On feeling valued

Yesterday I travelled down to the Westminster Faith Debate on same-sex marriage. The Religion and Society programme had booked my train travel first class (complete with confirmation from a university travel service announcing in big letters ‘CHEAPEST FARE OF xxx REJECTED. SAVING OF xxx COULD HAVE BEEN MADE. REASON GIVEN FOR REJECTION: “vip passenger”.’ which I enjoyed, and which says far too much about the general state of university support services in the UK). I have never actually traveled first class over any distance before, apart from occasional overnight sleeper trips on a promotional ticket, so I was looking forward to this experience, and ended up laughing about odd details with some Twitter friends.

Then I was met at the debate venue, by an extremely polite intern, taken to a Green Room, greeted warmly, &c. Then I met the photographer (see previous post), and was bossed around and fussed over till she had exactly the shots she wanted. I ended the evening in a restaurant where the standard of service was higher than I am accustomed to before boarding the train home. There were other details, but you get the flavour.

The day was extraordinarily pleasant – there were moments of course; it is a controversial subject. Given the choice, for instance, I’d have skipped being told to my face that people of my intellectual calibre should be banned from speaking in public (love you too, mate…), but these felt like brief clouds in a sunny sky.

I reflected on the whole experience on a delayed train this morning, and realised: I had spent the day being valued, being treated as if I mattered, and that this is both fairly unusual in my life, and extraordinarily affirming.

I half-remember a quotation from G.K. Chesterton: he puts it in the mouth of Fr Brown, but I am sure he is speaking, and speaking out of his profound Catholic faith. ‘All people matter. I matter. You matter. It is the hardest thing in theology to believe.’

All people matter. We debated same-sex marriage, and I found myself troubled. On the one side are those whose rhetoric too often suggests that only straight people matter. This is about as close to heresy as any modern view I have ever encountered. On the other side, there is an ‘inclusive’ (heavily inverted commas) position that says, essentially, ‘lesbian, gay, and straight people who obey the rules the church has set matter’. This is just as close to heresy. The truth is, all people matter – straight, lesbian, and gay, bisexual, confused, queer, asexual, polyamorous, living in profoundly improper and abusive relationships, struggling to find any term to describe their felt identity – they are people; they matter.

Chesterton somewhere else imagines Father Brown facing up to someone who has committed a sin that society regards as unforgivable. ‘I wouldn’t touch him with a barge-pole,’ says another character; Father Brown’s comment is something like – I am quoting these texts from memory – ‘as a Christian I must touch him, and not with a barge-pole, but with a benediction.’ The call of the church is to treat people – all people, without exception – as if they mattered, to touch them with a benediction.

I know that I benefit from almost every injustice in the world; I know how to check my privilege extraordinarily well - and yet I found the experience of a day being treated as if I mattered emotionally powerful and deeply affirming. I think of friends who are on the wrong side of one, or more than one, injustice – lesbian/gay, or poor, or female, or disabled, or young, or old, or black, or Romany, or – well, you know the list… I think of people I have met who are on the wrong side of almost every injustice – what would it feel to them to spend a day being treated as if they mattered?

I know that, from my position of privilege, I can’t imagine. I also know that I believe in the depths of my soul that this is what the experience of church should be – for every person who comes.

7 Comments

  1. Bev Murrill
    May 1, 2013

    Every person, everywhere, deserves respect and should be treated with dignity.

    (Are people of your intellectual calibre ok to write?)

  2. Chris Chandler
    May 1, 2013

    “Jesus expected the most of every man and woman; and behind their grumpiest poses, their most puzzling defense mechanisms, their coarseness, their arrogance, their dignified airs, their silence, and their sneers and curses, Jesus sees a little child who wasn’t loved enough–a ‘least of these’ who had ceased growing because someone had ceased believing in them” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God, p. 88).

    Manning goes on to cite Don Quixote, whose love of Aldonza in the face of her whoring behavior, is at the same time both absurd and beautiful.

    Would that we Christians love each other and our ‘enemies’ the way Jesus loves. It would solve so many problems.

  3. Sean McGever
    May 2, 2013

    When I was in high school, a youth leader met me on campus. Every week I would see him he remembered my name and any additional interests I had expressed earlier (sports I liked, bands I listened to, etc.) His interest in me changed my life as I was amazed that someone was actually interested in ME. It changed my life as I wanted to know why he cared so much about me. It wasn’t creepy or odd, it was carried out in a truly genuine way. As it turned out, he was a Christian, and this sparked my desire to know more about Christ.

    Your quote of the barge-pole/benediction in Chesterton is wonderful. I hope I didn’t appear to need a barge-pole from my friend, but he certainly gave me a benediction in his care for me.

    Your post shows the opportunity for valuing others in modern culture. So many things can be organized almost automatically, such as a rail pass, almost any level of customization and accommodation to the individual will stand out in the monotony of our automated technological lives.

  4. Brian Davison
    May 2, 2013

    Some people find it hard to make the distinction between the understanding that every person is valued, known and loved by God and therefore also his people, and the assumed implication from that, that everything they say, think, feel, do to want to do must be “affirmed”.
    To affirm ones value and freedom does not necessarily require affirmation of every one of their views or actions.

    • Eve
      May 4, 2013

      Before I had the blessing of knowing Christ, and all that He had done for me, I did not consider myself one of His kids. I think the Bible agrees with me….but oh, how He wants us to be! I totally agree that He loved me, but I did not love Him.
      Certainly He did not “affirm” my lifestyle. We are all born needing Him. He still does not ‘affirm’ stuff in my life that needs to bow to righteousness. A great meaning of righteousness is ‘as it should be.’
      Saying all that to agree with your statement “to affirm ones value and freedom does not necessarily require affirmation of every one of their views or actions.” As a Canadian, I see plainly what forced endorsement means. We all loose our freedom in that no matter what side of the fence we stand. Our hope is that true love, His love, can truly change any of us, who truly receive.

  5. JD
    May 6, 2013

    I don’t see why we should deny freedom of speech to someone with ‘intellectual calibre’ any more than we should deny it to someone without intellectual calibre. What an odd thing to say!

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