As we talk about giving good gifts this season, perhaps this is a good time to pick up on another note that I left myself some time ago while thinking about a friend. This friend has been in and out of the prison system (more in than out, sadly), and at last report, I heard he became a fugitive, walking away from a work release program. (I heard this third- or fourth-hand and have no idea where he is.)
My heart broke. This young man has such a tender heart; he always has. All you had to do was look in his eyes, and you could see his fire. He was that kind of guy. And I wondered what it was that would bring him so low that he would rather live life as a fugitive than have a real shot at getting back on his feet. It didn't take much prayer and thoughtful consideration before I knew the answer:
He could not stand being treated humanely. It broke every tender thing in his spirit.
This probably sounds ridiculous to a lot of you, but here's the thing: we have invested so much of our energies trying to figure out how to treat each other humanely, particularly how to treat humanely those "types" of persons that we think somehow less worthy of humane treatment (prisoners, drug addicts, prostitutes, the poor, the sick, the lame - you know, essentially everyone that Jesus actually ran toward), that we have forgotten how to treat them humanly.
It seems like such a subtle difference, maybe, but it's actually all the difference in the world. The idea of being humane, as we conceived of it many moons ago, was to treat non-human objects/beings with the care and dignity that we would treat a fellow human being. It's how we ended up with places like "the Humane Society," which is not for humans, but for animals, who are treated with a special interest and dignity. We talk about being humane in times of war, signing treatises with other countries, ensuring that each will treat the other's troops and prisoners "humanely," even though they are seen as less than human in the enemy's eyes. When we send aid to other countries, it's in the name of being humane, not of being human. And, of course, this type of humane-ity has crept its way into our prison system, as well.
Everywhere we turn, we act as though we are doing others a huge favor by treating them humanely when our inclination might be to do otherwise. We think it's a generosity, a restoring of some measure of dignity. But to treat a human being humanely actually does just the opposite - it strips them of their very personhood. Because it's an implication that they are somehow less than human.
Turning back to my friend - as I thought about what it was the would lead him to run away, especially at a point where he was almost free of the entire prison system, I knew that his tender heart just wouldn't take it. He couldn't live any more in a place where he was searched every time he went out or came in. A place where he had no privacy at all, no private space to even think, let alone pray. No place to shower without being exposed to the world. Living under the watchful eye of camera and guards. Knowing that wherever he went, people thought they were doing him some grand favor by pretending he was human, all the while stripping away whatever small shreds of human dignity that he was trying to hold onto.
It's no good thing at all to treat a man humanely when he is, in fact, an actual human being.
And I can't help but wonder what our world would be like if we stopped treating humans humanely and started treating them humanly, if we started restoring to them the special dignity of being a being created in the very image of God. I wonder what would happen if we started looking prisoners, drug addicts, prostitutes, enemies straight in the eye and recognizing something holy in them. Not only recognizing it, but honoring it. I wonder where my friend would be on a day like today if someone had had the heart to look him in the eye and say, "Brother! Behold the glory of God in your eyes!"
I wonder where our world would be if we all did more of that.