So this week I am in Mississippi, visting my wife’s family. It is always such a culture shock for me to make my way to the south, because as a native Californian, there is so very little I have in common with the people down here. You see, where I am from, to say “Yes Sir” is almost insulting. Here it is an insult not to. Where I am from, it is very uncomfortable to talk about your faith, where as here in the south it is the standard conversation. (Well, at least right after sports!) It is a different world, and I feel alien here. The funny thing is, I have lived here before and have never been able to acclimate, it’s just not in me.
There is however something deeply comforting about the south, and that is the simple, decent respect that everyone gives one another. They may call it “Southern Hospitatiy”, but I prefer to think of it as human decency. You see, where I am from, it is perfectly acceptable to completely ignore the gas station attendant. Here, it is far more normal to begin a conversation with them. This small change is not so small at all.
Human decency is not so much about the big issues like abortion or euthanasia. It is about the reality that every human person is just that, a person. It is accepting the reality that though you may not know the person standing in front of you, that person has a life and being that is all his own, and given him or her by the grace of God. It is about seeing the divine spark in every single person you cross paths with.
This is the difference I feel in the south. Yes, there are still class barriers, just like everywhere else. Yes, racism may still be an issue sometimes. Yes, there are the haves and the have nots. Under no circumstances however is it socially appropriate to deny the humanity of another human being. It may not be enough, but I think it is a great step indeed.
We could all use this lesson, especially those of us who populate cites, where this seems to be the first nicety to go. I am the first one to say that being “nice” is not always a good thing, but for most of our daily interactions, it sure would be a great start.
What does this mean in our lives in faith? How deeply do we really see into the humanity of other people? It is a question that plagues me often, and worries me greatly.
I have an exercise I often do when I’m out driving around, or walking in the mall to help me with this. I try to mentally delete everything I see but the people. So if I’m walking down a city street, or shopping in a store, I try in my mind’s eye to make everything but the people disappear. We small beings are truly beings of light, and so I invision everyone around me this way. I try to delete their cars, their houses, their clothing. I try to delete every single thing that could get in the way of their basic humanity, until all I can envision is the bright light that every human being is, walking around. It’s kindof like the movie “the Matrix”, and it makes me a little dizzy.
This little exercise of mine is to illustrate a single point. Our nature as spiritual beings, made in the image and likeness of God is the only true reality we have. It is so easy for all of us to see only our masks, and never actually look into our true natures. We see only our likes and dislikes instead of seeing our brothers and sisters.
So all told, maybe I’m not an alien down here. In fact, I’m fixin to grab myself some ham and black eyed peas, so ya’ll come on down and fix some up for you too.