Thursday, March 27, 2008

respecter of persons

This is a coined phrase that sticks in my memory from childhood. It comes from the King James language of Acts 10:34. Peter stands up and says, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” This was the pronouncement of Cornelius’ acceptance into the present work of Christ.

But the story I remember hearing as an example of a situation where one should not be a respecter of persons was from James 2:3, where two types of people come to you, one is rich and wearing nice clothing and the other is poor and wears tattered clothing. In our little Sunday school we were instructed not to treat the rich person with more respect then the poor person.

At home and in the daily life of my faith community in rural Minnesota, there were plenty of chances to work this out. We were not a minister’s family. We were not the model citizens of this community. In fact we had trouble being model citizens. I remember being the odd one out most of the time. To this day, I still catch myself thinking, “I don’t have any friends.” I have a few counter responses to that one now. But over all, this status in that community provided me and my family with an opportunity to practice becoming people who are not respecters of persons. Often, we would host people who were even more rejected than ourselves. Some of them would come over and we would watch as my dad would sit in the living room with them and listen to their rambling or ranting for hours. We all knew it wasn’t very pleasant to be in my father’s position. But we learned from him. He would treat them kindly. My mother would cook for them. And we would all eat together. Very seldom would we hear my father complain about these rejected folks that came over. He only ever said enough to confirm our own judgments. These folks were lonely and because of their rejection and isolation among us, they’d become a little crazy. Everyone becomes a little crazy when loneliness sets in. When there are people who have become crazy as a result of isolation it is no reflection on their own person, it is an indictment upon the society that contains them.

To this day, I often feel more comfortable with folks that hover on the edges of social groups. If they stand a little to close when they talk. If they talk incessantly about something mundane and uninteresting. If they don’t understand the blatant cues your giving them about your boredom or your need to move on or get to work. These are the folks I feel at home with. Urban ministry has made great use of and given me a place to further practice treating everyone as equals.

The most surprising thing for one of my roommates to find out was that I was bothered by a number of people’s behavior or even their personality, but I still hung out with them. I can only credit it to my parents that I am able to embrace the outcasts, because otherwise I would be very picky and judgmental about the sort of folks I was with.

Inevitably, when I give witness to the grace God has shown me in my upbringing on the topic of preferring some above other people, people self-consciously ask, “Do I bug you”? Do you just hang out with me because you want to overcome your natural aversion to me?

So what if you are. You are loved anyway. You are accepted. This is the point. Soon we’ll all forget what our aversions were.

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