Today, I had a conversation with a young woman that we’ll call “Amanda.” A conversation might be stretching it. Amanda made little sense in what she said and didn’t seem to hear–or at least respond–to much of what I said. She was mostly naked and stumbling down the sidewalk in downtown San Diego. She had scratches along her arms intermixed with sporadic, blurred tattoos. Her hair looked as if it had been cut with hedge trimmers. Her shirt looked as though she, or someone else, had torn it almost completely off. She wore a pair of shorts that were an inch away from being classified as underwear. She cried. She moaned. She spoke of having been killed, of being allergic to dirt and water, of Mother Mary, of being abused by horses, of being deaf and blind, of FBI conspiracies.
I told Amanda I was sorry for how sad she was. Myself and another person tried to get her covered up and settled down. She was calmed somewhat by our kindness but remained terribly disturbed. She told me she wasn’t a human, just an animal. I told her it wasn’t true. That she was a person, created in God’s image and loved by that same God. She cried out that it wasn’t true, she wasn’t human anymore. My heart broke.
Amanda’s situation is drastic, although, working in downtown San Diego, I see a lot of this kind of thing. But there remains a broader lesson to learn from her. We live in a broken world and it is as if this broken world works at its best to dehumanize us. We are reduced to numbers and demographics, voting blocks and consumers. The wonderful work of Christian leaders, and followers of Jesus in general, is that this is just isn’t true and we get to announce that. We are more than those things. The good news of the kingdom of God encompasses within it the recognition of human dignity where it was not recognize before. That the Creator of the cosmos fashioned us in his own image, would choose to work with us in the accomplishment of his mission and save us from our error is profoundly good news. The world today, and historically, tells that we cannot escape from our error, that we are insignificant, that we serve no grand purpose. Yet the gospel stands in contrast, declaring that being human is so much more than this through the work of Jesus.
Your work is to display God’s creative will and design where others do not yet see it. Most poignantly this is done in the lives of others. Give them dignity, declare that there is another way to be human… and pray for Amanda.–JE