A Reflection from the Rev. Todd Foster
The problem with excluding others based on some achievement or characteristic is that in doing so, I am judging myself. When I deem another unworthy (unqualified, inadequate, not up-to-snuff, a bad fit), then I am saying that there is a standard by which people are judged and I live in danger (and fear!) of not living up to that standard myself.
If we’re talking about a health care professional, an attorney, an accountant, or a mechanic, then yes, I want there to be standards and no, I personally do not live up to them.
But when we’re talking about community, family, relationship, or church: that’s a different matter altogether. All these words are synonyms in a sense. In each of these collections we exercise some degree of choice in choosing our membership (or, at least, our participation). But to each of these categories we exercise no choice or discrimination as to eligibility. The very fact that I am human means I belong: to community, to family, to relationship, to church. There are no standards that might disqualify me. Accidents, bad luck, or bad behavior do not disqualify me from belonging (though they may make my participation difficult or strained). Belonging to community, to family, to relationship, and to church, is my birthright as a human being.
I recently read a book called NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman. NeuroTribes is an anecdote-filled history of the gradual recognition of Autism as a collection of traits that profoundly shape the lives of people around the world. Two competing understandings of Autism are presented in this book. Is Autism a pathology to be treated and eliminated or is it an example of human diversity, whose gifts and challenges are two sides of the same coin? Basically, the question is whether the idea of what is “normal” must be narrowly constrained, and non-conformists institutionalized as sub-human, or whether “normal” might turn out to be a broader category than I could have imagined in my own limited experience of the world.
Who is “normal,” who “fits” in our community is a dangerous question. This question is where theology rubs up against assumptions, where prejudices get called out, where fear and pride intrude upon my life in ways that surprise, shock, and disappoint me. The term “neurodiversity” is challenging to me because I live so much in my mind: I have difficulty empathizing with or relating to others who think differently from me. Silberman’s book asks me the question, how much do I demand that others be like me? How well do I embrace someone who is different in ways that challenge my own pride, that threaten my own insecurities about the core of my identity?
I have chosen to live in the community of the Episcopal Church in part because I am proud of our official positions. We embrace people no matter the color of their skin, the size of their paycheck, the prominence of their family, their experience of gender or sexuality, even their understanding of God and salvation. We exclude neither those who think differently (hold different opinions) from us, nor those who think differently (with brains operating in a whole different way) from us. Because this church embraces all these different people, I know there’s room for me here, too.
So why do we so easily fall into the trap of homogeneity? Why do the people inside our building not reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods in the immediate 5 mile radius outside our building? Do our actions reflect our beliefs? We desire to be a welcoming church. We proclaim loudly and frequently that Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you have a place at Epiphany. But is it true? Are we making space for every person or are we just expecting them to conform to what is comfortable for us? Where do hospitality, justice, and self-care all meet together for the glory of God and the love of all God’s people?
I’m not asking simple questions. Because life is not a simple process. There are no simple answers.
My own experiences and understandings of the world are inadequate to grasp the mind of God. There is a bigger cosmos out there. I believe we as a church are called not to be a hiding place, a gated community of people who think and act alike. The church from the very beginning was powerful and subversive precisely because it was a meeting place where male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, people from many nations and circumstances and experiences of what it means to be human, met together and found that they were one in Christ.
I believe that today, as in the time of the apostles, we are called to set aside those comfortable habits and patterns which reaffirm that we are normal, conventional, or acceptable. We are invited to set aside our privilege and our power. We are invited, like Jesus Christ, to empty ourselves and to take the form of the “other,” lending our cultural legitimacy to those unlike us, and receiving from them a wider understanding of who God is and how deeply God loves us.
God does not love us because of the circumstances of our birth, our lucky breaks (or catastrophic failures) in business, or even our skill and dedication as religious practitioners. God loves us because that is God’s nature: that’s who God is. You and I were created in the image of that God who loves us: we are both deeply loved and invited to love deeply.
The Celebration of the 110th Anniversary of the Founding of Epiphany Parish
Please join us on Friday, January 6th, at 7.30 pm for a Festival Eucharist as we celebrate together the Feast of the Epiphany. This year we also mark the 110th anniversary of Epiphany Parish!
There will be a reception afterward: please RSVP to the church office if you can provide one or more of the following items:
20 bottles of sparkling juice
15 bottles of wine
12 desserts (should feed about 12)
10 fruit platters
2 people to help set up
2 people to help clean up
January 8 at 6 pm, the Epiphany celebration continues with an organ recital celebrating the 20th anniversary of the installation of the Noack organ in the Church. Joseph Adam, the Principal Organist and Associate Director of Music at the Cathedral of Saint James Seattle, will perform major organ repertoire with Epiphany themes. He is also the Resident Organist for the Seattle Symphony and faculty member at the University of Puget Sound, and he has performed worldwide.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
The Holy Name
or Philippians 2:5-11