All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Are You Just a Human Being Like the Rest of Us?

M. Jeanne Wirpsa
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
February 28, 2016

Are you just a human being like the rest of us? These are the words that frequently come out of my mouth when one of my children messes up, breaks something, or hurts someone close to them, intentionally or not. These are the words – or something very close -- I use when a patient expresses regret or feels their illness is a punishment for their sins. These are the words I weave into my counsel when a family member is struggling with the weight of making the right medical decision for their loved one. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

The first part of our reading from the gospel of Luke today gets at this reality of our shared human condition in much harsher language. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think they were worse offenders than all others living in Jerusalem?” The point here I believe is that no one of us is exempt from falling short, messing up, missing the mark. We are all sinners. We don’t get to compare the kind or magnitude of our sins to others in an effort to exempt ourselves from the human race or from our need for repentance. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

I recently attended a fascinating, and disturbing, series of lectures in neuro-ethics. What is neuro-ethics, you might ask, and what does it have to do with the Lenten call to repentance? Bear with me for a few minutes – I promise I’ll get us there.

Neuro-ethics is a field of study that explores how it is that the configuration of our brains impacts our moral lives. What I found most distressing as I listened to one study after the next was the degree to which bias, assumption making, generalizing, and cognitive distortion are hard-wired into us. Research with rats–who by the way share our mammalian brain–and many, many studies looking at human behavior confirm what most of us know through experience if we dare to pay attention to it: We are hard-wired to care most about those who are familiar to us; we are hard-wired to be risk averse; we are hard-wired to form in-groups; we are hard-wired to make generalizations based upon a particular piece of knowledge or event. If we’re looking for a biological explanation or definition of “original sin” I think we found one.

One of these neuro-ethics lectures I attended was entitled, “Are Rats Born Racist?” In this research study rats from entirely separate strains were selected to test whether the mammalian brain is hard-wired to disregard the needs of those different from us. The neurobiologist used albino rats who had never been exposed to a black-hooded rat. When put in a controlled situation where the albino rats could help free other albino rats, they were quick to act to do so. However, when put in the same controlled situation where they could help free a distressed black-hooded rat, the albino rats did not respond. This suggests that helping in rats may be innately biased toward the helper’s own group.

In order to see if this indifference was actually hard-wired or the result of behavioral conditioning, the neurobiologist gave albino rats a play-mate in the form of a black-hooded rat. They hung out together for a few weeks. She then subjected them to the same controlled experiment I described a moment ago, asking the albino rats to rescue a different black-hooded rat, one they had never met before. (So…NOT their friend). What do you think happened? Yes, you are right. The albino rats heard the cries of the black-hooded rats, opening the door of their cages to set them free.

So what does this tell us about our sin of racism and our need for repentance? We are not rats, (not most of us anyways), but we are all human beings with a mammalian brain that predisposes us to see the world and one another in very specific ways and patterns. On top of that, layer in generations of social conditioning in which we are exposed primarily to our own kind and, in our own lifetime, to negative images of our black and brown brothers and sisters – all of which leads us (albino) white people to disregard the cries of distress of our black and brown brothers and sisters. Unless…unless…???

Unless we repent. Unless we have the courage to face our humanness. Unless we can face over and over again that our default mechanisms – some innate and some learned -- lead us to indifference toward those different from us. Unless we are humble and vigilant each and every day until our habitual, ingrained patterns take new shape and new form. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

When I utter these words I in no way intend to dismiss the cognitive distortions and unconscious biases that predispose us to indifference toward those we perceive to be different from us. In no way do I seek to reduce our actions of injury, oppression, or disregard of human distress to mere biology. Instead, these words are meant to convey just the opposite. I intend to wrap our humanness in God’s mercy. For it is only in the presence of the Merciful One, as we stand on holy ground fully seen and fully forgiven, that we are freed to acknowledge our full humanity, in all its glory and in all its ugliness. It is only when we can truly see how our mortality, our being human, leads us to sin that we are freed to choose to be and act as God calls us to be and act. It is only then that we albinos can correct our myopic vision, catch ourselves in our generalizing from our particular experience, put ourselves in positions where we befriend our black-hooded neighbors -- so when they call out in distress we will hear their cries and free them from the cages of oppression we have built over the centuries. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

AMEN.

 

  1. This Week
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Dear Friends,

 

martinThis Sunday, the Rev. Martin Deppe, retired United Methodist pastor, lifelong activist, and parishioner here at All Saints', will be preaching on Psalm 133, which begins, How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity.

How good and how sorely needed. You will not want to miss his sermon, which I expect to be both balm and challenge for our souls.

Martin has walked with Martin Luther King, Jr., worked closely with Rabbi Abraham Heschel, and advocated for female bishops in the United Methodist Church. Earlier this year, he published Operation Breadbasket: An Untold Story of Civil Rights in Chicago, 1966-1971, which chronicles underreported aspects and strategies of the movement here in Chicago which remain, of course, incredibly important today.

breadbasketOperation Breadbasket is the All Saints' Book Group's selection for September. You are invited to discuss the book along with them on Thursday, September 14, at 7:30pm in the Reading Room.

At this point, Bonnie has been to Michigan, Canada, and Virginia, and this weekend will head to Scotland! Please do reach out to me by email or phone (cell is best) if there is any way I can help you.

I hope this finds you delighting in summer, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

 

Peace,
Emily

back2017Sunday, September 17

Mark your calendars for the annual Backpack Blessing on September 17. PJ Karafiol, principal of Lake View High School, will be the guest preacher, and educators will speak on a panel during the 10am coffee hour.

Once again we will be collecting ONE TON OF PAPER to distribute to our neighborhood public schools. And there is even more up our sleeves to make this the most incredible Backpack Blessing yet...

Want to help make it happen? You're invited to join the planning meetings this Wednesday, August 2, 6-9pm, and Wednesday, August 23, 7-9pm. Contact Emily for more information.

midnightFall Reading List Selected

The All Saints Book Club has defined its reading list through the fall. The meetings start at 7:30 PM usually at the home of a member. The locations and further details are on our Facebook page. Here is the schedule for the next several months:

  • August 10 - "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt
  • September 14 - "Operation Breadbasket" by Martin Deppe (meet in the Reading Room at the church)
  • October 12 - "Saints and Villains" by Denise Giardina
  • November 9 - "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
  • December 14 - Pick your own poetry book and share favorite poem(s)

For additional information, contact Mike Burke (mebcat@gmail.com)

kellybdWe are very excited that the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas will be spending a weekend with us this fall, September 23 and 24. Kelly was formerly the Canon Theologian at our National Cathedral. In the fall she will become the first Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, now located at Union Theological Seminary. We've invited Kelly to spend the weekend with us so that we might again return to our work on confronting racism. Kelly is an amazing preacher and theologian and we are beyond honored that she is making time in her incredibly busy schedule to be with us. Look for more details in the next few weeks on the spirituality and theology that we will be exploring together. 

In the event that you find yourself looking for some interesting summer reading, here are some books she has suggested we investigate: HomecomingThe Color of Law, and one by Kelly called Stand Your Ground. She also suggested that watching 13th on Netflix would be helpful.

Racism is an issue that we are called to confront and challenge and end. It is not something that will just die a gentle death. Our hope is that with our time with Kelly and one another, we may again return to this important work. 

Gardening at 10am

churchschool2010

For the rest of June and July - although Sunday school classes do not meet at 10 during the summer - Atrium I will continue to be open during the 9 o'clock service until the end of July. Atrium I children who attend the 11 o'clock service will be welcome in the nursery during the service.

At 10 o'clock children are encouraged to come help water, weed and harvest vegetables from the garden we're planting to support the Ravenswood Community Services kitchen and food pantry

We're running low on paper and reusable bags for our Tuesday night pantry. Please bring us your extras! 
 
We will be taking donations on Tuesday evenings, M-F 9am-4pm, and on Sundays during church services. Look for the bins by the doors. Thanks for your help!

 Sundays at 2pm

breakersbibleWe are very excited to announce that every Sunday at 2:00 pm, All Saints' offers something new at the Breakers - An Evening Prayer Service! Our first event was Sunday, December 4th, and went marvelously well - we had 13 attendees! Folks are very pleased that there's a Protestant service being offered in addition to the current choices (which are Catholic and Moody Bible.) The Prayer Service itself is printed in large print and in bulletin style with scripture taken each week from the Common Lectionary.

The weekly service starts at 2:00 pm, upstairs on the second floor Meditation Room, and lasts about 15 minutes. Please contact Paul Mallatt if you have questions, or comments at 773-860-4649. When you can, stop by the Breakers (5333 N Sheridan Rd) where the parking is free (for 2 hours), the coffee is hot, and the folks are friendly!

 

Tuesdays 6:15-8:00pm 

RCS is looking for help serving and cleaning up after dinner on Tuesdays from 6:15-8:00pm.

If you're able to volunteer, contact Emily or Operations Manager Parker Callahan, or call 773-769-0282.

helloDo you feel called to create an open, welcoming, hospitable environment at All Saints? Do you like meeting and connecting with people? Join the new Hospitality Ministry! Members of the Hospitality Ministry will help the clergy and vestry create a welcoming culture by greeting new members, engaging new faces at coffee hour, and helping connect new members of All Saints with our various programs.

Interested? Contact Diane Doran or Michelle Mayes. Include "Hospitality Ministry" in the subject line.

Our new Associate Rector, Emily Williams Guffey, is enjoying getting to know everyone in our congregation. Help her put names and faces together by adding yourself to our online directory!

If you are a member of All Saints' and haven't already registered for the directory, please contact our resident web guru Jim Crandall at website@allsaintschicago.org and he will send a user name, password, and instructions.

Join the All Saints' Care Ministry! 

casseroleThe Care Ministry at All Saints' is a quiet one, simply providing meals after a new baby arrives, after surgery, during an illness. Because when life gets complicated, dinner is often the last thing on our minds--but sometimes a meal and visit from a friend is exactly what we need!

If you can provide a meal, give someone a ride, or run an errand once in awhile, please email care@allsaintschicago.org. You'll be contacted when a need arises and you can sign up to help at your convenience.

 

tinaParishioner, Tina Tchen, accepts Bishop Maryann Budde's invitation to preach at the National Cathedral Sunday, May 8. Click here to see the video.

 

Please consider supporting the restoration project of our historic building. To make a donation, click here

1883 Construction web 

This week’s stories of the bell tower: The beams and posts in the bell tower are being filled with epoxy and fungicide to prevent future insect damage and to restore their strength and integrity. Here are some photos of the work currently taking place. Everywhere you see white is where the post or beam is being rebuilt, restored and protected.
 
The blue hue in the photo is from the tarp surrounding the bell tower enabling Ron Young and his crew to continue working in the dropping temperatures.
 
 

Here is a collection of photos of the progress of our 1883 Project. Here is a collection of bell tower photos. Check back often for updates.


Sunday Service Times

8:00 am Inclusive Language Eucharist
9:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir
10:00 am Children's Church School
10:00 am Coffee Hour
11:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir

 

Contact Us

4550 N. Hermitage in Chicago, IL 60640 (Directions)

Phone (773) 561-0111

Email info@allsaintschicago.org 

Information about pastoral care.

 

 


Bonnie on Huffington Post

Occasionally Bonnie's sermons are published on the Huffington Post. Here are some links.

Pain. Change. Hope.

November 15, 2015

What Does St. Francis of Assisi Have to Say to Us Today?

October 4, 2015

Wake Up Calls

September 6, 2015

Christmas Reminds Us That We, Like God, Are Human, Too

December 24, 2014

The Deep Sleep of Racial Oblivion: One Pastor's Sin of Omission

November 30, 2014

Pulpit Swap

The Pulpit Swap between St Thomas and All Saints is part of our ongoing effort to bring our parishes closer together as we engage in a conversation about systemic racism and how we can work together to forge new possibilities and outcomes.

Going Home—Changed

Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on October 16, 2016.  

When Prayers Go Unanswered

Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Dr Fulton L Porter celebrating at All Saints Episcopal Church on Oct16 2016.