is denied to some individuals by others, regardless of religious claims that such exclusion is righteous and admirable.

In order to make my claim that community is destroyed when persons are declared lacking in terms of human dignity, I am turning to the spiritual well.  Indeed wells in our Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition were always considered sacred.  Giving a drink was sacred.  Providing food and drink for strangers was sacred.  Community depended upon taking care of the stranger.  And we have lost that.  We have lost that value in our society.  I don't need to go into all the ways.

It distresses me greatly that religion itself has too often been invoked to undergird bigotry.  And I am convinced that whether religious or not, we need to have in hand arguments and frames, with which to demolish the religious arguments used in the service of wedge politics.  Because if we do not confront indignity with the language of religion or spirituality, we may never reach some people whose beliefs and voting patterns are swayed by pathological doctrinal interpretations wielded by religious bigots in the service of denying persons rights that other persons have - under our Constitution which promises equality and justice for all.

So here's a little attempt to build a case.  I'm sure others can build even better cases.  And I'm going to build my case based on one tiny story from the Old Testament.  A story related to Abraham.  And I choose Abraham because he is venerated as prophet by 3 religions we term "Abrahamic."  It's a story that easily reaches forward into the heart of Christianity.   And I bet there must be parallels in Islam, though I am far from an expert here.  A story that likely fits with Buddhism and Hinduism as well..  But I'm starting with the Abrahamic tradition because unfortunately the very idea of a "chosen people" may underlie a great deal of bigotry in this nation today.  The idea of a "chosen people" and "ritual purity" as a way of remaining "apart" - remaining "holy" and thus favored and righteous.

But the story I'm going to share does not urge bigotry or exclusion or holiness as a function of ritual purity.  Indeed the story celebrates "hospitality."  And hospitality, I suggest, builds community.  (Benedictine monasteries practice hospitality.  We can learn from them.)

Here is an icon (spiritual Presence) of the story I'm going to quote.  Where Abraham is visited by strangers.  And he goes all out to feast and honor these strangers as "guests."  He gives food and water and shelter in the form of shade.  He eats with the strangers.  And it turns out that in honoring the stranger, he has honored God.

Now, remember, this is a story.  It's not an attempt to convert anyone to anything.  And arguing the existence or not of Holy Mystery is not where I'm going here.  I'm trying to find "ground" to persuade those who not only believe, but whose beliefs have gone astray from longstanding and important spritual/communal values.  Civic virtues.  Community-building practices.  And my assertion is that the practice of "hospitality" can counter bigotry.  So enjoy the brief story:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, 'My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant.' So they said, 'Do as you have said.' 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, 'Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.' 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  (Gen 18: 1-8)
 Compare this to Jesus eating with tax-collectors and sinners.  Compare it to the story of the prodigal son, where the father looks down the road and sees the son who has been away and even sqaundered his inheritance, and yet he runs to meet him and commands that a huge banquet be made ready to honor his son.  Compare this to the command to "love your enemy."

I'm not writing a sermon here.  I'm simply laying out an argument that I think we need to have with conservative religious people who want to deny dignity and civil rights to those of a different sexual orientation or illegal immigrants.  Or the poor or sick, those of another religion, culture, race.  And I think we need to take these folks on right where they are vulnerable - their own turf - turf which they must be forced to wrestle with, turf from which, I think, we can establish some values, based upon which some might be swayed, even converted to more hospitable and communal behaviors.

I challenge us all to come up with arguments to address wedge issues which may fracture us as a nation.  To welcome the stranger.  And not to marginalize or dehumanize anyone - which destroys community and dignity for all of us.

1 comment:

TheraP said...

And wow, how that dovetails with the blogs on "Sanctuary" - which I've now also posted above this.