Like A Leper

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

He was a beautiful child. Dark flashing eyes would light up with mirth at the approach of his mother and he would eagerly reach for anyone who approached, anticipating love, for that is all he knew. As he grew he was taught the prayers and customs of his people and he was an obedient son to his father.

The teachers singled him out for special instruction and care—silently thinking that this child, this smart and beautiful boy, may be called to serve as one of them. The other boys were envious of the special attention he received. They began to wait for him on the road home, they harassed and tormented him in secret. His parents noticed the bruises and dismissed it. Boys will be boys they said with a smile, altho’ it saddened them to see their child walking alone each day.

Then, one day he noticed a spot on his arm. He pulled his sleeves down firmly and hoped it would go away. The spot grew and multiplied and soon he was tugging down his sleeves constantly. He knew, he knew what had happened to others whose skin had suddenly turned on them. They lived outside of town far away from those they loved. On occasion the boys would dare each other to edge closer and closer to where they were camped, throwing stones and epithets that hurt worse than any hard flung pebble. They weren’t talked about much, but he had seen them run off…chased like harried sheep. He did not want to be like them…so he pulled his cloak ever tighter as his stomach knotted in fear.

Time passed and the other children noticed that as the weather warmed he did not shed his cloak. It became a game to taunt him, trying to pull away his cloak…laughing at his protestations. Finally, one day a group of boys cornered him. And, as tears poured from his eyes they took his cloak and pulled up his sleeves, they saw. "Leper!" they cried, as they turned from him, afraid that his shame would be theirs.

The parents of the other children came to his home--the one place he had always been safe from harm, safe from others. And in anxious, muttered tones he saw the adults discuss him and glance again and again towards the corner in which he sat huddled—studying words of scripture which he had already committed to heart, “He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and full of compassion…” The boy grew red with anger--where was the grace and compassion, where was God?

His mother, with tears in her eyes began to pack a bag—his warmest cloak, food and water. And, then, despite his protestations she explained what he already knew. Leprosy. It would not be safe for him to stay in their village or even their home. His parents could not and would not shelter him. To allow him to stay would bring shame upon his entire family and the risk, the risk of contamination was too great.

His protestations turned to angry tears. His parents had always loved him and protected him. Yet, here were his father and mother escorting him to the edge of town and turning away…not even a kiss of peace upon his brow.

Lost: his home, his family, his faith. He was as one dead…no fellowship but his own.

***

The recent suicides by LGBT young people who feel that death is preferable to the loss of friends, family, homes and their faith is the lens through which I read the propers this week. And, as I reflect upon the ways in which people bully, terrorize, shame and torture those who are different, I am left with the responsibility to connect the propers to a world in which children die because they have been treated as lepers.

What does it mean to be treated as a leper? As a pariah in our own home's and community's? In biblical times, leprosy was not the disease we refer to as Hansen's disease. It was a blanket term for a wide range of skin conditions (such as psoriasis, eczema, or particularly bad teen acne). And, not only was no differentiation made between these skin problems, the skin condition was seen as a punishment by God for sins that the "leper" had committed. Blaming the victim, anyone?

That said, the "boy" I describe above (in a fictional take on the events leading up to the isolation of one of the ten lepers) would have forever carried a social stigma that would have led to continuing isolation and suffering. And, this suffering and isolation would have been understood by EVERYONE as his own fault.

This same blaming/shaming happens in the aftermath of violence inflicted upon LGBT individuals. The litany begins: if she'd prayed harder; he obviously did something wrong; he should have known what would have happened if he walked down the street dressed that way; if only he hadn't been so "flaming"; if only he'd stayed in the closet; if only she'd stayed celibate; you can't come out to grandma it would kill her; just don't flaunt it; that's so gay; your so gay.

Has the church ever taken a stand against this kind of bullying? Have we as a church ever publicly said that this kind of treatment of others is WRONG? Have we repented of those times in our own lives, our own history in which we have excluded, isolated, shamed and punished?

There is an architectural oddity in many medieval churches--the lepers squint. A window cut so that the lepers, who were not allowed to enter the church, could observe the worship. I can only begin to imagine the pain of watching others gather in a community of love and praise while being left to huddle outside, alone. The good news is that churches don't have squints anymore as a standard feature of their architecture. We can look back on them as a quaint, if cruel, oddity--seemingly irrelevant to the life of the church today. Our former cruelties and bigotries rendered harmless.

We have made progress both as a church and as individuals. We have learned and grown and been transformed (remember when women could not serve as priests...much less partnered lesbian mama priests?). This not only gives me hope, but it causes me to wonder, what steps we will need to take to assist in the incoming of the kingdom of God and ensure the dignity of EVERY human being?

What can we do to make it better? Because that is indeed God's promise...it will get better (nods to Dan Savage and the youtube it will get better campaign!). The kingdom of God is at hand and it is a place where bullies and bullying do not exist. It is a place where love triumphs and hatreds cease. It is a place where no one is marginalized and all are treated with equal measure of grace and compassion. It will get better.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this post. I hope your message is truly heard by those who read it.

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