It was a crowded hot tube train, one sticky summer morning, and wedged in the corner i remember struggling within myself about whether i should or should not continue to
stare look discreetly at the prominently displayed cleavage of the woman squashed next to me. The conversation that I had with myself the Spirit went along these lines:
Me: God, it's clear to me that if i wasn't meant to look then her top would not be so low nor her bra of such a pushing up variety...
Spirit: so why are you bothering me?
Me: well, i wanted to feel better about myself for looking whilst believing it's my right as a man to look, isn't it?
Spirit: what if i gave you permission not to look and helped you discover that you were actually more of a man not less so as a result
Me: ok, but this is london, in the summer, it's going to be very hard not too...
And indeed hard it was - in fact at my tube stop the whole platform advertising was dedicated to launching a new range of raunchy lingerie (which says a lot about our sexualised erotic culture) and that God's timing has it's own sense of humour. But looking back at that moment (and every other cleavage i have been tempted to look at since) i have begun to realise that it was in that look about me learning to recover something of my humanity and also to give back to the woman i am looking at some of her humanity as well...
The ongoing work of both Jesus and the Spirit to restore our humanity and to work in us and through us to do so, even in the face of collusion of our selfishness and our society's blind spots is something i'd like to explore with you in this post - what that might mean for mission, to each other our communities (secular and church alike) in affirming humanity and challenging/confronting inhumanity...
Incarnation - true humanity revealed and redeemed?
What does it mean for us to consider the mission of God from the incarnate Jesus, as the full revelation of humanity but also sent with the purpose of making known the Father (if you have seen me you have seen the Father)? If we accept that Jesus was truly human then as a man he has a penis (rather than being some sort of Ken doll) and a working penis at that so Jesus in his humanity would have experienced sexual arousal but does in a 'sinless' way in which reinforces both his humanity, and refusing to make the woman an object for his gratification and in doing so recognises her dignity and humanity, reinforcing both.
In doing so Jesus wasn't accessing his divine credit card but living in complete co-operation with the Holy Spirit, in a way that it makes it both possible for him to demonstrate full humanity but also the relationship of submitting himself in obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit and therefore showing the way for us as humanity to find true humanity.
The great reveal - how the Holy Spirit highlights humanity
What about the mission of the Holy Spirit, leading us to Jesus, making known the Father, gathering a people who bear not only likeness but character of God, making us new (re)creations, in restored humanity found in God?
If one of the ways in which the Spirit works is to point people towards Jesus who in turn points people towards the Father should we be surprised to find the Spirit at work in the church and in the world? If we are not the finished article but flawed diamonds, spiritual beings who are on an ongoing journey of growing in our humanity then it figures that we are continuing to be challenged and applauded, praised and perfected, loved as we're restored. At it's best then church comes about co-operating with the Spirit in that we work with the Spirit to bring out the best in each other in and outside of church.
Perhaps that means we need to applaud signs/actions of humanity and challenge signs of inhumanity, in ourselves, in our church communities but also in the world around us. I'm struck for example how a small kind deed by a woman at well responding to a request for a drink from a thirsty stranger produced a life changing encounter, the woman's humanity was affirmed, challenged and then given the promise of ongoing restored fullness. Or take another woman, whose generous annoiting of tears and perfume was recognised as very human - recognition of her need to rethink her life, for the limits of her humanity - the ugliness of it but also the beauty of generousity and humility.
Contrast that with the host of party who this woman had gate crashed - he had invited Jesus but not exteneded any of the common courtesies of the day, his inhumanity was challenged and exposed, the mask removed and yet still the hope offered to him of not putting it back on again.
Recovering humanity as much as redeeming it - the mission of Jesus?
Jesus, in one sense, seemed to be about trying to give people a chance to get their humanity back, to come to their senses, to rethink or repent their lives and reveal the real narrative that was driving the inhumanity - the greed, pride, lust, power, fame, fear etc. Indeed, in the face of the challenge to inhumanity it provoked another reaction - collusion. Rival factions and powers colluded against Jesus and his agenda of challenging and exposing any system or form that exhibited inhumanity. Indeed one way to look at the cross is the ulitmate expose, the full suffering servant, silent fully human Jesus, in his death revealing all the hate, jealousy, anger, power struggles of the powers of his day and in his resurection showing that even they were ultimately bankrupt.
And therefore painting a contrasting vision of humanity which is not self focussed but other focussed, not about gaining everything for ourselves but in losing everything so that everyone else can have.
Our own conspiracy of inhumanity...
And today how often do we determine against ourselves, internally colluding by our own narratives, addictions, fears, weaknesses, brokeness and externally as a society we collude against ourselves - there is no blame, no attachment, everything is ok as long as it makes us happy temporarily or as long as no one gets hurt. But we are so often blind to how we hurt ourselves and each other, how we reduce each other and ourselves to objects - to meet my needs for sex, or security, or self aggrandisement - in the process we deaden our own humanity and the humanity of those around us, becoming more callous and less caring.
Is there another way - a case study of apartheid and Bishop Tutu
In his autobiography, the author describes how Bishop Tutu would often speak to crowds of angry violent opprressed black africans in a bid to try and avoid them rioting, knowing full well that often the security services were itching for them to do so - both sides not seeing any humanity in the other. Tutu would affirm the injustice of treatment of blacks, of how evil apartheid was and how the God he believed in cared uniquely for them. But he would go on to say that apartheid was already defeated, that it was over, finished, it had no future because God was against apartheid. If apartheid was already defeated what did it matter, he would argue, what the whites outside thought, we know we're human and we will live as if we are human. We will not reduce ourselves to inhumanity, to any system based on the colur of skin, but as free people we will embrace our humanity and the humanity of our brothers and sisters who are human because we are all made in the image of God.
Tutu's call to live as free people of God and to embrace a path of humanity was often the difference between a peaceful protest and a violent bloody confrontation - the oppressed in discovering their humanity were able to extend that to their oppressors and invite them to recognise their own inhuman course of action.
if we're christians, do you feel their is a need to confront each other over are inhumanity - are own selfishness? are there ways for us to also confess that to each other? Are we led by the Spirit in the confrontation/confession rather that what offends us or what we think will be mask for us to hide behind?
Do you seel any areas where we are colluding together, institutionally blind as a church, or a society? Where do you think the Spirit is speaking in a prophetic voice inside or outside of the church and what is being said?
As christians how would you evaluate your own record of confronting inhumanity in the world? If we're about confrontation not by displaying equal inhumane behaviour but by a process of having our own humanity restored, does that lead to a different response/action on our part?
Where do you see signs of humanity breaking out around you that you can affirm (generous, gracious, loving about)? how do you think we can use that to learn ourselves about our own humanity in co-operation with the Spirit and also to encourage people to experience the possibiliy of full humanity of Jesus?
(a thought that springs to my mind would be gays/lesbians seeking to commit to each other in the loving union of marriage - or is that too far?)
What do you think/feel? What is your experience?