In the last issue of Canada Lutheran, I wrote about the question “Who is my neighbour?” I discussed the way we in the ELCIC need to look at white privilege and work to end racism, in ourselves, in our church and in our society.
I’m going to build on that discussion here.
In 1 Corinthians 12: 24b–26 we read, But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Hold on to that passage for a moment.
This summer I was speaking with someone about a field of research on modifiers, specifically the way we order adjectives to describe nouns.
For example, we say “a small red rubber ball,” and to our ears it sounds wrong if we change the order of those modifiers (try saying a rubber red small ball and you will know what I mean).
I don’t know if I ever learned the rules around that piece of grammar but they are an instinctive part of my use of language.
We use a variety of modifiers to describe people, modifiers that relate to size, colour of skin and hair, as well as other kinds of attributes, like how someone may be groomed or dressed.
For some reason, we seem to have a need to categorize people—to figure out how much they are like us, or unlike us. Like it or not, the ways we do this categorizing are heavily influenced by the culture around us.
Media and advertising use lots of modifiers to make it clear what is desirable and what is undesirable. These develop into prejudices that we use to evaluate people’s worth, whether or not we are aware of it.
We use these prejudices to judge other people and we use them to judge ourselves.
I am tall and big and have short hair. I can’t tell you the number of times people look at me without seeing me and call me “sir.” I try to shrug it off but it hurts.
I look in the mirror and I see a fat person. I work hard at positive body image but it is an ongoing struggle.
Lately I have been listening to the way that other people use modifiers to describe people. It is often maddening, frustrating or at least embarrassing.
I’m talking about church people. People in our church. Our use of language reveals an inner attitude that does not reflect God’s love of the body of Christ as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians. We need to change.
I believe we can rewire ourselves into God’s way of loving people unconditionally. I have been trying a practice of whenever I see someone, saying inside my brain, there is a person. A person. No modifiers.
Sometimes I have to work hard to shut those modifiers down, especially when I am tired or stressed. Sometimes I am able to say a beloved person, meaning beloved by God. Sometimes I am able to feel love towards the person when I say a beloved person. I’m not where I want to be but I’m working on it.
Will you consider joining me? Will you try to shed the modifiers that can demean others and yourself and try to look at people through God’s eyes?
My prayer for you and for me is that we can honour every person, that we can show everyone the same care, and that there is no dissension in the body as we find it inside ourselves, in our churches
and in our communities.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada