As part of his wise teaching for our Wednesday night crowd yesterday, Dr. Bill Leonard asked us: “have you ever had an experience of being ‘other’, where you were clearly different than everyone around you?” Lots of nods, I noted, scanning quickly. I certainly had — even just that afternoon.
We’re spending the month talking about how we can be people of ‘bold love and boundless compassion’ amidst the fractures that increasingly seem press us apart. In this polarized age, Dr. Leonard asked us, who is the alien, the stranger, the ‘other’? What is the biblical witness about how we are to treat the ‘other’ in our midst? In our current context, how do we separate ourselves from the ‘other’ who, in a new dictionary definition, individuals perceive to be ‘threateningly different’?
That last definition has wiggled into my mind and stuck around. I find myself thinking about the times I’ve felt like the ‘other,’ the odd one out in a group of people. Sharing in historically black spaces or predominantly LGBTQ ones. Attending political speeches filled with people who vote differently from me. Clumsily trying to follow along with a Catholic Mass or a Muslim call to prayer. Traveling to another country, a new culture, another side of the world. Even spending time with a crowd of CrossFit devotees, or video gamers, or leather-clad bikers, or University of Alabama football fans!
I’m thinking too about the times when I — consciously or not — ‘other’ someone I perceive to be ‘threateningly different.’ I confess the times I do that towards those who interpret scripture or the fabric of our country in ways I find harmful, those whose values I’d find flippant or dangerous, those who spend their time or their money differently from me — just to name a few.
With all those moments in my mind, I flashed back to earlier in the day, when I had walked down the street to the bus station with a guy who came by the church and just needed help with his ticket. Andrew and his girlfriend had traveled to North Carolina from Seattle with all they owned, thinking of making our state their home. She was deaf and partly-blind, and he walked with a limp and listened with a hearing aid. He told me that their physical challenges had made them easy targets in the shelters here, and in their time in Winston-Salem, they’d been robbed and assaulted several times. The bus station seemed to be filled with folks who likely bear similar stories of ‘othering,’ when they’ve been overlooked or undervalued, harmed or feared due to their station in life. In just the short time I was there, I felt deeply out of place. And then I caught myself ‘othering’ without even meaning to.
Remembering this moment with a day’s distance to reflect, God has challenged me. For amidst all the privileges that cause me to feel separate from those in a downtown bus station on a Wednesday afternoon, might I remember the call of God in Exodus to “not oppress the alien, for you know how it feels to be an alien; you yourselves were aliens in Egypt”? Might I heed the directive from Hebrews: “do not neglect to show hospitality, by doing this some have entertained angels unawares”? Might I hold fast to the promises of God revealed in Word made flesh: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”?
Might I? Might we? It may not heal all the fractures or fix all the ‘othering.’ But it surely will be a start.
Together in God’s work of Love,