Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Who Is "The Other" to You? Are You "The Other"?

Back in November, I participated in a conference in which philosopher Peter Rollins was one of the keynote speakers.  I won't say it was easy to understand, because it wasn't (and even my notes confuse me), but there were a few things that I continue to keep in the back of my mind.  Here's a video of Rollins, Kester Brewins, and Barry Taylor speaking at Fuller Seminary on the same topic.

In both the talk I heard and in this video, Rollins speaks at one point of "the other".  In the talk I heard, during the Q & A Session, he said that we see "the other" as strange and monstrous but we need to see ourselves through their eyes, and in doing that, we see ourselves as strange and monstrous.

Too often, we exist in our own bubbles and don't ever really meet or get to know anyone who is very different from us.  Sure, we might have some disagreements in church about what kind of music to play or how to take communion or do baptism, but overall, we're pretty homogeneous, or at least, my various communities have been.  Most people I know are some sort of Protestant Christians.  Most people I know are white.  There is only one time I distinctly remember being "the other" as a minority.  We were spending the weekend in Indianapolis, and opened up a phone book to find a church.  We found one not far from our hotel that was part of a denomination with which were familiar, so we went.

And we were the only white people there.  And it was a church that had new people stand up and introduce themselves.  Everyone was great, though, friendly and welcoming.  I didn't get any vibe of "you don't belong here" or "what are you doing here?"  It was uncomfortable in the sense that I just knew that I was in a brand new place, I was a minority, and I didn't know what people were thinking of me.  I don't really know what they thought--but to their eyes, my presence there was most likely strange.

I was "the other", yet I rarely think about being "the other".  I'm not sure who "the other" is to me, personally.  I live in a largely white area, but there's a sizable Hispanic population, and I know to some people here, they are "the other".  From comments I've heard, or conversations I have had, they are not on equal footing in the eyes of some of the majority, and that is sad.

Sometimes, "the other" is subtle.  In "Here I Stand--A Feminist", Caris Adel writes about ways in which she feels as if she does not belong, secrets about herself she keeps, ways in which she is "the other", because people will not understand, or seek to try to understand.
"And so why would I reveal something that is so meaningful – so essential – to who I am, to people that don’t take an interest in who I am?   And it’s not that I want them to agree with me (although that’s always fun).  It’s that they don’t seem open to discussion.  They dismiss and write off what they don’t understand.  They don’t seem to realize that not everyone sees the world the same way.  They seem to think there is only one good way to love Jesus."
What can we do?  How can we lovingly help open the eyes of others who don't know what they cannot see?  How can we do that for ourselves?  We want people to look at "the other", the people they don't know, or don't care to know, the people they write off because they disagree with their religious beliefs or their lifestyle  or their political positions or any reason at all.  But do we do it ourselves?  Can I look at a hatred-filled fundamentalist, see him or her as "the other", and then turn it back on myself and look at myself through that person's eyes?  What would I see?  What would I see to look at myself through the eyes of an atheist?

There are two sections of scripture that have come to my mind as I typed that last paragraph.  The first, from Matthew, chapter 7
"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.   For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.   Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?   Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?   You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (verses 1-5).
The second, from Philippians, chapter 2:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,   who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,   but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. (verses 3-8)
When it comes to "the other", do we humble ourselves, putting ourselves last and putting them and their interests first?  Do we judge them for whatever it is that makes them "the other" in our own eyes without taking a deep look into our own hearts and souls?  Are we so ready to be right about having our faith or our theology or our life figured out that we look with arrogance and disdain on those who do not believe or act just like us?

We all have "the other" in our lives.  We all are "the other" to someone else.  Think about it.  Think about the people most different from you, and look at yourself with their eyes.  Maybe then, we'll all be able to look at each other with more understanding, compassion, and love.


Jim Fisher said...

Kelly - Sorry for the long comment, but I think it is important to read what Peter says in its entire context. He is amplifying what you are getting at, I think. There is so much more in his book about this, but this blockquote gets at the core of what he (and you!) have discovered. *hugs*

"In literalistic listening we take careful note of everything the other says from their position instead of quickly interpreting it in relation to our own position. Instead of a monologue shared by two people, it can then become a genuine dialogue in the sense of two different positions meeting in such a way as to generate a potentially transformative conversation for both parties.

"Instead of approaching those with different beliefs and practices from a position of strength— in which we simply engage in the act of agreement or disagreement (which means comparing the other in relation to our own pre-established horizon)— literalistic listening asks us to approach from a position of weakness. It means that we don’t simply look at the other through our own eyes, but we attempt to look at ourselves through the eyes of the other.

"The result is that, instead of seeing the other as strange and alien, we actually begin to encounter ourselves as strange and alien; we begin to glimpse how the things that we take to be eternally true are actually constructs with a history. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with the other, we ask, “What do I look like to you?” In doing this we do not simply filter what they say through our lens but are confronted by the reality of our lens."

Rollins, Peter (2013-01-01). The Idolatry of God (pp. 70-72). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

I do realize I didn't have all the context of what he said, and I probably wasn't as clear that I took part of an idea and then went somewhat in my own direction with it. Thanks for posting that excerpt. I think it sounds like an intriguing book and I'd like to read it...but I have so many books I have not gotten to yet that I can't order any more!