Monday, June 2, 2014

An Open Letter to My Protégé

Not the right category of protégé.

Dear _____________,
(You know who you are.)
I’m in Portland again, continuing to indulge my education addiction.
In class today, part of our discussion touched on the question of whether we evaluate people and, if we do, in what ways. We seemed to agree that using the word “evaluate” suggested that we were considering the worth of the person(s). On that basis, most of us were clear that we didn’t want to be involved in evaluating others, since we believe that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. Thus, every human being has an innate, indisputable, and immeasurable value.
Not the right categories of Rwandans.
We talked about other potential terms, and I realized that I try to merely “classify” or “categorize” others for (what I pretend are) perfectly appropriate reasons. But what I often do instead is to actually “stereotype” people. That means deciding in advance, based on some minimal perspective on them, “what kind of person” I think they are. It’s not a good habit to have. I’m trying to break it. But here is what I was thinking about when I imagined I could safely categorize you into one of two groups. (Actually, I was putting myself in one of the groups, and I was thinking of you in the other. You can probably tell which from my description.)
I tend to classify other people in terms of whether they are in need, or whether they have resources (or even “are” resources themselves). That way, when I’m thinking in terms of how God seeks to meet the needs of those around me, I can connect those He can use to meet those needs with those who have the kinds of needs He can meet through the first category. And that works, to a certain extent. Some people have received resources that I believe God has provided. Some have been used to deliver those resources.
But you probably realize by now that you throw off my “categories,” since you’re in both of them. Or maybe you didn’t know that.

I’ve had a chance to share some resources with you. But I don’t know if it’s always been clear how much you’ve been used to meet needs in my life as well. And so, in the midst of thinking about how I tend to categorize people, I realized that my categories don’t work. I’m not in your life just to meet your needs. And I’m not in your life just because you have resources I need. Vice versa, too.
So, what does this teach me about evaluating, categorizing, classifying, or stereotyping people? I think it’s that there’s just the one category: people. We have needs. We have resources. And we know to share our needs and our resources with each other because we share something else first: Life. You’re in mine. I’m in yours. And I’m very glad about that.
Just thought you should know.
Your servant for Jesus’ sake (II Corinthians 4:5),
Still not the right categories. But closer!

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