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Angelise, Demonise or Humanise?

Over the past month we've explored how beliefs can become 'isms' when they become restricitive, discriminatory, oppressive systems.

Have you thought about what your 'isms' might be?

One of the dangers if isms is that we categorise people into IN groups and OUT groups, depending on whether they conform to our way of seeing the world. One of the ways we do this is by demonising those who don't conform and angelising those who do.

We have 4 great clips from the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, a film that tells the story of what happened when Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist battling with a damaged relationship with his father, met Mr Rogers, the beloved children's entertainer.

This clip demonstrates how Lloyd has demonised his Dad, whilst Mr Rogers asks us "Have you ever felt like Lloyd?"

We all get angry, which isn't a problem, but one of the dangers of isms is that they provide a belief system with which we can justify hurting people by demonising and dehumanising them, because the less human I make you, the easier it is to mistreat you.

Genocides like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide provide extreme examples of how we can mistreat those that we de-humanise. Perhaps the power in the remembrance of such atrocities isn't in demonising the perpetrators as "Monsters", but instead recognising that the people who committed such awful crimes against their neighbours were human, just like you and me...and that unless we escape the power of isms that we are capable of dehumanising our neighbours in the same way.

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus' most famous parables, about how a Samaritan, who historically was demonised by Jesus' audience, helped someone in need.

In 2005, a Good Samaritan experiment took place at Lancaster University but instead of Samaritans, they used Manchester United fans and the victims they came across were wearing either a Man Utd top, a Liverpool top or a plain t-shirt. (Man Utd and Liverpool are bitter rivals in English football!)

Before the experiment, these fans completed a questionnaire that got them thinking about what it means to be a fan of their team in particular and how they relate to their fellow Man Utd supporters. The results of the experiment showed that the Man Utd fans were more likely to help someone in need who was wearing a Man Utd top.

They repeated the experiment but on the second experiment they changed the questionnaire, instead asking them, more broadly, how they felt about the beautiful game and how great it was to be a football supporter.

The results from the 2nd experiment showed that the Man Utd fans were more likely to help someone in need who was wearing a Liverpool top, than they were someone in a plain t-shirt!

What was the difference between the 2 experiments? What they were led to focus on.

This experiment suggests that our brains are more easily influenced than we'd like to believe so it's important for us to be aware of the dangers that isms pose so that we can avoid the temptation to demonise and de-humanise our fellow humans and instead love those who seem unlovable, reach those who seem unreachable and do what seems impossible: To forgive.

Whilst demonising those who don't see the world through the prism of our ism, on the other side of the same coin, we can angelise those that we consider "saints." In this clip, Lloyd asks Mr Rogers' wife "What's it like being married to a living saint?"

Christianity isn't the only faith to have saints...

Buddhism has Arhats, Islam has the Wali, Juddaism has the Tzadiks and nowadays we have celebrities that through social media we can idolise, when in reality they're as human as us.

Why do people say "Never meet your heroes!"? Often, up close, and in person we see that our idols don't live up to the airbrushed, photoshopped, auto-tuned, angelised version that we're familiar with.

We often angelise people in the limerance or "Honeymoon" stage of relationships… we idolise someone as the answer to all our problems, the ideal partner that we have all these things in common with and can't see the differences that will start to irritate you 2 years down the line!

"Humility is ability to make an accurate assessment about oneself."

Last week we explored Minimalist art and one feature of Minimalism is space or silence...

In this next clip Mr Rogers invites Lloyd to join him in an exercise of a minute's silence to think of all those who've loved him into being.

Part of laying down our isms and our certainties is in embracing the reality that life is complicated and messy and people can't be neatly categorised but when we embrace the messiness of our humanity they can all contribute to our story.

As we watch let's see who comes to mind as those who've been part of our story of loving us into being and making us the humans that we are.

The discomfort of a life without isms, in which we recognise the unpredictable nature of our free humanity, can be that we are stepping into the unknown.

As Lloyd starts to remove the lens of his ism he can see the humanity of his Dad, even beginning to call him "Dad" for the first time.

For the last 30 years, most music has been made with computers, giving people the option of correcting notes that were out of place, out of tune, a little bit early or a bit too long.

The problem with this is that people complain that the music has lost its soul, because it doesn't feel genuine or authentic... So there's now an option on recording software called the Humanise Function. When you hit HUMANISE, it introduces variety in timing, pitch and length of notes to the robotic “perfect” music so that the music sounds more authentic.

What does our HUMANISE button look like?

The idea of living stones comes from the idea that a community is like a spiritual house that instead of being built of square bricks is made of living stones. What would a living stone be like? It'd be unique, it would be flexible, it'd have give and take, to work with the other living stones around it.

Our Welcome video says "We are here to continue our quest to LIVE FULLY and love wastefully..."

What does Living Fully mean to you? Part of living fully is allowing the wounds from our past experiences to be healed. Part of loving wastefully is acknowledging the possibility that the people we forgive may not love us back and might not change. Our love might go to waste...or it might not...but we're still going to forgive, because forgiveness maintains that life flow in us.

Last week we dipped our toes in the world of Minimalist art and explored the controversy of the white on white paintings.

Forgiveness is a form of minimalism because when you forgive someone you say "I'm going to wipe the slate clean." Forgiveness offers us the opportunity of seeing ourselves and other people without the demonising or angelising record of right and wrongs.

Just like the white painting, that will make us each feel something different.

How does the clean slate of forgiveness make you feel?

So may we refuse to demonise or angelise but instead resist the temptation to define people with a category. May we celebrate the freedom and explore the mystery of being human, living stones with a fresh slate, because whatever our isms have made us in the past, our future is unwritten.

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