Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Becoming Human

The other day I wrote something on how zombies, vampires and werewolves play a key role in helping teenagers explore what it means to be human. From an ‘adult’ perspective, this is, of course, nonsense – something to grow out of; a false condition to be healed of, or transformed from into what it looks like to be truly human.

But, what does it look like to be truly human?

I’ve just read Roy McCloughry’s most recent book, the enabled life: Christianity in a disabling world. I highly recommend it for its challenging and timely insights. Roy exposes something that we are blind to: that in our culture we paint a very particular image of what it means to be a person, and measure everyone against what is only a small and temporary group – those at the peak of physical strength and mental capacity; those abled by privilege to exercise power. From here, we might look down on those who are marred or flawed with revulsion, or with pity; demonising them, or helping them more closely approximate ‘us’…

…never thinking that we share a common frailty, that to become fully human is to embrace the gift of frailty and of inter-dependence. (Interestingly, on a number of occasions in Scripture, God imposes upon the powerful and self-sufficient a temporary physical or mental disability in order that they might learn the very things we still resist learning.)

One of the many challenging things that Roy sets out is a vision of the resurrection body. What will our body look like? Many of us who are abled in our current society assume that it will be an upgrade of our present bodies at the peak of our health – and that the disabled will be upgraded to our specification. Some disabled people hope for this too, while others, seeing that as a rejection of their worth, assume that they will have their present form, but that it will not impede them. Roy suggests that we too closely identify with our present condition – abled or disabled – and that we will all be transformed in a much more fundamental way. Again, the resurrected Jesus was recognisable only by his scars – healed wounds – while elsewhere his body takes various forms – scarred man, scarred lamb…

And then today, my friend Alan Hirsch shared this quote on Facebook:

Is it not conceivable, asks Heschel, that the entire structure of our civilization may be built upon a misinterpretation of what a human person is? The failure to identify human being, to know what is authentic human existence, leads one to pretend to be what one is unable to be or to deny what is at the very root of one's being. “Ignorance about man is not lack of knowledge, but false knowledge.” ~ Donald J. Moore

If we are to become truly human, we need a new construct, a new way of recognising one another, an honesty and a compassion.

It turns out that the church where we have been for the past two-and-a-half years, a church which has less resources and less power than any I have known and yet (or perhaps because, rather than in spite of, this?) loves – loves those increasingly disabled by age, loves those with learning disabilities…and so sees both the disabled and the abled transformed through that love, however imperfect, however hard.

The Church is the Body of Christ. And as my wife observed, reflecting on Roy’s book, if that body is made up of us, none of whom are ‘perfect’ – none of whom match the misinterpreted construction of what it means to be human, or at least, not for long – then that Body is a broken one, disabled by the constructs of the world.

Perhaps we need more zombies.

Perhaps the freaks and the misfits are the most fully representative humans of all. Perhaps only with them will we learn to love ourselves, and our neighbour. Perhaps only then can we be an enabling community.

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