Reflection on Inclusion
I was honored to be asked to write a piece for the March 2013 edition of "Challenge", the monthly newsletter for the Gay Activist Alliance of Morris County, NJ. Here are my reflections on Inclusion:
- Max De Pree
I have lived a life that has always been informed somehow, in some way, by spirituality. Whether through church, through the performing arts, books, movies, poetry...it is when the subject matter allows my heart and mind to journey into the realms of what I continue to come to know as God or The Spirit that I am most engaged, most touched, and most affected.
One of the central aspects of The Spirit as I have come to know it and experience it is the aspect of Inclusion. When I use that word, I mean Inclusion rooted in an inherent affirmation of others precisely as they are. It isn't enough to be included and welcomed when one does not also feel affirmed exactly as one is. To me, that is one of the most powerful and transformative experiences of The Spirit that one can have - to experience authentic affirmation as a unique and beloved person precisely as you are.
Therefore it has always mystified and often greatly angered me when matters of The Spirit become tools for bifurcation, division and exclusion. Any journey into history will be a testimony to the truth that faith traditions and religious institutions have at times had a violent and bloody history in this regard, and sadly some of that history remains with us today. Too often people seek to enter into community and fellowship in a spiritual sense with others and find that they are not affirmed, and sadly that not only comes across as a poor reflection on the specific institution, but in fact how those excluded individuals end up feeling about God; and I lament over the truth of that.
My own personal journey in life was one filled with dance, theater and music from my very earliest years. As such, I became aware of and connected to the lives of my LGBT friends from a very early age in ways that perhaps not many of my peers, especially males, were gifted to experience.
Without a doubt, those connections blessed my life and enriched it in ways that continue to inform my beliefs about Inclusion; both personally, as a husband and a father of two boys, and as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. I have been fortunate enough to be influenced by a set of parents, a group of teachers, and a circle of friends that always valued the inherent value of other people, all people, and that taught valuable lessons about the authentic nature of Inclusion.
Any exploration of many of the world's great spiritual movements and leaders also leads one down pathways that lead to the expression of the inherent worth of all beings. Jesus of Nazareth lived that powerfully in his life and ministry, breaking all manner of social and cultural taboos in order to affirm the blessing of the lives of those his society cast aside. Hebrew scripture speaks to the truth of God desiring us to live lives of mercy, humility, justice and genuine compassion with one another in order to honor and please God. The Holy Qu'ran says that the most honored in the sight of God are those who live lives of righteousness (Apartments: 13), which most certainly speaks to me of living lives of inclusive, affirming compassion towards one another.
For me, the only way to truly do this is to live a life from a place of Empathy. Only when you genuinely try and walk someone else's walk, embrace their pain, carry their burden, celebrate their joys; only when we do this can we genuinely begin to understand one another and hold heartfelt compassion for one another - even if and when we disagree with each other sometimes.
I still have my own private fears and prejudices; we all do. But I get much further in getting my head and heart around them if I try and live a life rooted in empathetic compassion. In so doing, I almost can't help but live a life of affirmation and inclusion unless I forcibly push it away.
Would that we as individuals, as communities, as institutions, and as a global family would embrace this way of living with the same energy we give to far lesser things. It remains my hope and prayer we will one day....and then we'll truly know the heart of Inclusion.