Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

On Being Human

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Galatians 4:1-7) transports me to Rome in the mid 2nd century BCE, where Senator Lucanus observed an impressive capacity for intelligence in a slave he had brought from Libya, began educating him, and eventually freed him. The freed slave, Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence, became one of the great philosophers and writers of the time, considered to be the first poet of the African diaspora. He published six plays by the time he was 25, after which he left Rome to explore the world, and is thought to have died at sea. One of these plays, Heauton Timorumenos, gives us the famous line, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto translated, I am human; nothing human is alien to me. It is a large and deep truth to consider, that our humanity affords us the capacity to be anything and to do anything, from the most beautiful and profound works of art or compassion, to the most heinous and horrible crimes. Terence experienced much of the breadth of the human capacity himself, suffering as a slave and then celebrated as a great poet.

The apostle Paul would have understood and confirmed Terence’s famous line. In his letter to the Galatian church, he described a range of experience for the people of faith, in something of a developmental sequence. In their younger years they had experienced the life of slavery; they were held captive to the elemental spirits of the world. And then, Christ entered their world, and they experienced freedom. It was more than emancipation, though; they were adopted by the Son of God, making them children of God. That’s quite a range of human experience, to go from the status of captivity, deemed worthless, to the status of beloved children of the Divine, redeemed – made worthy – in the eyes of the One who created and sustains the entire universe. As such, these beloved children are set to inherit the world.

It’s quite a mind-boggling concept to consider the breadth and width of this range of human experience, from the abject poverty and despair of slavery to the absolute delight of being lavishly loved by God. The only quibble I have with Paul, here, is his insinuation that this is a linear, developmental process. My observation, and my experience, is that we humans often go back and forth, at least existentially, between feelings of worthless despair and redeemed children of God. We enter into captivity to those elemental spirits, of greed, of addiction, of self-loathing, of prejudice, and we are liberated into the capacity for compassion, generosity, and health in mind, body, and spirit, and then we are prone to enter back into captivity, and experience emancipation anew, and try it again. We are human, and nothing human is alien to us, and we seem destined to prove Terence’s truth over and over again. It’s true we are on a journey, and hopefully that journey is in the direction of love, and hopefully when we stumble we stumble forward. I suspect Paul experienced this, given his own testimony that he had to be crucified with Christ on a daily basis. He had to be set free from those captivating spirits every day, in order to fully experience the grace gift of being a beloved child of God. Thanks be to God that this sense of being beloved and redeemed is part of the range of what it means to be human in this world.

How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.



  • March 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I resonate with your stance on the fact that we go back and forth from despair and feelings of worthlessness to the recognition that God unconditionally loves us just as we are. I know when I awaken from my despair to that recognition, I am energized to share that “good news’ with others. I am motivated to work for peace and justice. What my critics say no longer disturb or offend me. I can simply pray for them and love and forgive them. Could that be the armor that Paul talks about?
    I admire your scholarly and so human approach in your blog writings, Stan.

    Comment by Janet Davies

  • March 31, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Janet, I am grateful for the good energy and motivation you have to share the good news of peace. Thanks for your good words of encouragement.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • April 2, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Terence’s line also reminds me of something I think about when I am doing ministry in some of the forgotten places of our world (homeless shelter, jail, etc.). I remind myself often that there is no sin of which I am incapable of committing (jail). Likewise, there is no circumstance from which I am more than a couple of missed paychecks from experiencing (shelter). Truly, there is such a fine line between my life and those to whom I minister in such places. In constantly bringing that to my consciousness, I pray that it makes me more human and empathetic in my ministry – more able to relate to the humanness of others.

    Comment by Steven Norris

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