All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Are You Just a Human Being Like the Rest of Us?

M. Jeanne Wirpsa
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
February 28, 2016

Are you just a human being like the rest of us? These are the words that frequently come out of my mouth when one of my children messes up, breaks something, or hurts someone close to them, intentionally or not. These are the words – or something very close -- I use when a patient expresses regret or feels their illness is a punishment for their sins. These are the words I weave into my counsel when a family member is struggling with the weight of making the right medical decision for their loved one. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

The first part of our reading from the gospel of Luke today gets at this reality of our shared human condition in much harsher language. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think they were worse offenders than all others living in Jerusalem?” The point here I believe is that no one of us is exempt from falling short, messing up, missing the mark. We are all sinners. We don’t get to compare the kind or magnitude of our sins to others in an effort to exempt ourselves from the human race or from our need for repentance. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

I recently attended a fascinating, and disturbing, series of lectures in neuro-ethics. What is neuro-ethics, you might ask, and what does it have to do with the Lenten call to repentance? Bear with me for a few minutes – I promise I’ll get us there.

Neuro-ethics is a field of study that explores how it is that the configuration of our brains impacts our moral lives. What I found most distressing as I listened to one study after the next was the degree to which bias, assumption making, generalizing, and cognitive distortion are hard-wired into us. Research with rats–who by the way share our mammalian brain–and many, many studies looking at human behavior confirm what most of us know through experience if we dare to pay attention to it: We are hard-wired to care most about those who are familiar to us; we are hard-wired to be risk averse; we are hard-wired to form in-groups; we are hard-wired to make generalizations based upon a particular piece of knowledge or event. If we’re looking for a biological explanation or definition of “original sin” I think we found one.

One of these neuro-ethics lectures I attended was entitled, “Are Rats Born Racist?” In this research study rats from entirely separate strains were selected to test whether the mammalian brain is hard-wired to disregard the needs of those different from us. The neurobiologist used albino rats who had never been exposed to a black-hooded rat. When put in a controlled situation where the albino rats could help free other albino rats, they were quick to act to do so. However, when put in the same controlled situation where they could help free a distressed black-hooded rat, the albino rats did not respond. This suggests that helping in rats may be innately biased toward the helper’s own group.

In order to see if this indifference was actually hard-wired or the result of behavioral conditioning, the neurobiologist gave albino rats a play-mate in the form of a black-hooded rat. They hung out together for a few weeks. She then subjected them to the same controlled experiment I described a moment ago, asking the albino rats to rescue a different black-hooded rat, one they had never met before. (So…NOT their friend). What do you think happened? Yes, you are right. The albino rats heard the cries of the black-hooded rats, opening the door of their cages to set them free.

So what does this tell us about our sin of racism and our need for repentance? We are not rats, (not most of us anyways), but we are all human beings with a mammalian brain that predisposes us to see the world and one another in very specific ways and patterns. On top of that, layer in generations of social conditioning in which we are exposed primarily to our own kind and, in our own lifetime, to negative images of our black and brown brothers and sisters – all of which leads us (albino) white people to disregard the cries of distress of our black and brown brothers and sisters. Unless…unless…???

Unless we repent. Unless we have the courage to face our humanness. Unless we can face over and over again that our default mechanisms – some innate and some learned -- lead us to indifference toward those different from us. Unless we are humble and vigilant each and every day until our habitual, ingrained patterns take new shape and new form. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

When I utter these words I in no way intend to dismiss the cognitive distortions and unconscious biases that predispose us to indifference toward those we perceive to be different from us. In no way do I seek to reduce our actions of injury, oppression, or disregard of human distress to mere biology. Instead, these words are meant to convey just the opposite. I intend to wrap our humanness in God’s mercy. For it is only in the presence of the Merciful One, as we stand on holy ground fully seen and fully forgiven, that we are freed to acknowledge our full humanity, in all its glory and in all its ugliness. It is only when we can truly see how our mortality, our being human, leads us to sin that we are freed to choose to be and act as God calls us to be and act. It is only then that we albinos can correct our myopic vision, catch ourselves in our generalizing from our particular experience, put ourselves in positions where we befriend our black-hooded neighbors -- so when they call out in distress we will hear their cries and free them from the cages of oppression we have built over the centuries. Are you just a human being like the rest of us?

AMEN.

 

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Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Here is a link to download Bonnie's address.

Weekly Message for February 18

Weekly Message for February 18

Dear Friends,    

 

How much longer will the killing continue? 
 
Here are some groups and activities you might consider supporting with your time and your money: 
 
  • The IL Council Against Handgun Violence 
  • Moms Demand Action 
  • Gabby Giffords' PAC 

  • And here's a list of congressional representatives who have received the most amount of money from the National Rifle Association. Apparently they are all praying for the people in Florida directly affected by our country’s latest mass shooting. I invite you to pray for their souls and to drop them a note wondering if God is answering their prayers. Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But, being held hostage by a diabolical association that has convinced our elected officials that it is the God-given, constitutionally-sanctioned right of every American to wander around with a semi-automatic rifle is absurd. Seems like all of us ought to start loudly pointing out this insanity.
     
    I’ll be at the Moms Demand Action Lakeview gathering on the 24th of February. Let me know if you’d like to come with me. Please let me know what other courses of action you plan to take to end gun violence in our country.
     
    This evening, All Saints’ will be hosting a gathering for the friends, family, and neighbors of our long-term neighbor John Vanzo at 7:00. Tomorrow morning at 10:30 there will be a visitation in the sanctuary and a memorial service at 11:00 am. All are welcome. 
     
    I’m super excited that we will finally kick off the All Saints’ Youth Group with an overnight this Saturday. Please RSVP to Hilary Waldron if your 7-12 grade child is planning on attending. 
     
    Following the 11:00 Worship service we will have a Newcomer’s Brunch at O’Shaughnessy’s at 12:15. Please join us!
     
    This Sunday, Emily will be preaching, I’ll be celebrating, and our choir will be singing some wonderfully moving Lenten music. It seems like the right time to be praying and repenting. So please come and join me.
     
    All my best,
    Bonnie

     

    Memorial Service for John Vanzo

    Memorial Service for John Vanzo

    AUGUST 13 2013 11The memorial service for our friend and neighbor John Vanzo will be held at All Saints' this Saturday the 17th, at 11:00 am. There will be a visitation in the sanctuary prior to the service, beginning at 10:30am. All are welcome. 

    On Friday evening, the 16th, we will host a time of conversation and story telling for John's friends and family. All are invited from 7 to 9pm to share a drink, and hear and tell a favorite story of the very many sides of John.

    May John's soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

     

    Lenten Evening Prayer

    Lenten Evening Prayer

    On Thursdays, February 15-March 22, brief services of Evening Prayer will be offered at 7:00pm, with scripture, poetry, and song. Come find rest for your souls.

    Inquirers’ Class

    Inquirers’ Class

    On Thursdays, February 15—March 22, the Inquirers’ Class will take place in the Reading Room next to the sanctuary. Designed especially but not exclusively for those new to All Saints’ and/or the Episcopal Church, this 6-week series is an exploration of adult spirituality through history, prayer, scriptures, theology, church polity, and more. If desired, it may also serve as preparation for the rite of confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church in May or June.

    The book we’ll refer to occasionally in the class is called Jesus was an Episcopalian (and you can be one, too!): A Newcomer’s Guide to the Episcopal Church by Chris Yaw. If you’re interested in joining the class, consider getting a copy to look over.

    Contact Bonnie or Emily for more info.

    Bags for RCS

    Bags for RCS

    We're running low on paper and reusable bags for our Tuesday night pantry. Please bring us your extras! 
     
    We will be taking donations on Tuesday evenings, M-F 9am-4pm, and on Sundays during church services. Look for the bins by the doors. Thanks for your help!

    Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

    Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

    Tuesdays 6:15-8:00pm 

    RCS is looking for help serving and cleaning up after dinner on Tuesdays from 6:15-8:00pm.

    If you're able to volunteer, contact Emily or Operations Manager Parker Callahan, or call 773-769-0282.

    Donate to The 1883 Project

    Donate to The 1883 Project

    Please consider supporting the restoration project of our historic building. To make a donation, click here

    1883 Construction web 

    Fixing This Old Church

    Fixing This Old Church

    Here is a collection of photos of the progress of our 1883 Project. Here is a collection of bell tower photos. Check back often for updates.

    Sunday Service Times

    8:00 am Inclusive Language Eucharist
    9:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir
    10:00 am Children's Church School
    10:00 am Coffee Hour
    11:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir

     

    Contact Us

    4550 N. Hermitage in Chicago, IL 60640 (Directions)

    Phone (773) 561-0111

    Email info@allsaintschicago.org 

    Information about pastoral care.

     

     


    Bonnie on Huffington Post

    Occasionally Bonnie's sermons are published on the Huffington Post. Here are some links.

    Pain. Change. Hope.

    November 15, 2015

    What Does St. Francis of Assisi Have to Say to Us Today?

    October 4, 2015

    Wake Up Calls

    September 6, 2015

    Christmas Reminds Us That We, Like God, Are Human, Too

    December 24, 2014

    The Deep Sleep of Racial Oblivion: One Pastor's Sin of Omission

    November 30, 2014

    Pulpit Swap

    The Pulpit Swap between St Thomas and All Saints is part of our ongoing effort to bring our parishes closer together as we engage in a conversation about systemic racism and how we can work together to forge new possibilities and outcomes.

    Going Home—Changed

    Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on October 16, 2016.  

    When Prayers Go Unanswered

    Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Dr Fulton L Porter celebrating at All Saints Episcopal Church on Oct16 2016.