Have you ever been in a place where you didn’t feel like you were being seen? Like people were looking past you…or were looking at you but wishing you were something or someone different from who you are?
Have you ever been in a place where you have been fully seen? Have you felt known and loved and appreciated for being exactly who you are?
Nothing feels worse than not feeling seen. And I suspect few things feel as good as being seen and loved.
Seeing each other for who we are, as we are, and fully appreciating each other–that’s at the heart of today’s Scripture lesson.
Last week, we looked at the first 5½ days of creation, when, at God’s invitation, light, sea, land, sun, moon, plants, insects, fish and animals came into being. Today, the final creatures appear—human beings.
We talked some last week about how God’s speaking in the act of creation suggests God’s desire to be in relationship with creation. God’s speech on the second half of Day Six demonstrates God’s desire to be in relationship with human beings.
There is one place where God’s invitation to humankind differs from the invitations to the rest of creation. This time, the writer of Genesis tells us, “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them…” What might it mean to be created in God’s image? If the impetus behind God’s creating was relationship, I wonder if THAT—relationship—is what most reflects our divine likeness? Might living “godly” lives be not so much about measuring up to some arbitrary spiritual standard, but more about living in relationship with the rest of creation…even the people part of creation? God blessed all humankind, right? So, if every human being is created in the image of God, then it sounds like it’s pretty much our job as human beings to live our connection to every other human being, to love every person, to do everything we can to act every person into wellbeing.
Which sounds good in theory–“God loves everybody! And so do I!” In practice, though–maybe this is just me–it’s not so easy to love every other human being. It’s like a Quaker once said of his fellow community member, “I love that of God in him, but not much else.”
So, how do we do it? How do we live our connection with every other person on the planet? How do we act other human beings into wellbeing? All relationships with other human beings, all actions we take in behalf of their wellbeing, begin with seeing in every person the image of God. In our Sunday School reflections on radical hospitality this summer, we realized that hospitality begins with the understanding that every person is a human being beloved of God. When you think about it, most meanness in the world seems to begin with the assumption that another person is NOT fully human, doesn’t it?
A quick look at human history reveals any number of horrific events that stem from an inability to see other people as human beings created in the image of God. The Holocaust. The treatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Slavery.
Perhaps the most shocking thing in reading about our country’s cruel history of lynching is the complete de-humanization of those who were lynched. Victims of lynching were not seen as human beings; they were considered animals. [I’m so glad that kind of rhetoric has been relegated to the history books. (Pause)] That kind of rhetoric, as we’ve seen too many times, leads to the cruelest of actions–not only the murdering of people for no reason, but announcing in the newspaper when the murders would take place, making a spectacle of murders that would be attended by thousands, taking pictures of hanged and burned corpses, and selling those pictures as postcards. If we see other people as human beings created in the image of God, atrocities like lynching would never, could never occur.
I suspect many of us—or people we love—have had our humanity diminished. It was a very good day when marriage equality became the law of the land. But regarding full acceptance of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or gender non-conforming…we’ve got a long way to go on that.
Last year, I attended a Braves game with a friend who happens to be trans. My friend is a big baseball buff and knows the new Braves stadium well. We had a great time looking at all the exhibits, grabbing a meal before the game, enjoying the beautiful weather.
Everything was fine until I had to use the facilities. Understand…I had preached about the bathroom issue, about what those crazy legislators in North Carolina had done; I had even chastised a group of songwriting buddies for writing joke songs about those same legislators, reminding them of the humiliation the law had caused for people who are trans…but until I needed the facilities in a public venue, I’d never really thought about what it means for a person who is trans to negotiate how to tend to the most primary of human functions in a public space.
I waited a long time to go, getting increasingly fearful for my friend. Realizing that all I had to do—without thinking—was find the restroom with stick figure wearing a dress and do what I needed to do. Aware that if my friend had drunk as much Coke at supper as I had, she would have to think about it.
When I couldn’t wait any longer, I told my friend I needed a bathroom. We found one. Afterward, I asked my friend, first, if I could ask an awkward question. The whole time I’ve known her, my friend has answered any questions I’ve ever had about her experience as a trans person. Her answer this time? “Oh, I just use the women’s restroom. No problem.” As you might imagine, I felt great relief at the response.
I also felt great relief when this same friend told me a few months ago that, after many years of teaching middle school in her other persona, this year, she is teaching as herself. I also remember the day she got her driver’s license…and the day she got her birth certificate. Those were days of deep joy for my friend.
Why? Because she was being seen for who she really is. It seems such a simple thing—to simply walk around the world as yourself. But if the world doesn’t understand you or is afraid of you or refuses to see that of God in you, the world can be a terrifying and dangerous place.
As it was for 9 year old Jamel Myles, who took his own life week before last out in Colorado. Nine years old. When I first saw the story about Jamel on Facebook, I kept scrolling past it, hoping, perhaps, that if I didn’t see it, if I didn’t take it in, it wouldn’t be true. About the fourth time I saw it, it did hit me–after a year of bullying at school, in part because he was gay, a 9-year-old child took his own life. How could that happen? How can a 9- year-old child possibly have given up all hope at such a tender age?
Jamel’s mom, Leia Pierce, said: “We need to be more loving, more caring, more accepting of each other. My heart breaks every second.” Ms. Pierce’s mother, Jacque Miller, said she could not blame the school for her grandson’s death. “The statement that it takes a village to raise a child is true,” she said. “And the village is broken.” (New York Times, 8/28/18)
How do we fix the village? We do it by living our creation theology. We live as if we are connected to every part of, every person in creation. We live as if every person who exists bears the image of God. We act every part of, every person in creation into wellbeing. We do what we can to help every part of creation become who God creates her, him, or it to be.
We’re going to end today by reflecting on hymn #585, O God, We Bear the Imprint of Your Face. As Kevin plays, you’re invited silently to read and reflect on the words. How might the world change if we see imprinted on our own faces—and on the faces of others—the face of God? Let us pray.
O God, we bear the imprint of your face: the colors of our skin are your design,
And what we have of beauty in our race as man or woman, you alone define,
Who stretched a living fabric on our frame and gave to each a language and a name.
Where we are torn and pulled apart by hate, because our race, our skin is not the same,
While we are judged unequal by the state and victims made because we own our name,
Humanity reduced to little worth, dishonored is your living face on earth.
O God, we share the image of the One whose flesh and blood are ours, whatever skin;
In Christ’s humanity we find our own, and in your family our proper kin:
Jesus our brother we still crucify; love is the language we must learn, or die.
(Words by Shirley Erena Murray, 1981, rev. 1994)
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2018