Breaking Down the “Other”

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“Love each other as I have loved you…”

 –  John 13:34b –


I happened to have two young teenage friends with me in Walmart the other day. While I moved around freely between the aisles, one of my young friends in particular seemed very inhibited. She was nervous and wary of our other friend straying too far away from us.

As I scanned shelves of fabric looking for a potential rainbow costume for a children’s song about God’s creation, my anxious young friend piped up again. I don’t think I was looking at her at the moment, but I can only imagine the wide-eyed, sidelong glances she may have been giving our fellow shoppers.

“People at Walmart keep getting stranger and stranger. Have you noticed that?” she asked us.

I held my tongue, but internally, I mulled over her reaction to people in the “outside world” — that is, those beyond her church and homeschool circles.

My sweet young friend suffers from a condition that many Christians seem to have, especially those who identify as conservative. In reality, I’m sure that this condition still lingers in me as well, although more extreme circumstances than a shopping trip might be required to draw it out of me.

This condition is “otherness.”

As a result of sin, humans instinctively withdraw from others who are different from us. Historically, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of dividing lines: ideology, religion, language, education, skin color, social status, clothing choices, geographic boundaries, gender, intelligence, or political view, to name a few.

All of these differences reinforce to us the “otherness” of those around us. They are so different, so very strange. We stay back because…well, why would we move toward them? Why would we want to? Estranged by their cultural leanings, the way they dress, or the number of tattoos marking their arms–these “others” move past us and we often watch them go by with fear, disdain, or even anger.

Distance demonizes.

I don’t know who first coined that small phrase, but it is so true. The distance we erect between us and “them” makes others grow strange and monstrous. The farther away you get, the worse your perception of people will be. Distance demonizes. Estrangement is a dangerous sort of myopia, eroding your relational perception until all you can see is the faint shadow or outline of a person.

This is not the way of Jesus.

Sometimes we can get confused about what being salt and light means. Salt has to be on the food in order for it to make a difference in the taste or preserve the food beyond its natural shelf life. Light has to be uncovered and obvious in order for it to pierce the darkness.

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, CEV).

How did Jesus deal with people who were different from Him? The Bible contains many examples if we really want to know: Samaritans, people with contagious diseases, the wealthy, the impoverished, the thieves, the notorious sinners (John 4:1-42; Matthew 8:1-4; Matthew 10:17-27; Luke 21:1-4; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 23:39-43; Matthew 2:13-17).

I recently discovered — and highly recommend — a beautifully-written book that clearly and practically lays out steps we can take to walk “with others in wisdom and love,” as the subtitle says. This book Side by Side, by Edward T. Welch, lays out the pattern for us to follow:

“As the King goes, so go his people. He moves toward people; we move toward people. He moves toward people who seek him and people who do not; we move toward those who want help and those who seem distant and marginalized. He moves toward friends and even enemies; we move out beyond our circle of friends to those far beyond that circle” (Chapter 8, p. 74).

As my pastor preached on Sunday, Jesus’ death and resurrection established a New Covenant that no longer keeps an ethnic people cordoned off from the rest of the world. Ephesians 2 says that He broke down the barriers of separation between us and made the two (Jews and Gentiles) into one. On a universal level, this means that no one is beneath our notice, no one is too lost to be redeemed, no cultural gap is too wide, and no hands are too dirty or too bloody to be clasped in welcome.

Why would we welcome?

 Because, if we claim follow Jesus, there is no other real option.

Yes, God is the only one with enough love and courage to unswervingly enter into the mess of someone else…but this glorious God’s power fills us. The divine power that resurrected Jesus is the power that fuels us with the ability to move away from our prideful perspectives and, instead, move toward others (Romans 8:11).

And what we see–if we see rightly–is that at the foot of the cross we are no cleaner, no more acceptable, no more lovable, than anyone else in this broken world. It is our sin–yours and mine and theirs–that drove the bloody nails into our Savior. 

But this crucified and risen Savior welcomes you and me and them, all of us equally, without playing favorites.

Christ’s love to sinners is radical, transformative, unconditional, and full of compassion.

Who are we to offer anything less to others?

And if we got close enough to look, we might see that the people we instinctively demonize are just…people. People who, like us, are desperate for a taste of grace.

I don’t know how much opportunity I’ll have to lead my shy young friend in the way of this grace, but I do know that her fear of “otherness” taught me something this week.

Jesus broke down all the barriers of “otherness,” and if we claim to be His, we cannot fail to do the same.

One broken, love-starved heart at a time.


Then he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, according to his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read the scriptures and the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book and found the place where these words are written—‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.

Then he shut the book, handed it back to the attendant and resumed his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him and he began to tell them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you were listening to it!”

 – Luke 4:16-22, Phillips –

 

Welcoming the Old with the New

 

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“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.”

 – Deb Caletti –

Bare branches in the trees are diamond crusted this morning. Hanging low and happily yellow, the sun smiles at its reflection in the powdered sugar snow.

As my favorite fictional redhead says, it is “a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

That’s what I need, for sure.

Welcome is my word of the year, as I explained in my last post.

But I didn’t anticipate how far into me it would reverberate. I especially didn’t anticipate how much I would need to change.

But, now I see…Welcome can’t come into my life if I stay the same.

To grow a heart of welcome in me, God has to do some furniture rearranging. A dear friend of mine is currently living with my family. Today, she reminded me that welcoming in means we have to move some things out of the house. It means a bit of winter cleaning. It means we might bump into the furniture a little, because it’s in a place it has never been before.

But I learned something today about welcome—it is not just for the new people.

Sometimes, doors in your heart get partly shut. Sometimes, the hinges get a little rusty. And sometimes we avoid some halls in our hearts. They’re a part of us…but we cease to welcome them.

Maybe it is more tragic to be an insider who is not welcomed than it is to be an unwelcome newcomer.

I realized that, in my pursuit of welcome, my family was losing me. Somehow, my most favorite people were getting shut out.

It began when I decided not to tell a family member about certain thoughts or feelings, because I didn’t think they would understand. So gradually, I bumped that door, closing it more and more…

Until this morning, they came face-to-face with me, and I confessed that I feared telling them my true thoughts, because I didn’t want my feelings to be dismissed. They were shocked and saddened that I had not opened my heart-door and told them before.

I had been wrapping myself in silence–in a lack of welcome–in this relationship. And it took a toll. In my reluctance to bring them into my inner self, I pushed them away. I shut my door. I was slowly eroding a priceless relationship, by my own self-focus.

So I took a risk, when I confessed my hiding today.

And the sun came out, glistening on the snow.

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Are relationships hard? Absolutely. Are they messy? Sure. Sometimes it seems better to hold certain thoughts inside…it seems safer. Definitely less complicated.

But love often means sharing anyway, making your feelings vulnerable to criticism…and also open to understanding. Love means you welcome the other person into your heart anyway. It means you risk getting hurt..but it also means you open yourself up to grace.

Don’t stuff it all in and walk away from conversations frustrated that, once again, they do not understand you. How could they? You never told them. 

I think we can hide from our families, even while rubbing shoulders with them every day. We can put walls up to keep ourselves safe, exhausting ourselves with needless protectiveness.

So I am posting a new welcome sign on my heart:

Welcome, family. You, too, are welcome in my heart. In fact, I’ll make you duplicates of my key, okay? Then you can come in whenever you like.

In fact, could you come right away? I’ve been missing you.


If you are joining me on the journey to Welcome this year, how are you doing in your family? Have you shut a door in your heart? Is there a hallway barricaded? What old relationship needs a little oil and polish?

Don’t shut out your biggest fans. God gave you to them for a reason. He can give you the grace to open the door again. 

Why don’t you ask Him right now?

“He gives families to the lonely, and releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy!”

 – Psalm 68:6, TLB –

 

 

 

My Journey to “Welcome”

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“May your walls know joy; may each room hold laughter, and may every window open to great possibility.”

– Mary Ann Radwacher-Hershey –

For this new year, instead of making a list of goals, I chose a word.

Welcome.

I lay awake just after midnight, in the first minutes of January 1st, and the word welcome jumped to life in my head.

For the past few months, I’ve been curiously poking around at the impact of community. I’m collecting articles of all sorts–on loneliness, crime, orphanages, homelessness, imprisonment–anywhere that isolation rears its head, I want to learn about it. More importantly, I want to know what Christians can do about it…what I can do about it. How could the Gospel I believe penetrate all these varieties of loneliness? Because I know it can.

This is why welcome is my word for 2016.

Meanwhile, God is doing things in my family that I would have never guessed. Our family is growing by “adoption” as individuals and families are coming into our home for a few hours…or a few months. Like never before, I am getting to welcome in new family members into the ups and downs of my everyday life. Not just company. Not just bringing them into a freshly-cleaned house for pre-planned hospitality. They’re literally living in my space. Literally becoming part of us. Literally looking for a home that we can offer.

Welcome, my friends. Welcome, my new family. Welcome.

At the same time, I am trying to learn how to welcome my brother and parents, in the context of time spent together. I am amazed that I have known them all my life, and yet still their desires and personalities baffle me so often. As part of welcoming them into my heart, I am beginning to discover –or at least trying to discover– what they love the most. “How can I be a blessing to them, today?” I am learning to ask. Not that it is easy…but maybe love is so beautiful because it takes work. It takes real heart, not just the leftovers.

This a year of learning to welcome.

What will the journey of 2016 look like? What new experiences will God call me to welcome into my life? What people will He give me to welcome into my space, my heart? What wisdom can I welcome into my soul? What joy can I make room for?

“….Good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large. Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:16-18, Phillips –

Why choose the word welcome?

Welcome is an expression of joy at the arrival of something or someone. It stems from the idea of a pleasing, wished-for visit.

Making space for welcome in my year means making myself available for the journey God has for me. It means opening my eyes to opportunities I might otherwise ignore. Most importantly, it means becoming like Jesus, compassionately touching all those who enter my life in the days ahead. In His strength, I wish for my face to be a restful home for the weary.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

 – Matthew 10:40-42, NIV –

That’s why I chose welcome for 2016. It’s about cups of water–giving away lots and lots of clear water to thirsty little ones.

It’s my joy. In fact, I think it is why I was made.

Will you choose a word for the year, or do you prefer to write out goals for the next 12 months? Whatever you choose, let me know in the comments! You all inspire me!

“I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre ―