One of the side effects of a public health care system such as the one in Canada is that every hospital is honestly a study in class dynamics. I notice this as I cut through the local hospital on my way home from the university (something I often do so that I can avail myself of the Tim Horton’s in the cafeteria). I am faced nboth with the poorest of our society, and the very apex of culture, the high priest of our religio-scientific denial of mortality: the doctor.
As I was walking through today though, I noticed in myself two completely distinct views of people. It was so drastic that I almost wondered if I had caught some kind of multiple personality disorder on my way past the psych ward (not a possibility, BTW, such illnesses are not caught by casual contact).
As I first passed people who were not of my socio-economic class (an upper middle-class educated white male), I found myself thinking “what a loser”. Yet after thinking a little on a text I’m preaching on this Sunday (Phil 2:5-11, I found myself noting the (for lack of a better word) beauty of the people around me who I had put down as losers mere moments earlier.
What had happened? I think philosophers get a little bit towards the truth when they note (as Kant does) that our understanding of reality is mitigated through our own conditions of possible experience, and thus are limited in scope. Or when psychologists note that our expectations of of sense experience actually alter the sense experience we have.
I also note that there is truth about the people that I see. In some sense they’re all beautiful (though not in the same ways). These are not simply subjective concepts in my mind, but actual facts about them that I see depending on the glasses I use to see them.
So how did a passage about the value of Jesus, his humility, and his glorifcation alter my perspective? It was quite simple. The loser I saw in the others was in my own eyes.
When I forget God, even for a moment, I am prone to actually place someone else in the throne of godhood. Most notably, me. When I do that, other people become threats to that god, their value, even if it actually is in them, become heretical possible usurpers, something that can cast down the god of my own value. They have beauty in different ways that I do not have, and I cannot countenance that, so in my own eyes, I deride them as “losers”.
This is not to say that people are all the same in beauty (they aren’t, we’re all differently beautiful), or that all decisions people make are beneficial to them and society (they aren’t). but that fundamentally they are valuable, and are all giftd by God to fulfill roles in the world around us.
When I call them losers, though, I am actually speaking about their value over all, and not on their choices, sins, beauties or gifts. In that point, I am protecting my god of me. Quite literally, the loser that I see them to be is “in my eyes”.
But then Christ enters view. Both humble and glorious he casts down the god of me, and replaces it with himself. The result is that I gain an attitude of humility as I place Christ where he should be (on a throne where even my knee will bow, and my tongue will confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the father), and then forget my own godhood.
The result is drastic. Seeing Jesus as glorious means that the beauty of others, or even myself, is no l;onger an attack on my God. They will never compare to Jesus in that way, and in fact by their beauty and gifts reaffirm the value and beauty of Christ. As such, I can see them as they are; not by venerating myself as god, or even by venerating them, or society, or humanity generally, but by simply seeing them as they are. Beautiful creations of a loving and just God.