The Best Gift You Could Give Me This Christmas
This sweatshirt was the number one item on my Christmas list this year! So beautiful! I can almost smell the grass, hear the crack of the bat and feel Gerald Laird’s stubble underneath his catcher’s mask!
Also on my list was this fantastic Star Trek Transporter Room Bath Mat & Shower Curtain Set! Set phasers to STUNNING!
Then to round it out, I asked for a few books, some clothes, a mattress cover, and GU energy gels and Met-Rx bars to power my running habit. Hopefully, in a few weeks I can check some of these items off my list of wants. But there’s something I’d like even more…
You know I’ve been on this campaign for hope, right? Am I so naive to believe we can really change the world one person at a time? I do think the world is like that insurance commercial where each good deed leads to another. So what I really want is a kindness revolution for Christmas!
I talked a little in my last post about the dinner I went to last week at Candler School of Theology. Dr. Greg Ellison delivered a talk entitled “Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for Marginalized Populations.” And brother, was the dapper Mr. Ellison speaking my language!
He shared this William James quote with us:
“No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us, from which the cruelest bodily torture would be a relief.”
So who are the people who are “cut dead” – rendered invisible – in our society? Young black men? The poor? The disabled? The homeless? The elderly? The sick? The transgendered? The socially awkward? The abused? The hungry? The mentally ill? All of these. More than these.
Dr. Ellison discussed Social Psychologist, Kipling Williams‘ list of four fundamental human needs: 1) Belonging 2) Self Esteem 3) Control and 4) Meaningful Existence. Everyone needs these four things to be able to function in a healthy way in the world.
He went on to talk about the three threats to hope. The first is despair. Despair can lead to one of two outcomes, either disgust or depression. The second threat is apathy. Apathy can lead us to either lethargy, or what I have written in my notes as “present-bound inclusive.” Whether I wrote those words correctly, the gist of it was that apathy can lead to saying “What the hell? I don’t care what happens to me, so my actions, good or bad, have no meaningful consequences!” And the third factor that threatens hope is shame. Ellison says that guilt is the belief that I’ve DONE something wrong, but shame is the belief that I AM something wrong.
Towards the end of the lecture, we read a long quote from the work of Howard Thurman who was a writer, a thinker and a civil rights leader. For me the most powerful sentence was this one.
“It is better to be the complete victim of an anger unrestrained and a wrath which knows no bounds, to be torn asunder without mercy or battered to a pulp by angry violence, than to be passed over as if one were not.”
So my mission – my passion – is to let people know that they ARE, that they count, that they are not invisible, that they belong, and they have something to offer. How would our world change if “rage and impotent despair” were banished? How would society look with less despair, less apathy, and less shame? What would it be like to live in a world where everyone has a sense of belonging and a feeling that they are good enough to be accepted, that they have some control over their lives and well-being, and have opportunities that give their lives meaning? What if everyone had hope.
I have felt hopeless and worthless – like I didn’t matter – like there was no good reason to go on living. I’ve had a friend tell me they’re not sure they’re going to be able to provide Christmas for their family. I’ve seen what the feet of the homeless look like after weeks of endless walking. I’ve seen people looking forlorn at work and walked by without speaking. My good friends at church told me they sat in the pews there every Sunday for two years before anyone spoke to them. I never call my Aunt Jo and she’d love to hear from me. There are so many tiny, simple opportunities for change, opportunities to bring hope and joy and inclusion, that go past us every day.
So the best gift you could give me this Christmas is to find at least one invisible person to bring into the light. Reach out and let someone know they matter, that they are good enough, that there is a reason for them to be. Help them see that they ARE.
I know we can do it. We can set a revolution in motion with even the smallest actions. Not everyone can be a mighty warrior for justice like Nelson Mandela, but everyone can be a tiny spark that ignites a fantastic blaze that can change and refine the world! Let’s do this.
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