Editor’s Corner: Giving up people

By Amy Forbus

Amy Forbus Editor, Arkansas United Methodist

Amy Forbus
Editor, Arkansas United Methodist

Less than a week after Ash Wednesday, author Rachel Held Evans took to Facebook to share some thoughts on how we treat each other in American popular culture.

“It’s not exactly a Lenten practice,” she wrote, “but during this season of reflection and repentance, I’ve been observing the ways in which our culture dehumanizes, commodifies, and consumes people, and confronting my own complicity in that. It’s been eye-opening. And convicting…. it’s clear to me that we struggle with something of a shared addiction here in which our fellow human beings are flattened out and used as projection screens for our fears, anger, hopes, amusement, dysfunction, insecurities, expectations, and pride.”

It was the morning after the Oscars, and as she placed her thoughts against the fresh backdrop of judgments on physical appearance that had rained down upon celebrities via Twitter and Facebook the night before, she got my attention.

I was reminded of something simple my dad used to say when he dropped me off at school in the mornings: “Be nice.” As a child, I wondered why he told me that so often, even as I struggled to follow the instruction and sometimes rejected it outright. As an adult, I realize that showing kindness to others can be far more challenging than I ever understood as a kid.

Regardless of one’s age, harsh opinion tends to spew forth easily, especially when separated from others by a TV or computer screen. Acknowledging this distance, Evans issued an invitation to refrain from treating human beings like products that exist primarily for us to evaluate and discard on a whim.

“What would it mean to ‘give up people’ for Lent—not in the sense of fasting from relationships, but in the sense of fasting from our dehumanizing consumption of others?” she asked. “I don’t know the answer to that question exactly, but simply asking it has given me a lot to think about and has already changed my behavior. It’s a strange fast, but an instructive one.”

Strange but instructive, she called it. But the more I think about it, the less strange it seems. We encounter frequent opportunities to belittle other children of God, and whether we blame their fashion sense, their beliefs or their life choices, we should know better than to do it. The fault lies at least as much within our own hearts as it does in anything anyone else has worn, spoken or done.

Perhaps by taking time for an extra look inward at our own insecurities and fears, we can learn to give a measure of grace to the people we might otherwise dismiss.

To reach me, send an email message to aforbus@arumc.org.