The other day I read a posting from a friend who wrote that the “fear of the other has become the socially acceptable behavior.” He went on to write about the action he was going to take to participate in the acknowledging of the other in the way he believed Jesus calls us to acknowledge. I was moved by his words but in my “pondering” I became aware of something that I had not really thought about. Who is the other?
I get that the world so often sees the other in terms of color of skin. If I’m black or brown maybe “the other” is a white person and vice-versa, but does that define the other as a person of whom to be fearful? I don’t think so. The truth of the matter is the person I most fear is the person who looks just like me, a white, middle-aged male. Why do I think this? When I look at history, it is the white, middle-aged male who has stirred the world of war, the world of intimidation, and the world of bigotry. In my lifetime, it has been the white male who has worn the secretive pointed hood of the KKK. It is people who look like me who come to church on Sunday but leave to make laws to put people to death, or take money away from school systems to build a larger war chest. It is people who look like me who refuse to give a living wage to the poor under the guise that we can’t afford it. It is people who look like me who fight for keeping the heritage of slavery alive rather than see the destructive nature slavery has caused. It is people who look like me who are so afraid of their shadow that they refuse to make a decision for the greater good, just so they can keep their jobs in the state and nations capitol. It’s people who look like me that scare me to death, who see their power slipping away from them and go into panic mode to hold onto the good ole day that causes me to pause a bit.
I was reading the 24th chapter of Matthew the other day and came upon this phrase: “And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” Every time I hear someone say we are a Christian nation I wonder what they mean. Maybe we’ve grown cold to love out of our own fear and brokenness? Maybe the fear we feel is so entrenched we believe it is impossible to change and see another way of being.
We are in the season after Pentecost. Pentecost was that moment when the Spirit of God landed on the disciples in such a way that each person felt empowered to tell the story of God’s love and mercy. The story was so strong that even persecution could not stop the early believers from telling it. I want to suggest that those of us who believe find ways to tell our stories that made us believers. Tell the stories of how God came to us in our brokenness and healed us and continues to heal us. It is in telling our stories that we become aware that our neighbor, “the other” is not so different from us. We are all broken and in need of mercy, forgiveness and hopefulness. Let us work together to diminish our fear of one another.
The Rt. Rev. Morris K. Thompson, Jr.
Bishop of Louisiana