I overheard a conversation between two people who were complaining about how a person who was driving out of a parking lot spoke rudely to a guard. One of the men said: “It is very bad how some people treat security guards disrespectfully just because the guards do not have as much money.”
We often fall into the temptation of setting demeaning boundaries. We categorise people in our personal lives as insiders and outsiders. There are the people we cheer for and those we sneer at. We put people in layers of who deserves immediate honour and those from who we expect one way honour – from them to us. We notice some people and choose to treat others as invisible.
While recognising that different responsibilities and ranks do deserve honour and respect, the said ranks should never turn into scales of measuring human worth. The tea lady and the CEO are first human beings in God’s world before they are positions on an organogram. You do not pass by the guard at the gate as if they were a robot then go hug your manager as if she was the true human.
In the larger community, we erect minimising boundaries between the rich and the poor, men and women, children and adults, married and single, black and white. The thing is that all these splits have power repercussions. Boundary creation determines power distribution. During colonial times – white people ruled over black people on the premise that they were essentially superior and that black people were naturally inferior. If George Floyd had been white, chances are he would be alive today.
Sadly, many people are unable to accept that all human beings are created equal. Their minds only digest difference and cannot handle sameness. Even where sameness is obvious, they prioritise and highlight the difference. The stubborn natural God-made truth is that the worth of a person should not be judged by the colour of their skin, gender, economic status, rank at work and such other social-cultural man-made layers. Humans are humans first before taking up any tasks. Being in the image of God precedes any other prescription.
But we live in a world where human worth has shifted to be dominantly a factor of task. One has to know your position in society first so that they adjust the worth-treatment due to you. Using this discriminative worth approach, some have imagined people to be poor and given them “by-pass” treatment only to learn that the person they cheapened was way higher placed than they had assumed. They come back foolishly, desperately trying to up the honour but the memory of dishonour has already been uploaded and hard to delete.
Honour guesses can be solved by adopting the honour principle of human before rank. That people are humans first is a worldview that is speedily being relegated to the zone of the abstract, a dream platform for high art poets and classical idealists.
Boundaries are a deep pain to those they cast outside. Conversely, they are pride and power to those who are on the inside. Boundary casting can make or break a nation, especially when it demonises such critical practices of leadership as dialogue and consensus building.
In the biblical story, one big boundary issue was between Israel and the (other) nations. This morphed into a boundary between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. Peter the Apostle, even as a leader of the church, struggled with boundaries. Prominent in this struggle was the debate on whether the Gentiles who became Christians should adopt Jewish culture. His complicated boundary perceptions made him proclaim a ceasefire by day and a siege at night! The Apostle Paul could not take this hypocrisy and confronted Peter to take a stand and put away the double messaging.
Peter’s struggle is ours too - we keep discriminating against people, putting them in categories of who is important and who is not. We are often hypocritical too – now smiling now stabbing. We are seeing people singing hustler songs by day and creating dynasties all night!
As the leader of the church, God wanted Peter to take not only a stand but the stand of God. It took three repeats of a vision for him to get the stand of God. Clearly, the stand of God was not Peter’s preference. But you almost feel that Peter was going to the house of Cornelius more out of obedience than out of conviction.
Culture kept Cornelius and Peter apart. Christ above culture brought Peter and Cornelius together. God was opening up Peter and the disciples to the nations. They could not spread the universal love of God with their boundary-erecting mentality at work.
Cornelius was made an outsider because of his tribe. Peter and company felt that he was from the wrong tribe. For this, they regarded Cornelius an outsider and discriminated against him and his likes. But God moved in to affirm the full validity of Cornelius. God’s love is by its nature boundary-breaking. But individualism as a contemporary philosophy thrives in erecting boundaries.
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It is not where Jesus fishes you from that forms your identity. It is who He transforms you into that counts. God does not weigh you on the scale of gender. He weighs you on the scale of your calling. Maturity in God’s eyes is never about your age, it is about your obedience. Though God gives the power to make wealth, He is not impressed by wealth but by faith. Know that the smallness of your clan does not make small God’s plan for you. God does not give you a project based on your experience. He assigns you because He guarantees you His presence.
In God you are an insider. You are a critical part of the body – the body that is one yet with many parts. It is wrong for leaders at whatever level to make any of their people feel small. There is no guzzler and hustler breath!