What Expression of Humanity is Acceptable?


As we previewed in Macedonian’s Leadership Conversations over the last few weeks, we strongly believe that church boards in their decision-making role should go as deep spiritually as they possibly can every time they meet. This weekly email will suggest resources for digging that “deeper well.” Each week, we will offer a Biblical text and a variety of other readings – contemporary articles, poetry, brief passages from literature, and more – along with notes and questions for discussion, in the hope that one of or both pieces will engage your group’s imagination.

Excerpted from “New Public Spaces Are Supposed to Be for All. The Reality Is More Complicated” (New York Times, November 14, 2018):

American cities [are] creating public spaces that, by definition, are open to all and a cornerstone of urban life, especially in space-starved communities. From pocket-size parks to plazas on reclaimed roadways to sidewalks dressed up with sleek benches and kiosks, the spaces make concrete-and-asphalt grids more inviting.

But as these public spaces have proliferated, they have also become testing grounds for what is acceptable — and unacceptable — public behavior. Cities . . . have passed laws or regulations against sitting or lying down on sidewalks. Some cities have banned people from camping or even sleeping in public spaces.

Many city and business leaders say setting basic rules of conduct helps ensure that public spaces can be enjoyed by everyone and addresses public health and safety concerns. Advocates for the homeless counter that such measures are unconstitutional, target the homeless and keep out people who have nowhere else to go.

“Are you going to tell me I can’t use a public space because I don’t have a home?’’ said Jason Flores, 30, who moved to New York from Philadelphia and sleeps in public areas because he has no money.

[Former New York City parks commissioner] Adrian Benepe said that behavior in public spaces has to be regulated, but that cities “can’t criminalize homelessness and it’s a fine line.”

Jerold S. Kayden, an urban planning professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, said that as long as there have been public spaces, there have been tensions over who used them, and how. The agora in ancient Greece — a space for assembly celebrated for its debates — was originally only open to “citizens,” Mr. Kayden said, in effect excluding “people not considered worthy of public space.”

“Public space has always been part of being human,” he added. “But that’s the challenge: What expression of humanity is acceptable?”

* * * * *

As we approach holidays filled with church and family gatherings, the Bible presses these challenges. Luke 14:7-14 records Jesus telling a parable:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’



A few notes in preparation for doing a discussion like this with your church board, based on an article and a Biblical text: The goal is not to “solve” the problem presented, but to more fully appreciate the complexity in our potential responses and how, as a group, we may together come to understand the challenges presented. Also, the Luke text is not added to “answer” the article. They exist side by side, each talking to and with the other in a way that may take us deeper in examination about how we live our faith in the world.

Think about a time you have felt unsafe or uncomfortable in a public space. What discomforted you? How did it affect your behavior?

Think of a public space in your community. Who is invited (who is the public for that public space)? Who is not invited? What expressions of humanity are/not acceptable?

Think now about your church. Is it a public space? How and how not?

Are the rules of public space different for churches?

Jesus’ teaching here is uplifting. It is also hard. In the practical, week-to-week life of a congregation, what is impractical or most challenging about Jesus’ words?

What is the closest example you have seen (or lived) of a group of Christians living out Jesus’ teaching in Luke?


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