Downtown Huntington was hopping yesterday. There were bike races on some of the city’s central streets, a festival in the river park, and Comic Con at the Big Sandy Arena.

There were “civilian” pedestrians like me, dressed for the alternating hot sunshine and thunderstorms; cyclists in high-tech racing gear, mostly in bright, almost neon, colors; and the costumed participants in Comic Con, among them: Batman, Catwoman, Superman, Joker, Riddler, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Chewbacca, Wonder Woman, and a toddler-sized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.  

It was wonderful for many reasons. It was great to see the city so vibrant, a sign of hope for its present and future; fun to hear laughter, cheers, and music bouncing off the buildings; and a delight to witness a wide diversity of people sharing the same space peacefully. It was such a contrast to the tense, angry, and sometimes violent political rallies of this seemingly endless (still months to go!) campaign season.

I’ve been reading Sam Wells’ fine book A Nazareth Manifesto. One of Wells; main ideas is that God invites us—and, in Jesus, shows us how—to be with each other. We don’t view each other as problems to be solved or projects to be managed or causes to be advanced.  We don’t set out to change each other’s minds or reform one another’s behavior. 

Instead, we get to know each other, hear one another’s stories, learn from one another’s experiences, discover each other’s accumulated wisdom, and listen to one another’s hopes and fears. In Wells’ words:

If you talk about their problems, you make sure you’re attending to the ones they name and identify, rather than ones you perceive or imagine. Your every effort is to enjoy their being, and share your own, rather than change their reality assuming a script you’ve imposed from elsewhere. 

I had Wells’ rich insights in mind as I enjoyed Huntington. I knew, of course, that almost everyone in the crowd of people had a problem of some kind, since it’s a rare person who doesn’t have an inner stream of un-cried tears or an open wound of un-healed hurt. 

We don’t want to be seen or treated as our problems, though. I don’t want to be “Frank”—my name for Multiple Myeloma—with “Guy” as an appendage. You don’t want to be defined solely by whatever your struggle happens to be. Neither do we want to others to think of us only as a contributor or a resource or an asset.    

We want to be known for who we are and not for whatever potential or limitation we have.  When, on the streets of Asheville or Huntington, I see people who are “different” from me, it leads to my comparing myself to them and feeling superior or inferior or to my fearing and trying to protect myself from them.   

I want to learn more about the miracle of encountering people without categorizing, evaluating, and judging them. I want to see past the masks (even the Comic Con masks!) people wear and simply “be with” them, to know them, and to love them.

That’s how cities—and churches—become more like the Beloved Community.