Time for an (almost) summer-school pop quiz: Of the following, which would you say is the most important to the average person on Atlanta's streets right now?
- Substantial deodorant, for both men and women.
- Socks, preferably black.
- Plastic bags, as many as you can spare.
- Basic human dignity.
Answer key: #4, Basic human dignity.
In this exercise, #4 is the "all of the above" answer, because the other three answers are contained in it.
When we hit Atlanta's streets once a quarter to distribute hygiene kits to the people we encounter there, the expressed needs change, but they're just spokes on a wheel, the hub of which is basic human dignity. And that hub is the "all of the above" answer every time.
Two Sundays ago we were back out there, with a goal of distributing 500 freshly made hygiene kits. As with every time we've done this since 2010, we were exposed to slightly different spokes than the time before. Items 1-3 above are what we heard this time; next time it'll be slightly different.
But #4 never changes -- yet it's the one need that never really gets expressed out loud. Because exactly how does one ask for basic dignity? For some, it's by asking for items 1-3 above. So meeting those needs becomes a means for chipping away at the real need, for restoring dignity. Hearing the evolving spoken needs, we obsess over creating the Platonic ideal of The Perfect Hygiene Kit, when in fact the ideal isn't a kit at all -- it's restoring that dignity.
So we do what we can and let God do the rest. We listen while we're distributing, and the Gospel tells us that when we do this, we are also listening to Jesus.
But the trick is to really hear. And what I hope we're all hearing in the midst of this listening is that every single one of our brothers and sisters on this Earth deserves the same basic dignity we'd want for ourselves. Because if that level of listening were actually a global daily human practice, can you imagine the sort of world we might actually live in?
I dare say that world would be one step closer to heaven.
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.