These days “othering” is as American as apple pie. Politician X thinks those people should return to their native country, even if they were born here. Pastor Y wants God to help us take back America from those people. Some ask, “Why can’t those people just blend in like we do?” Hate and violence aimed at anyone who looks or acts or sounds different has become normal. And our “thoughts and prayers” after each violent act feel useless. “How long Lord must we endure this; how long?” After umpteen incidents of violence against non-white, non-straight citizens spilled over in Dallas, one of our members angry and frustrated turned to me for counsel. I’ve wondered how much more people of good conscience can take. “Now Lord; maybe now we’ll listen.”
In the Gospel “those people” were Samaritan’s. For Jews the people of Samaria were the hated other. A Jew would routinely distance himself from a Samaritan, like many of our citizen’s do with “those people.” This kind of thoughtless disregard was normal in the first century and sadly still is today. So a scholar of the Jewish Law (the first five books of our Bible) approaches Jesus not to learn, but to pat himself on the back for his righteousness.
“What do I need to do to receive the eternal ‘Atta boy’ from God?” he asks. When our focus is justifying our stuff it’s the tip off we’ve strayed into the ditch. In this case, Jesus’ BS meter was on high alert. So he asks the scholar how he understands God’s Law. The dutiful scholar’s happy to answer. In spite of all the violent behavior and other non-sense contained in the Hebrew text, at its heart the Law of God has always required just two things: love God with everything we have and our neighbor as ourselves. “Good,” Jesus says, “Do that.”
This scholar has earned an “A”, but can’t help going for an “A+.” “But who is my neighbor?” he asks. This is the “Kool-aid©” every nation in every time insists on drinking. This young man’s not asking Jesus to deepen his understanding of neighbor, but to justify us from them. There must be unaccepted people, so we can be acceptable; right? Aren’t these the rules? Jesus tells the now famous story about the happenings on the Jericho Road. And when he’s finished, he asks, “Who in this story was neighbor to the man attacked by the robbers?” The man’s answer is all we need to understand about the perilous times we live in. “The one who showed him compassion,” was all the man would say; “The one who showed him compassion.” So unable to even speak the name Samaritan; so unwilling to name and offer a shared humanity to “those people,” this guy acknowledged the behavior as proper, but not the person. He goes from an “A” grade to an “F”.
A recent letter to City leaders from the religious community on the state of policing in Madison reminds us “As people of faith we’re called to recognize our common humanity, to recognize that we’re all one body.” That means everybody; police officers, elected officials, every day citizens, homeless citizens, black, white, gay, transgender and straight. But we don’t have to be a raging racist or homophobe to be guilty of “othering” someone or some group. This past Sunday an elder asked me after worship, “I guess you don’t need us old people anymore?” She said my message sounded to her like she was no longer needed. This was a powerful reminder just how easily we can push someone to the margins. Our elders are as vital to the new thing God’s doing at Lake Edge as they ever were. Veteran members and the newest arrival each have important roles to play as God reveals the Way to us. For the best of us, the Way of Jesus isn’t easy. I thank my elder member for her courage in challenging me as Jesus did the scholar in our Gospel.
So if we choose to come together, what can we do? Our Board of Christian Outreach feels it’s no longer enough to simply consume our religion on Sunday. It’s time to act. Economic disparity’s at the heart of all the “othering” going on today. Fewer tax dollars, and more demand on fewer police officers increases the chance for altercations. Fewer jobs and cuts in public benefits equal more unemployed and poor citizens. More barriers to employment mean a larger proportion of black citizens out of work, homeless, and angry. When there’s lower wages there’s more anxiety and fear of competition for jobs. Meanwhile, racial bias gets kicked down the road. On Monday evening at 7pm, the movement called “Nuns on the Bus” begins a multi-city/multi-state sojourn to bring the message of taking care of the neighbor to elected officials and ultimately both major political parties conventions. Come to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Madison and stand with other neighbors. Join the effort to call out the root cause of “othering.” Let us love God with everything we’ve got, and demand just and equitable treatment for our neighbor; who’s all of us. It’s time.