Human bodies at the service of others

Francois Clemmons on the set of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood (Wikimedia Commons)

We have been at war.

Listening to the rhetoric of division, supremacy, and power masked as current presidential hopeful news continues to poison my morning commute with my friends on NPR. Each morning I am tempted to change the station only to hear white noise and morning talk jibberish.

Coming to the end of Lent, I've grappled with just how terrible our world is spinning – from climate change to global poverty to incessant amounts of violence over ideologies, drugs, and money and power and death, lots of death. The list of terror attacks linked to ISIL is overwhelming, especially because most do not make headlines. This honest reflection of the world has dragged me to the depths of a cycle of evil that random acts of kindness and sporadic papal goodness can no longer buoy.

Forty days of reflecting on not being "enough," "structural sin," and pointless memes of presidential candidates frozen in time for a quick laugh … this Lent has been miserable.

So, you could only imagine how relieved I was to hear a beautiful account of friendship brought to me by the podcast, StoryCorps. Listen here.

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A lovely, simple friendship between Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons interrupts this downward free fall. Francois Clemmons was the first black actor to have a recurring role on a children's television show beginning in 1968. Interestingly, Clemmons reluctantly agreed to this role because of the stigma surrounding law enforcement.

Mr. Rogers invites him to place his feet besides his in a small wading pool. Black and white bodies framed together on national television! But the best moment was the expression of deep human dignity, care, and love when Mr. Rogers reached over to help dry Officer Clemmons' feet.

We are human bodies not just human beings.

Jesus knew this so well. He chose to spend time with bodies that were outcasts and marginalized. Bodies that were female, bodies that were sick, bodies that were treated as second-class citizens. Yes, Jesus gravitated towards those bodies, expressed love and care and offered to be at their service.

His intimate service to the human bodies the night before he died continues to give us a clue as to how we ought to live our lives at the service of others.

I'm thankful Lent is over. Now we can get into the real mystery. As the Triduum comes and goes this year, let us reflect on just who are those bodies we are called to value more, care for more, and love more.

The relationship between Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons on national television is a major interruption to the status quo of America circa 1968. Just as God's spirit of love blows gently, so do these decisions -- hire a black singer/actor, have him play the role of a friendly officer, show mutual respect, and sing together -- interrupt ever so gently as though it wasn't a big deal.

Yes, this world is terrifyingly outrageous and scary. Yes, we must take note of the gentleness of the spirit of love, kindness, and care as it interrupts the thunderous applause for power, corruption, and independence. We must pay attention to the whispers of a God whose compassion knows no bounds.

In fact, the celebration of Triduum leads me through the most ridiculing, demoralizing, and dehumanizing experience any human body can suffer – betrayal, aloneness, trauma, pain, death.

Jesus sacrifices his body for us.

There have been many imitators of Christ who, too, have sacrificed their bodies in the hope of a resurrection of all people. I think of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero on his death anniversary March 24, remembering he was shot while preaching the gospel to the poor in El Salvador. I also think of a recent martyr from Congo. Fr. Vincent Machozi was killed by bullets from 12 armed men in the middle of the night this past Sunday. Machozi had been under attack before in relation to his website that documents the atrocities committed against his people, the Nande or Yira. He knew he was in harm's way, yet he spoke truth to power.

People continue to sacrifice their bodies.

As I enter into this Triduum, I pray with the Catholic social teaching that believes in the life and dignity of the human person as well as the preferential option for the poor. Lord, let my mind and my heart be transformed in love so that I can follow you, imitate you, serve you in my sisters and brothers. May I come to value the life and dignity of all human bodies. May I come to appreciate the way you go especially to those on the margins of our society no matter what the cost.

I end with a quotation from In the Company of the Poor: Conversation with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, a book chronicling their conversation about liberation theology:

I want to emphasize that the preferential option for the poor is not to be made because the poor are somehow better than others, more virtuous or noble. Idealizing the poor would be the wrong basis for the spirituality we are describing. Often the poor are quite generous and beautiful people, but sometimes not. Nor are our motives for aiding the poor always pure; there can be a temptation to self-congratulation and ego-boosts in this work. So in our spirituality it is supremely important that each of us refines the basis of our preferential option for the poor to say: I accompany them not because they are all good or because I am all good, but because God is all good. The on-going discernment necessary to see that this is a theocentric option – centered on God's love and life – is particularly suited to habits of communal and personal prayer, practices so central to Christian spirituality.

Let us, too, take up an interrupting theocentric option so that the truth of the resurrection can be the fruits of a Lent and Triduum well spent.

[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org. Her email address is jocelyn@ingoodcompany.net.co.]

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