What would it mean if we saw every person as human?
Centuries ago, St. Benedict proposed that his monks see all visitors as Christ:
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Matt. 25:35). And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
It’s a tall order, to see Christ in everyone. These days I wonder if we might start with a simpler step, to see everyone as human. If so, I would have to start with Donald Trump, who was the muse of this particular post.
Let me explain.
My brilliant and brilliantly talented artist friend made these “human” badges, and posted a selfie wearing the badge. I thought that was a fantastic and subversive response to Mr. Trump’s proposal that all Muslims in the U.S. wear badges identifying them by their religion. Except that he didn’t actually say that. He has proposed other fear-inducing and xenophobic things, but he did not say he thought Muslims should wear badges.
I was a little disappointed because I rejoice just a little bit every time Mr. Trump reveals his cards, because, in part, I don’t think of Mr. Trump as a real-live human being, but as more of a caricature of some would-be Gordon Gekko Maverick guy with bad hair and a few ex-wives. It doesn’t help that Mr. Trump claims to be one of ours, a Presbyterian. That does not help one bit.
What would it mean for me to see him as human? What would it mean for him to see a Muslim-American as human?
There are the basics: inhabitant of planet Earth; homo sapiens; bi-ped mammal. But beyond the flesh and blood, inside those brain chemicals and our hearts and the experiences that form us, what does it mean to share the identity of human?
Perhaps compassion is part of it – at least I hope it is. Maybe the urge to protect the young and vulnerable is a part, too. To be human is to engage in something – in a person, in beauty, in the natural world, in the life of the mind. I wish that being human meant being someone who dances or someone who sings, or someone who stacks rocks into beautiful piles just to see if they will balance. In the best of all possible worlds, being human would mean risking one’s own well-being for the well-being of a stranger.
Which makes it hard for me to see Mr. Trump as human. I get how difficult this can be. But if I can’t start with someone of my own tribe – white, Presbyterian, American – is there hope for us to see the stranger as human? Or maybe that’s easier, because we don’t know or assume as much about that person who lives on the other side of this planet.
I was talking with a friend who loved someone who had schizophrenia, who had a life of suffering, who was often treated as less than human. My friend said that someday we would have to talk about God and suffering, and I think that’s tied to being human, too. Is to be human to suffer? And to rejoice? Can one human have all of that in life?
We love to assign labels and when we get carried away, we make labels for people to wear. Scarlet letters, stars of David, pink triangles. That’s how we know who the other is, who the enemy is, who the criminal is. That’s how we know we’re losing touch with our own humanity, when we segregate. Homeless. Addict. Whore. Lunatic. Thief. Liar. Idiot. Waste.
Funny how no one took Jesus up on the offer to cast the first stone.
Maybe the reason Benedict encouraged his monks to see Christ in all they met was because Christ first saw humans in everyone he met – people who danced and sang, who protected, who risked, who stacked rocks. And so we start where He started, seeing the humanity in all.