taking the words of Jesus seriously

I wonder, as I sift articles about “the wall” and separated children and MS-13 gang members, how many writers, commentators, and citizens have spent time at the border. How many migrants have they met? How many stories have they heard?

Proximity can be humanizing, if you’ve got eyes to see and ears to hear. Four years ago, I spent time in the borderlands learning from a generous Arizona church’s immigration immersion experience that they offered to people outside of the region. I sat in soup kitchens in Mexico with deportees who knew not a word of their country of origin’s language since they’d been mere toddlers when they first crossed. I watched teenage boys in shackles — hands and feet — shuffle through the court room like cattle only long enough to utter the word “guilty.” I listened to mothers scream down cold hallways as their children’s fathers were shipped back off to a country riddled with violence that they’d risked it all to escape. I prayed over unmarked graves in the desert for small bones whose families will always wonder.

Proximity is a mirror. It can launch us into a space where we cannot, hard as we may try, unsee ourselves in those who stand on a wall’s other side (physical or metaphorical).

It’s complicated, I get it. I’m under-educated, I know. But there are a few things in and amongst the nuance that do not feel debatable or optional to me. The main one being that we, as image-bearers of the Holy and Loving and Living God — our creator, redeemer, sustainer — are to live out lives of resurrection, committed to rehumanizing and not dehumanizing our fellow image-bearers.

Rehumanizing is the path of life.

Dehumanizing is the path of death.

And blaspheme is the path of dehumanization.

Reared in a Southern, evangelical environment, I learned throughout my upbringing that blaspheming the Holy Spirit was the only unforgiveable sin. This largely felt ambiguous to me. The Spirit felt ambiguous, that is, until I heard the report that our president was prompting a crowd to chant “Animals!” with the question, “What did I call them?”

Blaspheme is defined as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God, an irreverence toward something considered sacred.

And we either consider all human life as sacred — created and loved by God, bearing God’s image, considered by Jesus on the cross and invited by Jesus at the resurrection, interconnected with the rest of humanity — or we don’t. But if we do, then we must know that each life is a sacred construct of the divine, both vessel and charge of the Holy Spirit.

To deem a life — any life — as anything less . . . to honor or mimic anyone who does . . . resonates with me as something that is inching quite dangerously close to blaspheming of the Spirit.

In a section of Matthew’s gospel appropriately (for these days) called “A House Divided,” it says:

“Then Jesus went home, and once again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard about this, they went out to take custody of him, saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and, ‘By the prince of the demons he drives out demons.’ So Jesus called them together and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if Satan is divided and rises against himself, he cannot stand; his end has come. Indeed, no one can enter a strong man’s house to steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. Truly I tell you, the sons of men will be forgiven all sins and blasphemies, as many as they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of eternal sin.’ Jesus made this statement because they were claiming, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”

Seeing God as anything less than God is blasphemous. Seeing people as anything less than God’s image-and-spirit-bearers is blasphemous.

Torture dehumanizes. Racism dehumanizes. Poverty dehumanizes. Violence dehumanizes. Name calling dehumanizes (because we believe there is power in words to create and destroy by what we know of and honor, as described in the first chapter of John). Oppression dehumanizes. Inequality dehumanizes. The list goes on of the actions in our world that dehumanize both victim and perpetrator. We cannot have these done to us without wounding or insulting the spirit and image of God within us. We cannot do these to another without doing the same.

But mercy rehumanizes. Listening rehumanizes. Hospitality and open doors and affirmation of the divine within another rehumanizes. Friendship rehumanizes. Hope rehumanizes. Sticking around for another rehumanizes. Making beauty and telling the truth rehumanizes. Advocating for a life rehumanizes both the victim and the helper. These and so many more take us further toward the life and life-abundant about which Jesus came to remind us and make possible.

And this is why it is not okay to call people animals. The world has not simply gotten “too sensitive,” as many would have us believe. Rather, we know there is something inside of all of us that is of God, that is made and loved by God, that is connecting us through a Spirit that is holy.

We have a responsibility to remember this, to grieve deeply when God’s image in another is dishonored or ignored or repressed or violated, and to continue to point each other back to all the we share in our divine source.

About The Author


Britney Winn Lee is an author, liturgist, and United Methodist pastor living in Shreveport, Louisiana, with her creative husband and big-hearted son. Her books include The Boy with Big, Big Feelings (Beaming Books), The Girl with Big, Big Questions (Beaming Books), Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice (Upper Room), Deconstructed Do-Gooder: A Memoir about Learning Mercy the Hard Way (Cascade Books), the recently released Good Night, Body: Finding Calm from Head to Toe (Tommy Nelson), and the forthcoming The Kid With Big, Big Ideas (Beaming Books). With a masters degree in nonprofit administration and her local pastor licensure, Lee has worked for over a decade in faith- and justice-based, creative community-building. She writes to make room. See what she’s creating at patreon.com/theseparticularwords and on socials @britneywinnlee .

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