Yesterday, as I counseled a young couple looking for some answers to heavy-duty questions about faith, I was reminded that there are only one or two things that I would identify as black or white, rock-bottom, cannot be trifled with beliefs in my life. As a clergyperson, you might think there would be more, but no. When I was 15 I was in yet another new school. This time it was an urban high school in New England. Our assignment, not very original, was to read a book, title assigned, and give an oral book report to the class of 20 or so sophomores. I never gave it a thought. Reading and making speeches were skills I had acquired with some ease. But that was not the case for James. He was at least 6′ tall and weighed no more than 120 pounds. The hem of his pants hit the tops of his white socks. His jacket sleeves didn’t cover his bony wrists. His hair was greasy. There wasn’t much about him that was appealing, except a sort of quiet reserve that in retrospect I realize was probably his protection from the rest of us. I knew reading the book was a monumental task for him but standing up to give an oral report was beyond him. The entire 5 minutes was one of agony for him and for me. He hung his head and mumbled, his hands dug deep into his pockets. Jocks in the class teased him. The girls giggled at their jokes. The teacher paid no attention to him. And I was silent. I never talked to him that whole year. And the next year I was gone. I think about that afternoon in English II often. I wonder became of James. I hope he learned to speak for himself. I hope he learned to play basketball so some one would have cared about him. I wonder what happened to that teacher. I hope she learned people learn in all kinds of ways and that what works for one child may be the last straw for another. And this is what I learned. Every human being regardless of how they look, what they do, what they have, or what they bring to the table deserves my respect. And with that comes dignity and value. They are entitled to 5 minutes of my time, without judgement on my part. I owe them, as fellow travelers on the planet, my attention and compassion. This the black or white, rock bottom, cannot be trifled with thing that I believe. Thank you, James.
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