* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mark 8: Gaining and Losing Life

Having looked at the first half of Mark 8, we turn to the remainder of the chapter, where we find a healing story (not unlike many other stories of healers in the ancient world), the story of a famous conversation between Jesus and Peter, and a lesson on the cost of discipleship. When the author of Luke copies these last two passages, he leaves out the response of Peter and the subsequent rebuke but leaves everything else more or less just as the author of Mark wrote it. The author of Matthew, on the other hand, includes an endorsement of Peter as early church authority (even though the rebuke from Jesus follows close on the heels of this endorsement), essentially legitimizing Peter as first pope. This is possibly a political addendum intended to resolve arguments in the early church about who should and should not have positions of authority within the hierarchy. Aside from this addition, the author of Matthew only slightly revises the words of Mark.

Some may find this particular healing story challenging. The other gospel writers do not seem to include it, perhaps for this reason. The Jesus character in this story uses a ritualistic technique to remove the man's blindness, which suggests that he cannot simply will that the man's blindness be removed, but instead must take some magical action in order to heal. As scandalous as that may seem to some, even more troubling is the implication that Jesus doesn't quite do the job completely on his first attempt; he has to perform the healing twice in order for the man's sight to be fully granted. However one justifies this detail, one might infer a limitation to the power of Jesus or conclude that Jesus could do things however he wanted to. The issue becomes moot, however, when one realizes that the same story could have been told about a dozen other healers in the first century and could even have been passed along from much older tales about Asclepius and his ilk. At the end of the day, there is no reason to dwell on the story.

What follows is perhaps more unique to the Jesus cult, although it has overtones in common with the teachings of many ancient mystery religions. In this portion of the narrative, Jesus confirms with his disciples that they believe in his status as messiah, then he orders them to keep that a secret. This may have been believable for any number of reasons, but many of the Jewish messiah cults that emerged in the first century developed within the Zealot faction, which was strongly opposed to Roman rule and promoted an aggressive, violent response to the imperial presence in Jerusalem. These uprisings ended inevitably in the assertion of Roman authority, up until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and the scattering of Jews throughout the Roman territories, where it was thought they would be less likely to organize violent coups. One may not want to be publicly proclaimed as "messiah" if the prevailing interpretation of that title was something that would draw unwanted attention from Roman authorities.

Jesus proceeds to tell his disciples that he intends to play out a different course of action, at the appropriate time. Here, the author of Mark foreshadows the passion story and the promise of resurrection, even though the gospel of Mark does not contain any resurrection appearances of Jesus. The passage essentially conveys the message that Jesus is different from other messiahs, that "messiah" does not have to mean military action, and that freedom and peace are not necessarily about getting rid of an occupying force. Peter, according to the story, doesn't get it. So, Jesus puts Peter in his place and asserts his commitment to a specific outcome.

The passage closes with Jesus following up his rebuke of Peter by presenting a new way of thinking about living with integrity and purpose. The passage is familiar, but its words have often been construed to mean that people must give up their own personal identity -- their own goals, dreams, passions, abilities, and potential -- and become something else. The teaching here has been taken by some to mean that we should not value ourselves or the things we can potentially accomplish in life, but that we should cast all of that aside and live sacrificially. Without straying too far from what is written here, one can justify being a martyr, or at least living like a victim. People sometimes speak of having their own personal cross to bear as if their unnecessary suffering contributes something meaningful to the world, when this makes very little sense in light of the assertion elsewhere that Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden light.

It seems instead that Jesus' rebuke of Peter is indicative of a strong sense of personal identity and vision. While I find the historical credibility of the gospel narrative dubious, the character of Jesus in this passage can be seen as clearly self authorizing, uninterested in what other people think a "messiah" is supposed to be. He sees a path forward that is personally meaningful and publicly transformational -- he has a deep purpose that lines up with his personal values. Peter's attempt to tell him that he has it all wrong is essentially an attempt to say, "You can't just do whatever you want; you have to fall in line with what society says you are supposed to be." Jesus boldly rejects this notion.

Thus, if you want to follow the example of Jesus in this narrative, if you want to find some spiritual value that can be applied to your life, stop giving credence to fears and obligations about what you must do and be honest about who you are. The world has a definition of success that may not reflect your own deep values and passions, so don't judge your own life based on other people's ideals. You don't need to commit your life to vows that you won't ever be like your father or your mother; there is no reason to base decisions on fears that you will never have or be enough. Look beneath whatever fears and vows you allow to guide you and get in touch with a deeper set of values and principles. Live like you matter -- live like your values and ideals have merit, even though that can be risky. 

If you live like you have to protect yourself from life -- if you never risk being authentic and  committed to your own deep values -- your life will be less meaningful than it could be. If you want to live fully, live with integrity and intentionality. It doesn't matter what other people think you should achieve or acquire, it matters that what you are doing in your life aligns with what actually matters to you. When we fear that others may not approve of or accept our values, or that we might lose a relationship or a job because of our commitment to a meaningful vision, we shortchange our ability to create more satisfying lives and a better world.

In terms of emulating Jesus as he is portrayed in the gospels, what seems to have mattered to him? People. The gospel writers make it abundantly clear that the bulk of Jesus' ministry was focused on helping people: healing people who needed healing, teaching people who needed teaching, inspiring people who needed inspiration. The Jesus of the gospels helped people become their best selves, if they were willing. If it is of any value to think of being Christ-like, then this seems to be at the heart of that quality. In fact, inspiring people to become their best selves would seem to be at the heart of every major religion.

I believe that our deepest values and identities are remarkably similar. I believe that -- beneath all of our accumulated fears and beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world we share -- we all understand that we need one another, that our lives during our time on this planet are made more meaningful when we are engaging our passions in a way that connects with other human beings. What we stand to "lose" is not our lives, but a way of living that only seems safe and successful on the surface while remaining empty and lackluster in terms of personal meaning and satisfaction. We do not need to deny ourselves, and we do not need to be burdened by obligation. Rather, we can embrace our deepest selves and unleash that authentic capability, beauty, and creativity in our lives and in the lives of those around us. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hosea: The Consequences of Desperation

We've looked at the first three chapters of Hosea. The remainder of the book is almost entirely a catalogue of colorful ways to say that people have committed idolatry and Yahweh will punish them accordingly. Twice (Hos 11:8-11 and Hos 14) the author suggests that Yahweh is too compassionate to destroy Israel and Judah, perhaps suggesting that there will be hope after a time of consequence. Most of the book, however, is a single-minded poetic indictment.

It may be worth taking a moment to go over familiar ground and challenge the idea that bad things happen because God is punishing people, and good things happen because God is being merciful. In fact, the author of Hosea even detaches the religious and moral behavior of individuals from the consequences of a nation when he claims that Yahweh will concentrate his punishment on the priests and leaders that led their communities toward destruction (Hos 4:14-5:4). It's still safe to say that the author of Hosea is commenting on a perceived relationship between Yahweh and the nations of Judah and Israel, not between Yahweh and individuals living in those nations. And as we have observed before, for all of the undesirable things that happened to the nation of Israel (and eventually Judah) there are clear political, economic, and natural causes.

So, despite the lengthy pronouncement of divine disappointment and punishment in Hosea, we can realistically say that undesirable consequences sometimes follow human behavior. Perhaps it is the case that undesirable consequences more often follow behavior based on fear (including greed, oppression, and hostility). Or perhaps the undesirable occurrences in life are simply easier to work through for those individuals who are living based on something deeper and more solid than superficial and irrational fears. Perhaps living by a clear set of values and guiding principles that support justice, equity, and compassion simply offers people a way to make sense of their lives during undesirable circumstances while still maintaining a sense of personal responsibility.

The book of Hosea certainly seems to point to some degree of personal accountability on the part of at least some of the people of Israel, but he also seems to suggest that their only chance of managing crises is to hope that Yahweh will be merciful and provide supernatural aid. As history has demonstrated time and again, prayer alone -- even sincere prayer -- does not manage crises and initiate meaningful change in one's life or in the life of a community or nation. People must act in accord with their prayers or wishes or deep guiding principles if those things are to have any real value. The author of Hosea, for just a brief moment, suggests what acting in accord would look like. Obviously, he thinks that people need to stop worshiping inanimate objects and serving foreign gods in ways that are incompatible with the practices of the Yahweh cult, but in Hos 12:6-8 he also admonishes people to keep the principles of love, justice, and honesty as priorities in their lives.
 People in Hosea's day may not have been so different from individuals today in their propensity to run toward any possible source of protection or relief. Whether one melts down a bunch of silver into an idol, throws oneself into workaholic commitments, entertains reckless behavior in personal relationships, becomes obsessed with how much money one can get from others, suddenly adopts more devout or fanatical religious behaviors, or succumbs to the more easily identified addictions of alcohol or drugs, desperation is often at the root. When we feel incapable of handling the challenges we face, we have a tendency to look for something outside of ourselves that can handle it for us, or at least help us forget that the challenge exists. Desperation leads us away from our true values and principles, and toward frantic and relentless fear.

Desperation is often based on lies we have accepted as truth. Being honest about ourselves and other people is one tool we have to dismantle desperation. Taking away the mythology and the angry threats of divine vengeance, one interpretation of Hosea is simply that life is better when we treat one another (and ourselves) with respect, when we let go of the fears that can prompt us to degrade ourselves or victimize others and instead trust in principles that compel us to see human value more clearly. We are sometimes not as prepared as we would like to be for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and yet we have incredible resources within our selves and in our relationships with others. Those resources become easier for us to acknowledge when we live with integrity to meaningful guiding principles.

No doubt, giving in to fear and desperation is easier; living with intentionality requires a bit more of us. It's also more rewarding, in our lives, in the lives of people around us, and in the world.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mark 8: Being Conscious About What Kind of Yeast Leavens Our Lives

Mark 8 contains a collection of stories that mostly appear in both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke, with some slight variation. Some of the phrases and teachings even make an appearance in the gospel of John. As we have mentioned previously, the gospel of Mark was probably the earliest to be written and distributed, especially considering that some of its stories are copied verbatim by the authors of Matthew and Luke. In Mark 8, we read of another feeding of the multitudes (or perhaps another story of the feeding of the multitude in Mk 6:30-44), a warning against following the teaching of the Pharisees, a healing story, and a famous altercation between the  Jesus and Peter characters. Since we have already considered the feeding of the multitudes and healing stories in some detail, we'll spend some time with the new material in the teachings of these verses. For now, we can concentrate on the first half of the chapter, specifically Mark 8:11-21.

The Pharisees appear once more to challenge Jesus by requesting a sign, some demonstration that he is more than just a Zealot rabble-rouser. He proclaims that there will be no sign forthcoming for his generation. In the gospel of Mark, that is the end of the discussion. No sign. Period. This, despite the claim that he was going about the countryside healing people left and right and feeding multitudes with miniscule amounts of food. So apparently these were not signs of anything spectacular. Most likely, this is because there were several so-called miracle workers running around in the first century. What exactly could the Pharisees have wanted if healing and wonder-working were commonplace enough to be inadmissible as evidence of divinity? That's not really the important question. No one can know what the Pharisees were really demanding or even if they ever actually confronted a historical Jesus. The question is placed by the author of Mark into the mouths of theoretical critics in order to prompt a theological answer: No signs for you.

In other words, according to the author of Mark, there is no proof and there will be no proof (for that generation at least) that Jesus is anything special. This answer wasn't good enough for the author of Matthew, who added the caveat,
except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nin'eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Mt 12:39-42)
This "sign of Jonah" was also cited by the author of Luke (Lk 11:29-32), except that the gospel of Luke doesn't interpret this sign as an allusion to death and resurrection. Actually, one might assume that resurrection would have been a pretty serious sign of something to that generation. So, somewhere between the writing of the gospel of Mark and the writing of the gospel of Matthew, belief in a messianic resurrection must have become more widespread. The gospel of Mark doesn't even include any resurrection appearances after the passion narrative. This suggests that the beliefs and assertions of the Jesus cult were still evolving as the Bible was being written.

What good is it for a person to go around claiming to be a divine figure and then assert that there won't be any forthcoming evidence? As a theological assertion, the author of Mark may have been pointing to the humility of Jesus. Presumably, he is not out to draw attention to himself through performing miracles on demand, he is doing what he is doing for a different, more noble purpose. Perhaps the author of Mark was pointing to the ignorance and blindness of the Pharisees; the verse is followed by a strongly-worded criticism against that sect. There is also a deeper message here that rings true with human experience, though. If one wants to know a person's values or deeply held beliefs, one need only observe their actions. By corollary, then, if you want people to know what you believe and value, make sure your actions demonstrate those beliefs and values clearly.

The criticism the author of Mark has Jesus level at the Pharisees actually supports this truth as well. The author of Mark doesn't spell it out as clearly as the authors of Matthew and Luke, but the general warning is the same: Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and the Herodians. (The Herodians were another political cult in the first century, supportive of Herod the Great and his dynasty.) The passage in the gospel of Mark doesn't state why there was something amiss with the teachings of the Pharisees, but the author of Luke says it plainly when he relates this teaching: The Pharisees are hypocrites. In other words, they say one thing and do another. They claim to believe something that is not clearly demonstrated in their actions. And presumably following their teachings--allowing their "yeast" to bud and ferment in one's psyche and spirit--will lead to hypocrisy in one's own life.

There is a comparison happening in these parallel passages between signs and truth. People can be so impressed with astounding behaviors and unusual events that they can go chasing after personalities with only a shallow understanding of what that individual stands for. Jonah was a "sign" to the people of Nineveh not because he was vomited up on the beach after three days inside a big fish, but because he spoke boldly, passionately, and sincerely to them. The people of Nineveh still had to take personal responsibility for what they would do with Jonah's words, and that required them to weigh his message carefully and thoughtfully. They weren't just pursuing some new shiny distraction.

What the authors of the gospel suggested about Jesus was that he was not just a shiny distraction or a bit of entertainment or even a conquering general to drive back the Romans and reclaim Jerusalem. Perhaps Jesus represented a way of being that was more about integrity than it was about miracles, more about treating people with respect than about distracting people from their lives, more about growing people through empowering them than about growing a following by bedazzling them. In other words, the core of the message is about what ordinary people can do in relation to one another, not what people must rely on an extraordinary person to do for them.

That is not necessarily the Jesus message that is propagated throughout Christian circles today, but perhaps the quality of Christlike-ness is more about living with integrity in one's own life than it is about telling others how they must live. Perhaps our human social constructs have given us permission to practice hypocrisy, and that practice has spread like yeast through our habits, our relationships, and our ideals. Whatever we may believe about Jesus, it seems that at least some portion of the gospel message advocates understanding one's own self deeply, knowing and trusting in one's guiding principles and living by them with integrity, and actually valuing one's values enough to act in alignment with them. We do not need faith for that. We do not need miraculous proof. In fact, if we were to live like this--with intentionality and integrity in all our moments--we would be the sign, perhaps even enough of a sign to inspire others. That's worthwhile leavening.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hosea 1-3: Retribution and Reconciliation, and Our Ability to Develop Integrity

During the span of rulers breezed through in 2 Kings 15, the authors of that history lament that people in Judah and Israel continued to worship foreign gods. A couple of those kings gained the approval of the historians, but even during the reigns of those kings who "did right in the sight of the Lord," the people they governed were doing some things of which the authors couldn't approve. Then, during the reign of Pekah, the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser conquered large swaths of Israel and carried captives back to Assyria. Hoshea (an usurper) assassinated Pekah and became the last king of ancient Israel. Hoshea's penchant for treachery led to Israel's destruction and exile in 722 BCE, at the hands of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser.

Of course, many biblical writers interpreted this destruction as the just consequence for the nation's religious behavior. People had done things that Yahweh forbade, and thus Yahweh punished them for their transgressions. Along with the historian authors of Kings, who certainly concluded that Yahweh's anger was the driving force behind Israel's destruction, the prophet Hosea came to similar conclusions. Hosea most likely lived during the last few decades of the northern kingdom of Israel, and he was possibly the first prophet to write of the relationship between Yahweh and his people using a marriage metaphor -- imagery that would influence later authors, like the writers of Jeremiah.

In the first three chapters of Hosea, the prophet tells of his marriage to a prostitute and the names given to their children. The marriage, of course, is symbolic of Yahweh's relationship to his people, who have become spiritually adulterous by adopting the religious practices of other peoples. The names of Gomer's children are also symbolic. Jezreel means "Yahweh sows," and it was the name of a valley where the kings of Israel had caused a great deal of bloodshed over the course of the nation's history. Lo-Ruhamah means "not loved" or "not pitied," symbolizing that Yahweh will not be compassionate toward Israel (although he hasn't given up on Judah at this point). Lo-Ammi means "not mine," because Yahweh (according to Hosea) is thoroughly rejecting Israel; they are no longer his people, and he is no longer their god.

The passages that follow Hosea's description of his unenviable marriage reflect his imagining of Yahweh as a scorned and enraged husband. Obviously, a husband is seen here as the victim of a wife's adultery, and with a husband like Yahweh, no holds are barred when it comes to retribution. After the utter and complete disciplining of Israel, however, Hosea suggests that Yahweh will entice Israel back and restore her to her former glory, in a kind of twisted co-dependent reconciliation. Hosea likewise purchases his wife back and forgives her betrayal.

There's more than one problem with this whole scene, obviously, but the biggest glaring issue is the assertion that the adulterous wife is going to change. If Israel lacked the ability or the will to be spiritually monogamous before, why would one ever expect different behavior? Perhaps a less kind question is, if Yahweh had been a god worthy of Israel's devotion and fidelity, why would the people have gone looking for a better deity in the first place? And what kind of wife or people, after being beaten within an inch of survival, will respond to sweet enticing words with renewed adoration and commitment? Shall we understand Yahweh to say, "I'm sorry I stripped you, made your lands parched and unable to produce food, showed hatred toward my children, and took away any reason you might have had for celebration, honey, but you know you really deserved it. Come on back, and things will be different"? If Yahweh or Hosea could control what Israel or Gomer did, things would have always gone ideally. So, there's no way that Hosea can honestly say what Israel or Gomer will do once restored, and it's a bit silly to assume that habitual behavior will change.

This is a big issue with externalizing the causes of the results in our lives. We cannot assume that because we go and purchase someone with some silver and barley that she will be faithful. We cannot assume that a wrathful episode of discipline will make a person or a people more receptive to love. We cannot assume that other people will change habitual behavior because of something that we do. When people change, it is because of a choice they make. Certainly we can understand what Hosea is envisioning, but the means by which he sees a more idealistic set of circumstances emerging is naive at best. We can influence the behavior of others, but we cannot control the behavior of anyone but ourselves. Apparently, not even Yahweh can control the behavior of anyone but himself -- otherwise Israel and Judah would never have been destroyed, if the theology of the biblical writers is followed.

Where does this leave us? If we release the Hebrew scriptures' depiction of Yahweh as an archaic bit of folklore that was useful for a particular people at a particular time trying to make sense of their world, then we are left with human behaviors to address. At some point, the people of ancient Israel started doing things that did not line up with the values that had been established for their culture. Perhaps some individuals had a different set of values that drove their behavior, or perhaps there were unaddressed fears that overrode deeper values. They spiraled out of control, failing to reconnect with those ideals that might have allowed them to thrive.

Every day, we have a multitude of chances to choose how we will align with our deepest values, our guiding principles. If we choose to react impulsively to irrational fears, we will walk a road of destruction. We do this, for instance, every time we believe that we must be defensive or retributive toward others. We also do this when we make decisions based on the belief that we are unlovable or  unworthy, or that we are superior or entitled. We don't have to believe in a god who will punish us; we are capable of destroying ourselves without any help from the supernatural.

If we choose to act in harmony with a deeper set of values -- values that recognize the merits of equity, compassion, and justice; values that foster emotional maturity and personal responsibility; values that recognize the beauty, inspiration, and worth of every person -- if we choose to act in harmony with those things, we walk a path of life. If we are willing to see the divine as an internal human characteristic rather than an external independent entity, then we might even speak of aligning with divine will. However we see it, when we act with integrity to our deepest values, it doesn't actually matter what other people do. If other people are unfaithful, their actions reflect their own choices. They do not trap us into any requisite reaction. We can respond to their choices with integrity to our own guiding principles. We can be reconciled to others as we choose, regardless of their actions. We start by being reconciled to ourselves.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mark 7:24-37: When Prejudice Gets in the Way of Values

People often concoct a pleasingly dishonest image of those they admire. We often have a hard time thinking of our heroes or idols as flawed. So, when Jesus comes off as a bit of a bigot in Mark 7:24-30, it may be tempting to explain it away, but defending Jesus here might miss a bigger spiritual truth.

Here is the story, in a nutshell: The character of Jesus wants to have some time to himself, and instead he is accosted by a foreign woman -- a non-Jew who has heard of him. This woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter; the woman believes she is possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus dismisses her, calling her a dog, compared to the more valuable children of Israel. Then the woman does something rather impressive; she stands up to Jesus and challenges his prejudice. Jesus acquiesces, heals her daughter, and sends the woman home.

People wishing to protect an impression of Jesus as a sacred or holy figure have interpreted this exchange in a variety of ways. Maybe Jesus was just testing the woman, thus people must be persistent in begging God for what they want. It is as if to say that you have to want something badly enough to be nuisance in order for God to pay attention to you. There is actually another parable that supports this idea. The version of this story that is told in the gospel of Matthew, however paints Jesus in an even worse light. He ignores the woman at first, and then makes the interpretation of his metaphor about throwing children's food to dogs very clear. She doesn't deserve his help because she's not Jewish.

Recognizing that this exchange may never have happened, or that it may have transpired differently than gospel authors preserved it, the best means of extracting something useful from the story is to take it at face value. There is no way for any person to even confirm the existence of the Jesus depicted in the gospel narratives, so it would be rather presumptuous to assume to know the thoughts of a person from another culture and another time. While it may say something embarrassing about human nature, it is better to be honest than to protect a character who doesn't need protecting.

Try as we might, we are not color-blind or culture-blind. We make judgments about people, whether we want to or not. We assume things based on appearances, and we often act based on our assumptions. We have to. There is no way that we could ever have all of the information necessary to make a completely informed decision, much less know everything about another human being's character, beliefs, tendencies, desires, weaknesses, and strengths. We have to operate on assumptions to a certain extent. Being aware that we are making assumptions, however, can be helpful.

Like the character of Jesus in this story with the Phoenician woman, we are prone to taking one look at people and deciding whether we want to have anything to do with them. To be blunt, we often assess in a split second whether or not another person has any value to us. A lot of folks, we may write off as dogs not worthy of any meaningful attention. Some of us may write off people who are from different cultures, who look different from us, who have different income brackets or different lifestyles -- we may write people off for things we invent about them with no concrete information.

Sometimes people will challenge us, like the Phoenician woman challenged Jesus in the story. They may challenge us directly, or we may be challenged by something a person says or does that flies in the face of our assumptions. When that happens, we have an opportunity to rethink, to tap into our actual values and guiding principles, and to shift our behavior into alignment if necessary.

Sometimes, though, we have to challenge ourselves. People may not have the opportunity to challenge our assumptions, and even when we do give people that opportunity, we often make it difficult for them. Once we have made up our minds, we like to stay rooted. So, if we want to be really sharp about this, we have to learn to challenge ourselves. When we notice our assumptions and judgments and prejudices getting in the way of who we actually want to be in the world -- drowning out our actual values and deep guiding principles -- we have the option of changing. We can choose to allow deeper truths to inform our actions rather than allowing our assumptions, prejudices, and fears to hog to driver's seat.

We will sometimes be wrong. Sometimes, people will live up to our worst assumptions about them, even when we are trying to let go of those assumptions. The question is whether we want to be the kind of people who assume the worst about people or whether we believe in something more important than that. If we believe that all people have value, for instance, we have a choice about whether we look for that value in people or whether we look for reasons to dismiss them as mangy mutts that don't deserve our attention. We can actually have a greater positive impact in other people's lives and on the world we share when we choose to truly see people as human beings with undeniable worth and dignity -- and when we do that, we also become better embodiments of our own dignity and worth.