A couple weeks ago as I was ‘in the zone’ typing away on a blog post while at the coffeeshop, I noticed myself becoming annoyed. Many of you know I spend 3+ hours at the coffeeshop most weeks, and when someone does this, you tend to see some of the same people. The person who was ‘causing’ my annoyance is someone who is consistently at the shop more often even than the baristas. Let’s call him Mitch, because I don’t want to call him ‘that guy.’
Mitch was talking to someone less than 10 feet from me, and even though I had my headphones on, I heard bits of his conversation. It’s a coffeeshop not a library, I don’t have an expectation of quiet, but a combo of content, volume, and proximity was getting on my nerves. Even though Mitch is almost always around, and I have seen him strike up a conversation with many folks, I’ve never paid much attention to him other than to know he was there.
But on that day, I was very much noticing Mitch and I wanted him to go away, I wanted to call him names, or make him wrong for the volume and/or content of his conversation. (and really, on the topic of conversations that push my buttons, this was a 3 maybe on a scale of 1-10)
To recap: Mitch was annoying me, I was aware of my annoyance and even the scripts of making him wrong that I was playing, and that it wasn’t his fault.
Then I over hear: ‘Yeah, I want to get all my books published by my 50th birthday that is coming up on October 18th.”
At which point I had a big laugh at myself because Mitch and I share our birthday.
Even though I knew I was being unfair to Mitch before that, it was that moment when I was reminded with big neon lights that Mitch and I have something in common.
Not that being born on October 18th makes you instantly awesome, I do know some amazing folks who share that birthday, but we also share it with Lee Harvey Oswald (and it’s Alaska Day). I didn’t think I needed to be instant friends with Mitch, but it was funny to me (in that oops I now have more awareness way) to have that humanizing moment. I know something about Mitch now, and I even have it in common with him, he is less the Other.
‘The Other’ is a term that has exploded recently in articles and thought pieces in the wake of the heightened awareness of the constant stream of assaults to human and civil rights.
I first came across the term when I was in college in a theatre class about staging gender. The other, or othering is seeing/labeling someone as different or opposite from you and thereby classifying them as less than or on the margins of society.
This is a social construct that has been ingrained in our world, and so is something we have all done either consciously or unconsciously. But it is also something that we get to call out for healing and transcending. Because when I decide that Mitch is an inconsiderate flake who doesn’t know how to behave properly, I have made him an adversary. I am aware enough to know what was happening as it was happening and not escalate to saying anything to Mitch.
But what if I wasn’t? What if I didn’t know that he and I had something in common beyond a tendency to hang out at Kaladi’s Coffee? What if I got myself all steamed up and then said something nasty? What if I went on a tirade and got all my friends riled up about what a so-and-so Mitch and people like him are?
It would be rather silly to do that over a non-encounter at the coffeeshop right? But othering shows up in big and little ways. The little ones create a fertile field for the big ones to take hold. The big issues we face as a community, nation, and world (many that end in ism or phobia) come back to the willingness as a community or individual to put someone else in the ‘other’ category making them not as worthy of acceptance, love, resources, and safety.
What if we all decided everyone was worthy and entitled to a safe home, enough food, adequate health care, and freedom from persecution for being who they are? What if all the barriers that we have constructed to ‘protect’ ourselves and keep others out came down and we realized that we are all sisters and brothers, more alike than we will ever be different? We saw this happen for a moment in Houston, where folks from all walks helped folks from all walks. This happens pretty much every time there is some kind of disaster, and yet we forget.
I behold the Christ in you,
Here the life of God I see;
This is the antidote of othering, to the isims and phobias, it is simply to see and know that you are an expression of God just as you are, and so is everyone else. Simple in concept, more difficult in practice.
Practice we must, become more aware we must. Do more beholding the Christ/God/Spirit in others and less seeing them as other. Make a decision to not allow prejudice safe harbor in your heart and mind, and then keep making the decision.
I will continue to explore these themes in blogs, sermons, and activities. In the meantime, do what you can and then do some more. Practice, practice, practice.
I behold the Christ in YOU (and Mitch)
PS Yes, I know there are plenty of more things I could have covered, but this is already long enough. The conversation is far from over.