Imagining Personhood
October 21, 2020

Imagining Personhood

Expanding on the recent sermon, "A Window of Ultimate Reality," we are having conversations that grow our imaginations for ultimate reality—for Christ and the world he makes new. I (Claire) got together (over Zoom) to chat about life, education, and personhood with City Church member Hannah Smith and her mom Beverly Smith, Interim Director of Finance at Small Steps (a City Church mission partner). This is a conversation with a mission partner and with a member, but it is also uniquely a conversation between a mother and a daughter. You are seeing a snapshot from the middle of our conversation about Beverly's work at Small Steps and at Harbor Christian Academy, an elementary school serving the Fifth Ward.

Claire: Hannah you had mentioned earlier how we are formed as whole people: body, soul, mind, and heart, and how education isn't just mental.

Hannah: Yes, when I think of grace and education (and therefore transformation), which involves us as whole people, it makes me think of Romans 11:36. Paul is essentially signing off his letter, and he has this line that shows us how everything points back to Christ. Paul, using all the prepositions that he loves to use, says: "For from him and through him and for him are all things." We have a relational God who came to earth to be with us. Every part of us. And that entails all things.

I think that speaks to a lot of mom's work at Small Steps, and how they are a preschool that nurtures emotional and social support by offering things like occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and other community resources in addition to growing the intellectual and the physical.

Beverly: Yes, the word integrity is related to integration. Part of what integrity means is not sectioning off parts of ourselves but behaving and speaking and thinking with the whole person working together, not with individual parts.

Hannah: Like wholeness or shalom or something.

Beverly: As humans we have this tendency to be one person at work and another person at church and another person with my family.

Hannah: And part of that is natural. Of course different people bring out different parts of us, but we are to be one integrated person where it's consistent across all.

Beverly: Yes absolutely. You wouldn't want those different aspects to be in conflict with each other.

At Harbor [In addition to being the interim Financial Director at Small Steps, Beverly is on the board at Harbor Christian Academy, an elementary school in the Fifth Ward.], especially in COVID, a family's ability to pay the sliding scale tuition can be a challenge. But when a household can't pay, the school has jobs for people to be able to work so families can pay for tuition. But it's not about the money, or the work, it's about being in community together. And it preserves dignity when a person can contribute. It's a way for us to go together, altogether, as integrated people.

Claire: Hannah, you mention different people bring out different sides of you, what has your mom brought out in you? What was it like being raised by a person who has this sort of integration mentality?

Hannah: As I was growing in this understanding of personhood, she was growing in this too... It was a gift to have had the influence of my mom who has been called to this work and thus these thoughts. You know it all feeds into each other. You, mom, are an integrated person and so your life informs your work which informs your life. So being able to have a framework of education for myself is a gift, although I didn't appreciate it in my upbringing very much at the time. My mom is a classic example of a life-long learner, which is having curiosity intact, asking questions, and not being scared to change her mind. That is something I have inherited from you, mom.

Claire: Beverly, how has having Hannah as a daughter influenced your ideas of teaching the whole person?

Beverly: Hannah is such a creative, bright, and interesting person. She has challenged me to grow. My kids don't think exactly like I do, and that's good. But they are all very thoughtful and aspire to love God and love others as God loves. Hannah has been as much of an encouragement to me, especially as she has become an adult. She inspires me to love in the ways God loves.

When I think of growing in personhood and grace, it brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."