Though we worthily strive to speak with inclusivity and practice equality, the harsh reality is that much inequality persists. Also, we grow every time we view ourselves as non-equivalent in relation to so much we aspire toward.
There are two primary reasons for this week’s focus. The first is to engage in the honest practice of naming reality. The second is to intentionally be non-equivalent in a way counter to how we usually view ourselves.
What I mean by naming reality is this: we don’t often admit some truths to ourselves. The perhaps difficult truth here is that we are not all equal.
There are numerous reasons why we don’t want to admit this truth. As Americans, we learn early that one of our creeds is everyone is created equal. Of course, we then have to learn all the historical qualifiers that explain why we have yet to act towards one another as if we’re equal.
It might be easier to just admit we aren’t all that equal.
If we’re religious, regardless of our tribe’s faith, we are hesitant to acknowledge that there are any sub-groups of people who are excluded from equality. Because, generally, our practices of faith have not measured up to the standards of equality.
For Christians, we like to refer to what Paul wrote about there no longer being Jew or Gentile, slave or free person, male or female. And yet, there is a large swath of fundamental evangelicalism that won’t ordain women. And think how long it took in this country to de-institutionalize slavery, primarily because of religious opposition to ending it.
We’re good at talking about equality. We don’t do a good job practicing equality.
Maybe when naming reality, we not only should admit what about our context doesn’t align with our speech, but we might also be more specific with our terms.
Equality is a fine standard to achieve. But when we speak about everyone being “equal,” I wonder if it’s more honest to say what we intend is for everyone to be “equivalent.”
To be equivalent means to be the same in value and significance. Where as “equality” seems to deal more with being the same in quality, “equivalence” admits that the sameness isn’t about quality, but rather about value.
If we can approach the notion of being equivalent from this vantage point, then we might be able to take the practice a step further during Lent.
I MUST BE LESS
If I can acknowledge that I have the same value as every other human being, even though we may differ in qualities, then I can take a radical and dangerous step: I can choose to become non-equivalent in a healthy way for a short time.
Now, we often choose to be non-equivalent in a damaging way.
Every time I look at another human being and feel my value outweighs theirs, I’ve become non-equivalent. But the effects of this aren’t usually positive. Those who deem their own value to be greater than someone else’s usually foster aggression towards others. Out of that aggression grows economic abuse, violence, hateful rhetoric, and much more that is not healthy in any way.
Instead, I’d invite us this third week of Lent to think of ourselves as having less value than others. To become non-equivalent by looking up at others, rather than down at them.
This seems to be the primary modus operandi of Jesus.
He thought of everyone else as greater than himself. When he wanted to be alone but was in the company of hungry people, he let their value surmount his own. And this bent he had toward lifting others above himself seemed to be directed at the most unlikely of people. I mean, we could understand if Jesus lauded the value of religious leaders, or soldiers, or civic authorities. But instead, he far more often placed himself beneath beggars, blind and lame people, lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes.
The one who was God as a human highly valued the least likely humans.
As a Jesus-follower who considers the historical Jesus to be the specific creator God in human skin, I am confronted with how rarely I view my own value as less than anyone else’s; especially those who are not equal in qualities to me.
We could discover so much about ourselves, others, and our world if we spent a brief time being non-equivalent in this way.
To hold the reality of our equal value at bay for a week, by considering ourselves less valuable than others, is an interesting experiment. Who knows? It could become a regular pattern of life.
This week, try some of the following.
- If you don’t regularly have the privilege of sharing life with a low-income or homeless friend, be sure to notice them in public spaces. Not only notice them, but look at them as someone whose value is far superior to your own. Stand and wait in the moment as your mind adjusts to this new way of viewing them. Then see what happens.
- Be brave enough to admit all the ways you live that are counter to equality. Which of these do you wish to change? Pick one, then change it.
- Think of someone you know who doesn’t consider their own value to be worth much. Then do something insanely generous for them. Take them to lunch, or give them a gift card to their favorite place, or do something you know they will love, but rarely or never get to experience.
- Imagine yourself as someone who does not have all the privileges you do. Maybe imagine yourself as someone in society who you have been guilty of looking down on. Consider, what would have happened for you to be that person? How would your life be different? How would your views be different? Write down what you discover and refer to it often.
The article on becoming non-directional for Week 1 of Lent is here.
The article on becoming non-dualistic for Week 2 of Lent is here.
And all the resources for “Becoming ‘Non’ for Lent” can be found here.