In the year 2006, author John Koenig began a writing project based on his observation that there were no words to describe certain common existential feelings and emotions. These holes in the language inspired him to research etymologies, prefixes, suffixes and root words which resulted in a weblog of neologisms and their definitions (a neologism being a newly coined word or expression that has not quite found its way into common use). John defines the word lutalica as: the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories. Koenig posits that when we are born, we immediately get labeled, categorized, and put into box for the convenience of never having to go to the trouble of looking inside. In this way, we lose a sense of who we are and begin searching elsewhere for our identity. In regards to this dissonance, he writes: “We all want to belong to something. But part of you is still rattling around inside these categories and labels that could never do you justice.”[i]
In our reading from the Letter of James, the author has given us an admonition about distinctions. It is not about the eradication of distinctions. Distinction in the basic sense is simply the quality or state of being distinguishable. If we take a good look at the world around us we can see the rich diversity of God’s creation, and we show forth that same diversity. In Genesis we read that on the sixth day of creation, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” That word ‘our,’ points to the complex creation of a God whose very nature is diverse.
What James is actually speaking against is distinction with qualification. Another definition of distinction is: the quality or state of being excellent or superior.[ii] James is cautioning us about the distinction of difference seasoned with judgement. “For if a person with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly and you say, ‘Have a seat here.’ And a poor person in dirty clothes comes in and you say, ‘Stand over there,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
It is in our fallen nature that we have created boundaries and barriers separating us in the hopes of being deemed better; as superior to our neighbor; as somehow worthy of our creation. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, income inequality, educational disparity, and all their ilk: these are elements of a poverty that is man-made, born out of shame and then forced on others, seeking to strip them of their dignity and rob them of the provision that God has intended for us all. These extraordinary times are indicative of this. Even we who live near Harvard Square do not have to look far see the vestiges of greed that seeks to give but a few a seat at the table, while others are forced to stand and sleep out in the cold because of distinctions forced upon them by others. These are the ones that James says God has chosen to be the heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him.
In grace and mercy, God entered into our poverty in the person of Jesus, to restore the dignity of human nature by destroying our man-made illusions of grandeur and calling us to recognize in each other our beautiful God-given distinctions, and finding them to be good and a source of vitality. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to live with arms outstretched and hands open, and not to cling to the provision God has given but to share with others, giving ourselves to them and sharing from our abundance. This is what it means to claim our identity as followers of Jesus: to share with each other the diversity of God’s infinite goodness and be assured that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more beautiful or worthy of God’s love. Once we recognize our posturing as the true poverty, we will then be able to love ourselves and those around us as God loves us, killing our shame, celebrating curiosity, bestowing dignity, and thereby seasoning distinction with mercy, seeing that everyone is given their share of God’s provision.
John Koenig closes his exposition of the meaning of lutalica with these words: “You have to wonder if we should be taking our chances out in the open and meet each other as we are, asking: “What is it like being you?” —and be brave enough to admit that we don’t already know the answer. Maybe it’ll mean that we’ve finally arrived, just “unpacking the boxes” making ourselves at home. And maybe we’ll look back and wonder how we managed to live in the same house for so long, and never stop to introduce ourselves.”
Lectionary Year & Proper: First Evensong (Proper 27, Year 2) of the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year A)
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