Jesus’ ministry was devoted to embracing all of humanity, and—plainly and clearly—he charged us to do the same: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). He didn’t make it easy. In reaching out to the pariahs of his day—sinners, tax collectors, the divorced, Samaritans—he taught that our neighbors don’t always look and act like we do. In this February edition of Liguorian, our theme is: The whole of humanity. Simple? Straightforward? Yes. And extraordinarily complex. When I consider the story of the whole of humanity in the United States—including questions of economic disparity, a history of institutionalized injustice, debates over the role of government, struggles over equal opportunities—I despair of adding to the conversation meaningfully in a short column.
If I could, I’d instead like to have a long, multifaceted conversation with each of you. In those dialogues, I could best map out what it means to love all of humanity. I’d like to talk about how I can expand my understanding of people who are different from me. I see the world from my perspective as a straight, mostly white American male. It’s a limited perspective, as any is, and one skewed by the privileges I enjoy because of what I am. It’s easier for me to shop where I want to, live where I want to, talk with whom I’d like to, work where I’d like to because of what I am. How would I experience the world if I were different: a Muslim immigrant, a young black man, or a Hispanic woman? What if my sexual orientation were different? What if I had physical challenges or mental handicaps? How can I see beyond the differentness and address first who people are and not what they are?
I’m reminded of Larry, a skilled photographer and an adept joke teller who toured Africa in the early 1980s. As he and a reporter walked through a dusty village, a child saw them and screamed, thinking they were ghosts. She’d never seen a white person before. When we encounter someone different from us, how much of our reaction is simply like that of a child who screams at the unfamiliar? I don’t know if Larry ever met that girl again. But I’d like to think he did, told her a joke, and she smiled.