I have spent the last two weeks in awe. In awe of the beauty of the people around me.
The cashiers and baggers at the supermarkets. Those men and women who pass our food, drinks, and laundry detergents over scanners all day and all night. Those men and women whose hands are sometimes covered with paper cuts from magazines and paper bags. Whose wrists and ankles are bound with bandages and braces because of the repetitive movements while standing on their feet all day.
The waitstaff at restaurants and coffee shops. Those men and women who take our orders, literally and figuratively, and then have to contend with the myriad reasons why people who ate and enjoyed their meals think they shouldn't have to pay for those same meals.
The construction workers building houses that few people will buy. Those men and women who are hoping to get paid a fair wage, even though they know that the housing market is painfully slow.
I have smiled and greeted the talented growers and harvesters and bakers and vendors at farmers' markets. I watch them interact with each other across aisles and from one tent and stall to another. All hoping that this will be the day that they break even, at least.
I am stirred to whoop and holler and also well up with tears when I watch my fellow classmates in exercise classes at the gym. Both genders, all ages, heights, widths, hairstyles, fashion sensibilities (yes, personal style is evident even in the gym), and religious persuasions are represented. I am most impressed by the Muslim women who work out while fully covered from head to toe. There we all are, hopping, skipping, jumping, pumping, and sweating together. Trying to stay heart healthy, keep these bodies in motion, and make room for the glass of wine or slice of pie that is yet to come.
I look around the sanctuary of the church my family has begun to attend on Sunday mornings and am overwhelmed by the beauty of all the shades of brown in that room and up on the pulpit. Men and women, united by the need to come together, our hope for a better life, present and future, and the desire to have others know the same hope and future. The sounds that rise from the singers, the congregation, the ministers, in unison and harmony, melody and rhythm - they are truly magnificent.
Plumbers and electricians and carpenters.
Gardeners and yard maintenance workers.
Gas station attendants and car wash workers.
Housekeepers and nannies and babysitters and dogwalkers.
Lawyers and politicians and town hall meeting attendees.
For the past two weeks, as I have walked and jogged and driven through my daily rounds, I have been overwhelmed with the radiance, the tremendous splendor of the eyes and mouths and hands and hair and bodies of the people around me. They are breath-taking. Beautiful beyond words.
Confession time - the bad news first: There are a few groups of people that I have been prejudiced against for a long time. Years ago, I decided that I had the right to negatively judge certain groups of people simply based on their appearance. I have looked askance at "them" and allowed my mind to fill with sarcastic, critical comments whenever I see "them." I felt no guilt about it; it was what it was. I didn't like "them," and that was that. I will not go so far as to say who makes up those groups; I think it is enough to admit in this public forum that I have prejudices.
Now for the good news: As my mind and spirit and heart have been opened in a new way over the past few weeks, I am noticing that I notice "those people" a lot less. Who are "those people" anyway? They are me. They are us. And, God, are they beautiful. Strong. Resilient. Smiling. Intent on living full and productive and meaningful lives, just like us, just like me. They are afraid and lonely and angry and frustrated and adamantly concerned about their hometowns, their countries and cultures of origin, the economy, energy costs, and the environment. They want their children to live long and healthy and good lives. They hope that their loved ones are doing well, whether nearby or far away. Just like us, just like me.
As I have thought more deeply about my judgmental spirit lately, I have found myself repeatedly wrestling with several questions. How dare I choose one or two or five groups of people to compare myself to, with the inevitable outcome being that I end up on top???!!! How could I so quickly and easily forget that I am part of several groups that other people have decided are the "them" to them? (Does that make sense?) After all, I am a woman. I am an American. I am an African-American. I am a follower of Christ. I have Hindi friends (I stand corrected on this one: I have friends who practice Hinduism. Always so much to learn. Thanks, Monee). I have Buddhist friends. I have friends who have chosen to have faith in no one and nothing but themselves. I am a homeschooling mother. I am one half of an "interracial" marriage. I am a northerner living in the south. I have gay friends. I have straight friends. I have many, many friends who are illegal immigrants. I am against war. I voted for Barack Obama. The list goes on and on. And for every thing that I claim to be, there are those who are against what I have chosen.
Ultimately, these past two weeks of newly discovered compassion have pushed me to wonder: what does it mean to live within and outside of so many categories and boxes? Who decided - and who continues to decide - that such boxes are necessary? What would it mean to live without these categories? When will I stop defining myself and others by them? Who will I be as these boundaries recede in importance?
And just in case I am able to come up with reasons for hanging on to my categories and keeping the boundaries and barriers between "us" and "them" high and strong, I am compelled to consider the words and ideals of The One I claim to follow. The One who came to bring good news to the poor, the blind, and the imprisoned. The One who spoke to and touched lepers and women and homeless people and foreigners and tax collectors and the sick and political opponents and children at a time and in a place when doing such things resulted in Him being called "unclean" - among other things. The One who crossed social, economic, cultural and religious boundaries to invite others to be part of his homeless band of misfit revolutionaries - what would He say about my barriers and walls and prejudices?
The question that remains, after I look around me at all the people in the gym, the market, the pharmacy, the hospital waiting room, the playground, the sanctuary, the library, the arts and crafts stores I frequent, the bookstores, on street corners, in office buildings, in line at drive-thru windows, after I flip through photo albums and newspapers and magazines, and scroll through websites looking at people waving flags and banners and pumping their fists in anger about one issue or another, the one question that keeps coming to my mind is this -
Who would Jesus bomb?