By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger
One of my fav witticisms of Mark Twain is this:
“There are two kinds of people in the world:
the kind who put people into categories,
and the kind who don’t.”
I think that Jesus would chuckle along with Twain’s clever phrasing, and say something like “That’s what I’m talkin’ about…Be the kind who don’t categorize and exclude!”
Yet even though we might believe that the human family is one, we humans have to keep practicing the virtue of including others who aren’t in our family or don’t seem to fit in our circle of friends. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky frames it more starkly, arguing that we are “wired” to behave from an “us vs. them” perspective (from his book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst). This means that we really have to consciously work at becoming our best, inclusive selves.
Four things happened last week that gave me a chance to practice. I’ll just name them all, then try to sort them out for you. 1) I went “home” to South Carolina for a visit with my friends and relatives; 2) I heard the gospel proclaimed in which Jesus clarifies “family”(Mark 3:20-35); 3) I watched the film The Greatest Showman; and 4) I joined in meals breaking the Ramadan fast with Muslims of the InnerCity Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago, on two Wednesdays.
1) My friends Mary Ann and Mike Fey (and their two daughters, sons-in-law, and grandkids) are family to me. I longed to see them again, after a two-year gap. But my sister Trish and niece Ella (13) have since moved three hours upstate from the Feys. I wanted to visit them too, but time was short.
An unprecedented thing happened: The Feys welcomed Trish and Ella to their home for part of my visit. My family met my family, and became family.
Now, you might say this wasn’t much of a stretch. Look at us, we all even kind of look alike. Yet it took considerable effort and hospitable good will to bring about these smiles.
2) On Sunday we went to Eucharist together. My friend, Fr. Sandy McDonald, preached about Jesus revamping our cultural concept of family: Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. Aha. Many circle God and behave in the ways that God wants them to, and they don’t necessarily look like me or us at all.
3) Sunday night, Trish and Ella drove home, Mike passed on the opportunity to snooze during a musical, and Mary Ann and I delightedly dug in to enjoy The Greatest Showman, a depiction of P.T. Barnum’s launch of what we know as the circus.
At the outset I wasn’t expecting inclusion. I’ve actually become more than a little suspicious of entrepreneurs who bill themselves as “the greatest” or “showmen,” who sing “This Is Me,” and who turn things into a circus.
But I have to hand it to Phineas T. Barnum, at least as he was depicted here. Business-minded as he was, he remembered what it was to struggle to survive. The love he shared with his wife and children opened him to a solidarity with others, who had been cruelly rejected by kin and society.
See the film and decide for yourself. Did Phineas invite the marginalized to be accepted for whom they were? Or did he exploit these others for his personal gain? Whatever the historical Barnum might have done, the film functions sacramentally for me in portraying the human struggle to be true to an ethic of loving inclusion.
4) How do I fit this in with my mini-experiences celebrating Ramadan with Muslims? First, I felt like I was truly received as sister, especially by Um-Gemali, who I just met last year. Her son—who works at IMAN—took our picture there.
I find lots of relatives of Jesus in the Muslim community, i.e., I detect a lot of hearing the word of God and keeping it. I’m amazed by their generous hospitality, unrelenting prayer, and works for justice.
But check out IMAN’s website and decide for yourself. Maybe by next Ramadan, we will have met many new sisters and brothers, as we keep practicing our best human behavior. Insh’Allah. (God willing.)
About the Author
Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min. completed the Doctor of Ministry degree last month from Catholic Theological Union at Chicago,with her thesis-project entitled:
Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking Together on the Path of Interfaith Leadership. She enjoys walking, movies, and laughing with friends.