How low can you go?
I love Netflix.
The online streaming media company has given me some great opportunities to experience other worlds while I am stuck at the kitchen sink washing dishes in my suburban Midwestern kitchen.
Recently I binged a series (for the unfamiliar, that means I watched all the episodes in a matter of days) called, “The Get Down” about the South Bronx in the late 1970’s. The series reminds us of how the community was viewed from afar—specifically in terms of race, poverty, and violence—sprinkling real headlines and news footage into each show. The historical footage gives context to the episodes, but also reveals great contrast.
On the ground, everything looks very different:
The “hoodlums” are complex, gifted human beings,
the “blighted wastelands” are neighborhoods both struggling and vibrant,
even the “graffiti” reveals itself to be life-giving art.
While “The Get Down” refers to an emerging hip hop scene, it could just as well describe the experience of the viewer as the story pulls them down to ground level. It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but for the learning to be had, most certainly worth it.
Which reminds me of the most important instruction I ever got in my training as a hospital chaplain: Get Down.
When visiting someone in a hospital bed, on a gurney, or crouched, waiting in a hospital hallway you should do your best to get down to where they are.
If you remain standing, you will inevitably be looking down on them, speaking down to them, keeping your distance from them. This will adversely affect their experience of you, but more importantly this will negatively influence how you experience them and therefore how you treat them.
However, if you crouch next to them, sit so you can talk face to face, squat on the dirty floor and share a tiny bit in their discomfort--you are being with them.
And down there, everything, everyone looks different:
The car accident victim, the parent who made a terrible mistake, the family of the gang member with a bullet in his head, the people who can’t speak English, the alcoholic delirious with cirrhosis, the one whose poverty is immediately apparent in the smell of their clothing—
All human beings.
Not all that different from you and me.
All children of God.
All in need of healing.
When our perspective changes, so may our hearts, and if our hearts can change, so may our way of being in the world.
Keep all this in mind this week as we hear Jesus tell us about two men praying—one standing tall, looking down on others, and one with head lowered, humbling himself before God.