The first time I walked down the streets of the tenderloin in San Francisco, I felt significantly insecure. I was out of place and out of touch with the culture. I was supposedly there to serve and love, but only within the predefined contexts that the outreach trip had set in place. Walking down the street was a side escapade and I quickly concluded that the residents in this neighborhood and I shared no commonality. Out of underlying fear, my friendly, extroverted self bypassed them all. What if she didn’t speak English? What if they were high? What if he took my smile the wrong way? It was too risky. I was me and they were the “others”.
gerund or present participle: othering
view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.(Oxford Dictionary)
“Other”ing is something we often mindlessly do to each other. If I consider another human being as “other” because they don’t speak the same, think the same, live the same, dress the same, etc., then, likewise, I am certainly an “other” to this person.
Humanity in general seems to have a difficult time intersecting with the “other”.
And when it comes to Muslim-Christian relations, sadly, the “other”ing has often become elevated in churches out of fear of compromising doctrine or endorsing another faith system. It’s a reasonable concern, but it’s not biblical.
The world’s best example of a peace-maker and bridge-builder was one who made himself an “other” as he lived in a time of great religious, political and interethnic conflict.
If you read the Bible, it is often easy to bypass the significance of the parables Jesus told and the ways He treated certain holidays and customs and interacted with people and people groups. It’s easy to assume that the specifics of these parables and stories aren’t applicable to our modern age and culture (e.g., the healing of the paralytic, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the repentant tax-collector, Jesus’ attitudes toward the Sabbath, his encounter with religious experts, his actions in the temple…). But were Jesus’ teaching and example limited to the age and place He lived? If no, then we must ask ourselves: who and what are these words and deeds of Jesus in relation to our lives and society today?
There were plenty of “others” then and there are plenty of “others” now. One of the “others”, I think, is our Middle-eastern Muslim community. In Sacramento, many are collaborating to do them justice. Organizations and county offices are being sure they are receiving all their benefits such as EBT cards, Social Security, ESL, and medical coverage. We have supported the establishment of their halal markets and necessary vendors. We have spoken out against segregation and unfair treatment by leasing managers, security services in department stores, and public services. That is all well, good and needed. But what if we are perpetuating them being an “other” as we go about creating space for them to naturally live amongst themselves within “our city” as we continue in our regular day to day life? What if, beyond conquering their cultural and practical needs, we chose to learn more about what it means to become engaged, loving neighbors to these who are the supposed “others?”
When change occurs, we have two methods of handling it: keeping it at bay OR embracing it and adapting. We must acknowledge how we are often afraid to invite “others” into our lives or be guests of them. Acknowledge the fear, the awkwardness, the discomfort or stigmas— whatever it is you feel. It’s there. It’s real. That’s alright. What you do with it will determine whether the “othering” boundaries remain firmly in place or start to come down naturally from connection over commonality.