It is often the case that the sermons at the Church of the Village, which I attend, provoke thought. That it is so is one of the things that keeps me going back to that particular church, of all of them in New York City and surrounding areas (leaving aside the commonplace that academics, particularly those in the humanities, are non- or anti-Christian people across the board). Today's sermon, the first I have heard from the senior pastor at the church for some time (I had been away for a while, you know), was thus provocative.
During the sermon, "'Talking to the Chair' Religion," the senior pastor made comments to the effect of true religion being that which takes care of those on the outside, that which reaches out and offers a hand to the untouchable. Examples of Jesus doing so abound in Christian Scripture, for example in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 5.*
As a (too poorly) practicing Christian, I know that I can do worse than to follow as best as my mortal limitations allow the example of Christ--something about which I have commented. As I took the train home from church this afternoon, I thought a bit about what the senior pastor said, and it occurred to me that I do so in more ways than simply the literary critique I discuss in a previous blog post. Indeed, my teaching at my current institution can be said to be outreach to those deemed untouchable.
I have expressed before that many of my students come from profoundly academically disadvantaged backgrounds and that they are in many if not most cases largely dependent upon the (now reduced) charity of the state. They come from immigrant and indigent populations, many are former convicts, and many others are wrestling with various problems which they only hint at with me (even as I know they discuss them in full with some of my colleagues). They stand among the underclass, in many cases the nearly-permanent underclass, doing or paying lip-service to doing what they can to lift themselves out of institutionalized, generational poverty. They are, in a prevailing United States society** which values people by their earning potential and the size of their bank accounts, among the untouchables. In my classroom, they are the academic equivalents (and sometimes actual instantiations) of those "undesirables" the senior pastor rattled off with much more eloquence than I can summon in recollection.
They are the very people Christ served.
They are the very people Christ called His followers to serve.
In working with my students as I do, I seek to do unto some of the least among us some good in the world. It was only today that I was reminded of the consequences thereof.
*I am not conversant enough in the scriptures and practices of other faiths to be able to attest to their teachings, for which I apologize. I would love to learn more, however, so comments to that effect are welcome.
**I am aware of how fraught this term is.