Yesterday, I attended the dedication of a Habitat for Humanity house for which our church had been a financial and volunteer sponsor. As I watched the family celebrate, it struck me how everyone has a story. Before becoming a priest, I worked at a Habitat affiliate in Delaware, and I remember that each homeowner’s story varied. Some had grown up in poverty, and were the first to buy homes in their extended families; some had a health crisis that led to financial and housing problems; some were living in substandard conditions, while others had squeezed their entire families into a friend’s living room. I do not know the full story of the Fletcher family, except that the matriarch has been working as a nurse for years, has three children, and could not afford to buy a home without Habitat.
What struck me about the Habitat event is how strong our common humanity is. Get a new Habitat homeowner in the room with a wealthy, privileged person, and I suspect within ten minutes they will be sharing stories of their common humanity. But get either of them outside of that room, and either person could be seen as an enemy: someone who oppresses others and does not share their wealth or someone who does not work hard enough and relies too much on outside assistance. Neither of these characterizations are fair – but we make them all the time. We forget the story of each individual, and instead create categories that we can then use to generalize – to dehumanize.
I do not usually talk about politics on my blog, but our President’s recent characterization of other countries and their citizens, whom I love, has broken my heart. The incident itself was not all that surprising. What put me over the edge was how the comment was so brazenly said and affirmed by others, and how the comment highlighted the ways our country seems to have embraced the practice of dehumanizing others enough that they are able to say things that they would not otherwise say to another human if they were face-to-face.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, advocated for a preferential option for the poor. Time and again, Jesus took the stranger, the outcast, the downtrodden, and healed them, helped them, and loved them. In fact, “the other,” is a recurring theme in scripture that invites us to examine our own modern designations of “insiders” and “outsiders.” Our country’s current practice of demonizing and subjugating the “other” is an action in direct conflict with Holy Scripture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not living into our baptismal covenant promises of respecting the dignity of every human being, and seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
This week, I invite you to examine our current treatment of the “other” – those for whom Jesus had a particular preference and priority. Whether you need to spend some time in prayer, have a conversation with someone unlike you, volunteer some time with a charitable organization, write to your governmental representatives, or donate your money to an agency that can affect change – do something. Do not let your light be hidden under a bushel. And then share your story with me here, or with a friend on the journey. I cannot wait to hear how the Holy Spirit uses you.