Over and over Jesus pushes, cajoles, invites us to widen the circle to include others, to move past our prejudices into relationship.
Can you think of a time when you’ve been judged, written off or dismissed? Perhaps it was because you were too young or too old, because you didn’t have the ‘right’ credentials or background, maybe it was because of your gender or your orientation. One of those times in my life happened when I was a newly ordained priest and the first woman priest in this particular parish, the last in the area to ‘hold out.’ I had been the seminarian there, so people knew me. Most people were enthusiastic. But there were a handful of parishioners who made it known that they did not approve.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Nan. I was visiting her in the hospital and the very first thing she said as I walked into her room was,” I don’t approve of it.” By ‘it’ she meant the ordination of women, although it felt very much that she really meant me. “Nice to meet you too”, I thought to myself. What I felt was a whole host of emotions: hurt, anger, pity, fear, doubt. I decided I didn’t like her one bit, that she was mean and hurtful. But she was also my parishioner, so I took a deep breath. I told her she was entitled to her opinion and she didn’t have to approve. At the same time, it didn’t change the fact that I was ordained and did she want me to stay. As it turns out, not only did she have me stay, Nan ultimately became one of my greatest supporters, continuing to ask me to lunch years after I had left the parish.
Nan had been against the concept of women’s ordination for all kinds of reasons, but only when she had the opportunity to meet a priest who happened to be a woman could she move beyond the concept, into the reality of relationship, and see clearly the human being. As it turns out, Nan was against ‘it’ because her boys had been given less time as acolytes when girls were allowed to serve. Her judgment resulted from protectiveness of her ‘own.’ Once she got to know me, I was part of her ‘own,’ about whom she was equally protective. However, in the exchange her circle had widened.
Ever widening the circle. Over and over Jesus pushes, cajoles, invites us to widen the circle to include others, to move past our prejudices into relationship. To see more clearly that the one we might quickly reject or judge or resist seeing is, in fact, one in whom God is present. One who is precious and beloved, as precious and beloved as you are. Jesus invites us see a little more clearly the beautiful quirkiness of human beings, in all our glorious diversity.
Last Sunday, 100 people stayed for the forum on Islam led by Moulana Mehboob Mehdi Abidi. We had more than 15 guests from the Children of Abraham Coalition who joined us for the morning, and it was truly powerful. While I don’t believe we at St. Simon’s see our Muslim or Jewish brothers and sisters in a judgmental or negative way, I know many of us simply don’t have much opportunity to know those who practice other religions. Many of us present felt the morning was a small step toward moving beyond the concept of Muslim toward seeing more clearly our Muslim neighbors as companions on this journey. It was a circle widening moment for me.
When have you felt yourself on the receiving end of someone else seeing you as a ‘concept’ instead of as a person? When have you moved beyond your initial perception into a relationship of empathy and compassion? When have you seen clearly?
Hope to see you Sunday!