fellowship
Comments 6

Guarding Each Other’s Dignity

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each other’s dignity and save each other’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

– Excerpt of “By Our Love” by for KING & COUNTRY

When I read about the early Church, one thing that never fails to move me – sometimes to tears – is the love the brothers and sisters shared with each other. No mere platitude, this love was expressed in solidarity so deep that followers of Christ sold their homes and kept the proceeds in a common pot. They not only cared for the poor within the fellowship of believers, but outside of it as well. Nobody was turned away; nobody was left behind.

How different that world is from my world, from Babylon! What a splendid inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven! In Babylon, worth is measured by earnings – past, present or future – and by status, but in the Kingdom, every person is cherished, whether or not he can work, whether or not she is profitable. In fact, in the Kingdom, the poor and lowly are considered particularly blessed! In Babylon, once I’ve got mine, you’d better worry about getting yours, but in the Kingdom, people put the interests of others above their own. In Babylon, we prioritize productivity and navigating our calendar as efficiently possible, but in the Kingdom “wasting time” in teaching, in prayer and in sacrificial relationship with others is the highest and best use of the day. In Babylon, we do our best to make ourselves look good, including by shredding others’ reputations, but in the Kingdom, human weakness emphasizes God’s glory and, as the song says, believers “guard each other’s dignity and save each other’s pride.”

Most of us know that we are supposed to guard each other’s dignity in our speech, and we try – however imperfectly – to avoid gossip and disparaging comments. But how can we bring this attitude to our actions?

I had an unexpected opportunity to answer that question a few weeks ago. I had gotten involved in a lively exchange on the subway with a man a few years older than me. I was excited that he was not only getting off at my stop but also taking the same commuter train, as good conversation makes the long trip home so much more pleasant. But as soon as the subway pulled into the station, my conversation partner, who used a cane to walk, started giving me “outs” to let me smoothly exit the conversation, noting that I would likely want to take the stairs, that the elevator was probably dirty, that I might miss the earliest train. In response, I smiled wryly and remarked on the weirdness of running off in the middle of a conversation, particularly for someone raised by human beings rather than by wolves.

While my gentle joking allowed us to return to a thoughtful and rewarding interaction, I was inwardly horrified that the man felt the need to give me tacit permission to leave him behind, particularly since we were going in the same direction. What kind of rude, crude, uncouth Philistine would abruptly abandon a conversationalist so warm and engaging? But as I have continued to reflect on that question, the real answer has become uncomfortably clear: I would.

The truth is, continuing our conversation meant slowing down significantly. It meant moving much more deliberately than my typical “places to go, people to see” bob-and-weave style. If my family had been waiting for me at home, if I had been rushing to meet my husband for dinner, if I had been hurrying to complete an assignment for work, would I have accommodated my companion’s languid pace so easily and naturally? Almost certainly not. And my self-centered, utilitarian orientation would have caused me to miss out on a beautiful experience of engaging with him around matters of faith and connecting with him around questions of spirituality.

The toxic busyness and me-first heartspace that characterize Babylon often prevent us from experiencing and responding to opportunities to share the Gospel of love. Even worse, we may come to view other human beings as objects to be acted upon, impediments to be discarded or obstacles to be overcome. This attitude stands in grotesque contrast to the way of the Kingdom, which honors all people as the precious and beloved beings that God knows them to be. In Babylon, we worship beauty and power. We cast aside those who can’t keep up. In the Body of Christ, though, the parts that outwardly are the least dignified – the parts that are weak, unsightly, imperfect –  are treated with the greatest dignity.

What would it look like to carry a Kingdom mentality into our daily interactions? What could it be to jealously guard the dignity of the people in our lives? What concrete steps can we take to infiltrate Babylon as God-empowered agents of radical respect?

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6 Comments

  1. Yelena says

    Love this! A joy, and a sobering conviction, to read.

    Yesterday I was at my stepdad’s house, helping clean up after dinner. It was hot inside, cooled only by the ceiling fan.

    I took the tablecloth outside to shake it off over the side of the porch. The evening was humid and cool. I almost didn’t even stop to take a breath of that beautiful fresh air, so keenly was I focused on getting things cleaned up and finished for the night. But a gentle sense of “wait, hold on…” took hold of me, and I inhaled deeply, and the air was wondrous sweet.

    I shook the tablecloth five times instead of twice… And even with in this moment of grace, I noticed that my body and mind were already trying to move on.

    How much more present and loving we could be if we took those moments to heart! Thank you for your words of encouragement. I love reading your experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s high praise coming from you, Yelena. I think you’re the only person I know who could convey in words the magic of shaking crumbs off a table cloth…

      Like

    • I am in love with this: “wait, hold on…”

      (I pointed out a breathtaking sunset once to a woman in the parking lot of a Costco, which never puts people in the spirit of looking with awe and wonder at the world around them. She seemed irritated, at first, and then baffled that a stranger would ask her to look at the sky, and then she looked at the sky, and she was still looking as we got into the car.)

      Like

  2. Sally says

    I so love this. Recently, I was thinking about something that happened long ago. Probably 30 years ago. I would have been about 34. I was hiking with my dog. We had charged up the mountain, I was going for a personal record on a hike I did about once a year. I probably accomplished that. On the way down I met an older woman, also descending. She told me she had hiked the mountain with her children for years, but now they didn’t want to hike with her because she was too slow. So she hiked alone. I felt bad for her, but the slow pace was unbearable for me, and eventually I lost her. Now I am probably about her age. I feel bad that I didn’t take time with her. I think I am better at that now, but not as considerate as I should be.
    Thank for this. And for naming us Babylon. It is all so true and difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Sally – it makes me feel better to know I’m not alone in this. We never regret spending extra time with people, do we? But when we go the other way, we sometimes do. Of course, we generally don’t realize we’ve made the wrong choice until it’s too late. And everything in our culture pushes us toward the wrong choice.

      On Babylon…I realized a few years ago that the set of images around Babylon – mighty, wealthy, urbane, individualistic, mired in sex and violence – had a lot to say to our time and place. The further I go with it, the more I’m convinced it’s true. Of course, part of my conviction is the way the image seems to resonate with people like you.

      It’s kind of a grim comparison, but unfortunately it seems to work.

      Like

  3. Our sermon this past Sunday was on The Parable of the Vineyard Workers, and it was so powerful to think about how damaging it is to value someone’s worth based on what you perceive they are offering, or what they’ve done. Our pastor said, “This is a parable that is interested in how we love our neighbor more than how much we have to do to get into heaven.” And she ended with the question, “More? Or enough?”

    Liked by 1 person

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