If you are like me you struggle with cynicism and misanthropy from time to time. People, man, are just the worst.
When I get in funks like this I turn to two places: Jesus and Walt Whitman.
As I've written about before, Jesus' ministry of table fellowship, of eating with "tax collectors and sinners," always lifts my spirits. I love how Jesus offends religious people by always hanging out with the wrong people. If you went looking for Jesus today and had two places to look, a bar or church on Sunday morning, where would you check first? I know my answer.
Whitman, for similar reasons, does the same thing for me. I love how Whitman absorbs and identifies with all of humanity. Male and female, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor. Whitman, to use his words, embraces multitudes. And I want to embrace multitudes. Whitman embodies what the theologian Miroslav Volf calls a "catholic personality," making space within the self to accommodate others. And I think that is often missing in religious people. We fail to make space in our hearts and minds for other people.
Last night our church small group gathered as we do every Sunday evening. We are a mixed lot. We have homemakers, writers, social workers, computer scientists, musicians and, yours truly, a psychologist. Our task for the night was to bring a text outside of the bible that speaks to us. We read Bob Dylan lyrics, a bit from The Chronicles of Narnia, a passage from Uncle Tom's Cabin, and selections from G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Merton. My selection was from Whitman, these lines from the poem I Celebrate Myself:
This is the meal pleasantly set….this is the meal and drink for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as for the righteous….I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The keptwoman and sponger and thief are hereby invited…the heavy-lipped slave is invited….the venerealee is invited,
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.