Monday, January 6, 2014


After we celebrate the miracle and the mystery of the Incarnation,
         we pause to remember what the Incarnation means,
         and to consider the difference it makes for how we live each day.
The wise men are examples of how to live
         in a world where God has become human.
They are pictures of how we keep two of the vows
in our Baptismal Covenant.
Today we look especially at those two promises:
         First, “to seek and serve Christ in all people.”
         Second, “to respect the dignity of every human being.”
When God takes on human nature,
it changes how we think of other humans.
It changes how we look at each other
         and how we treat each other.

Today’s opening Collect sets out the theme of our lessons.
“O God who wonderfully created
         and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human kind.”

The wise men didn’t just kneel before the divinity of Jesus.
They knelt before his humanity,
         because God made humanity holy.
Bishop Tutu says that if we really believed
what the Bible teaches about human nature,
         we would genuflect before each other as we do
                  before the Blessed Sacrament.
The wise men showed us how to respond to Jesus.
The Baptismal Covenant tells us where we find him – in each other.
We “seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity
         of every human being.”

The wise men’s bringing gifts to the stable
         shows how we are to treat each other,
         honoring the dignity of humankind,
         which God created in the beginning
                  and more wonderfully restored in the Incarnation.

But what would that look like?
The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh
to honor Christ in the stable of Bethlehem.
How shall we honor the Christ in the stables of each other’s lives?

Donna Hicks mediates conflicts around the world.
She has worked with insurrections in Latin America,
         civil wars in Africa, and religious strife in Ireland.
In her book, Dignity, Hicks says that
wherever conflict rages in the world,
         if you scratch the surface you’ll find a dignity violation.
Somebody has felt disrespected.
From wars between nations to fights in the family,
         most of our conflicts boil down to dignity.

Hicks says that respect can be different for people
who have done something to earn our respect.
It can depend on what someone has done.
But dignity belongs to who someone is.
Dignity goes with the turf of being human.
The baby in the Bethlehem stable hadn’t done a thing.
The wise men paid him homage for who he was.
Respecting someone’s dignity isn’t about his or her resume.
It’s about their humanity.
Christians vow to respect the dignity of every human being.
But how? I am still looking for concrete actions.

Just as the wise men brought three gifts to the stable,
         Hicks says there are 10 gifts we need to give people
                  to respect their human dignity.
She calls them “The 10 Essential Elements of Dignity.”

I’d say her list adds up to a pretty good 10 commandments
         for how we treat each other at home, at work,
         at church, and in the world.
Number 1 is Acceptance.
         Approach people as neither inferior nor superior to you
Number 2. Inclusion
         Make others feel they belong.
3. Acknowledgement
         Give people your full attention by listening and responding.
         Give others the freedom to express their authentic selves
                  without fear of being negatively judged.

4. Safety
         Put people at ease at two levels:
physically so they feel safe from bodily harm;
and psychologically so they feel safe from being humiliated.

5. Recognition.
         Recognize others for their talents, hard work,
thoughtfulness, and help.

6. Fairness
         Treat people in an evenhanded way according to agreed on rules.

7. Benefit of the Doubt
         Start with the premise that others are acting with integrity
         and good motives.
8. Understanding
         Believe that what others think matters so try to understand
                  their point of view.

9. Independence
         Encourage people to act on their own behalf
         so they can feel in control of their lives.

10. Accountability
         Take responsibility for your actions.
         When you have violated the dignity of another person,

The rules are perfectly simple.
But putting them into practice is hard.
It takes constant discipline.
It takes attention and effort.
It’s work.

It’s hard work because all of us have had our dignity violated
         at one time or another, probably a lot of times.
Those wounds to our dignity could make us compassionate.
They could make us into guardians of the dignity of others.
But 19 times out of 20 they make us try to build ourselves back up
by taking someone else down.
It would be great to take down the person who disrespected us,        
         but usually we have to find someone else to pick on.
Defensiveness and contempt easily become habits.

I can’t tell you how many marriages I’ve seen start well,
         until one spouse steps on the other’s dignity,
         then the second spouse stomps back, and so on
         until they have done a 20 year tap dance on each other
                  leaving a couple of embittered pancakes before the divorce.

The Church is as fallible as any human organization,
         maybe more so.
But our purpose is to be a model for godly life.
 Here, in our church relationships, this is where we practice
the 10 commandments to honor
the 10 Essential Element of Dignity.
If we practice those 10 things here,
         it will change our marriages, our businesses,
                  and even our government.

Our diocesan slogan is: Together we can change the world.
If we church folks seriously put those 10 commandments in practice,
         the world would change.
But we don’t have to do it all at once.
We can take baby steps.
We could change the world this year with one simple practice
-- not an easy practice, but a simple one.
Whenever we hear someone say something that strikes us as wrong,
         instead of saying, “how could you think anything so idiotic?”
         we would say, “Tell me more about that.”
With the simple practice of asking curious questions
         instead of vainly trying to argue others into agreement,
         we could break down walls of defensiveness and contempt
         that separate us from godly relationships with one another.
That alone, just that, would be a critical breaking in
of the Kingdom of God into a fallen world.