Yesterday, my family and I went to World on the Square in Corydon, Indiana. It’s something we’ve done for many years — in fact, I noticed as I was taking my quadruple recipe of allegedly Indonesian Hot Rice Salad to the basement of the United Methodist church, the site of the “Taste of the World” component of the event, that I have been doing this very thing for 11 years. Long enough for the lady who logs in the contributions to say “I know what’s in there!” Practically long enough to be an old-timer — well, a middle-timer, anyway — in our small town.
This year, the weather was blessedly cool and clear, a break from the more typical August swelter or the occasional (as one year) near-tornado. There were the usual complement of tents and booths representing countries from around the world, and organizations that are against hate, and for peace, and are trying to make a difference in a hate-filled and violent world, one summer festival at a time. [Like the AIDS Interfaith Ministries of Kentuckiana, who sell COEXIST bumper stickers and “Love Thy Neighbor” t-shirts — contact firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or Beargrass Christian Church, 502.896.1161– or Madera Ministries, whose director, Sandy Gettelfinger, is so busy helping immigrants to Corydon learn English and navigate the bureaucracy that she just has to bid would-be helpers to call her (812.738.1270) and leave a message, since she hasn’t had a spare moment to work on a web site.]
Maybe this temporary tent city is a glimpse of the realm of God, that realm of justice and love for which everyone — surely, not just Christians — hopes. My pastor preached that one year. I can see why.
This year, though, I was more struck by a little bit of history: the text of the document that started it all, the original “Corydon Resolution” that played its part in the history of the Community Unity group that makes World on the Square happen year after year (and that does have a web site). That declaration reads, in part, “We choose to affirm the value and dignity of ALL people,” regardless of the long list of various, real, differences that exist between them.
The value and dignity of ALL people. The value of all people. The dignity of all people. It’s a strong statement, that humanity alone is worth something, that each person is not due this or that — kindness, consideration, security of person, . . . — as a function of what they have produced for someone, as a function of their money or position or talent or skill, but simply in view of her status as a person. That status alone confers value. That status alone dignifies each woman, each man, each child.
The statement picks its words carefully. It doesn’t say we affirm the values of all people, let alone the actions that flow out of them. It doesn’t say we affirm the choices of all people, or the desirability of the life-paths or careers those choices generate. It leaves room for plenty of disagreement and conflict over ethics, or if you prefer, politics.
What it doesn’t leave room for is any kind of a priori exclusion from the conversation, from “the room” in which, so to speak, or “the table” around which we meet to work out how we are going to manage to live in the same organization, town, state, world with each other, different as we are. No one is disposable. No one is negligible. No one just doesn’t matter.
Easy to say, harder to do. Of course. But just being willing to make the choice, for or against saying it, and trying to do it, makes a difference.
It made a difference 11 years ago, when the Community Unity group would not remove any of the differences it named from its resolution, even though including “sexual orientation” in the list meant that the pastors of some big churches in Corydon refused to sign the resolution.
It makes a difference whenever we affirm that violence against another human being — another man, another woman, another child — for whatever reason is always a wrong, and a lie. It makes a difference when we insist that women are people — and we know what that is supposed to mean.
It makes a difference on a cooler-than-usual second Saturday in August, when what’s going on in the real world is a celebration of a world of difference in God’s good creation.