Othering is the process of casting a group, an individual or an object into the role of the 'other' and establishing one's own identity through opposition to and, frequently, vilification of this Other.
Taken at face value, we present ourselves as committed dualists. In nearly every situation, there is an either/or, with no room for adjustment or both/and. And the greater part of growing up—and especially growing up into the meat of that message we so flippantly call “the gospel”—is learning to nuance our arguments in such a manner as to be able to sit across the table from our opponent and find that neither of us reaches for our knife. In other words, a shared cup of sacramental wine amongst enemies might be the closest thing to heaven we’ll know this side of eternity, and is thus why we’re commanded to unashamedly open the table. This is what makes Jesus so scandalous. That we are presented with such a love that enemies become neighbors, and neighbors become friends, and that friendship itself is something more close than kinship, and thus, we ourselves are; friends of God.
When this scandal becomes nothing more than yet another means of othering those to whom we are called brothers and sisters, we have no recourse but to slit the throat of our golden calf and dance in the blood of our ignorance and self-deceit. Too many times ‘us’ has taken flight to lay waste to the person on the other end of our verbal spear, with little to no regard for the human heart lying within range of our weapons of masked destruction. The marked difference in Jesus’ manner of speaking (namely, not at all-rather it is his biographers who are speaking), and the manner in which we ourselves handle those who disagree is easy to tell. Whereas Jesus’ words evidently carried enough compassion to engender a movement best defined as love, we often find him acting in a somewhat crass manner in relationship to those around him; especially the Pharisees. Debates of pharisaical existence notwithstanding, scholarship is better served by assuming that nothing recorded is exactly “what Jesus said”, even while possibly carrying his initial thoughts. It is rather like the game of telephone wherein the thrust of the message was remembered and presented, and good story tellers did what good story tellers do. They filled in the gaps, most often in favor of their particular tradition.
However, we find in the “recorded words” (the red letters) so many nuggets of eternal truth, that we find it difficult to imagine these thoughts to be crystallization of many years of contemplation and mystical encounter. Nobody knew the infant. Nobody cared. Nobody thought twice about a young boy from Palestine learning the exact same things his contemporaries learned. It makes no sense then to attribute any such othering to Jesus (references to Pharisees and scribes as “hypocrites” are much later Church era insertions. i.e. – Jesus never said that). Jesus’ concern is the revelation of God as “our Father”, even while speaking to a group of mixed race unbelievers. He seems to give no thought to conversion, and very little attention to law. His utter disregard for any cultural, (supposed) ethical, or other such lines proves to us that any effort we want to make to produce an other from those around us is not going to be supported by one who is best described as ‘radically inclusive’.
It is then of no small importance that this othering which we continue to perpetrate is the very thing to which we are called to die. Taking up our cross is nothing messianic, nothing glorious, nothing spiritual. It is simple. It is also the most difficult thing known to humanity; the laying down of ourself. It is not ‘I’ but ‘us’ who matters, and, conversely, it is not ‘us’ that I fix, but ‘I’. Without the laying down of our self, we have yet to take up our cross. In every discussion, we are gathered at the same table. And this table is a three-seat rickety wooden spool, connecting each of us at all points, so no longer are we able to declare “sides”. There can be no other any longer, for that line of demarcation has forever been eradicated by the power of grace. We are we, us; and anything less is false religion.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is both a command of foresight, as well as a way to respond. In other words, Jesus’ thoughts are the answer to our eternal struggle with that inward tendency toward creating an other out of our neighbor. When we approach the other in community, we act in a manner which we would want from others. Sadly however, this thought goes out the window when we come to disagreement. We seem to forget that every word, action, or movement we make is a sign to others of how we want the other to treat us. When we lash out in anger, we subconsciously tell them this is how we ourselves want to be treated. It is no wonder then that the gospel beckons us to peace among all people. Not as a utopian ideology of eventual harmony, but as a movement toward each other in love and kindness. Forgive, that you may be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. Prosperity goofiness aside, when we give peace, we receive peace. Love begets love. And sadly, violence and hatred only serve to reproduce like rabbits within our psyche. Perhaps then it is a time for a bit of a modern rewrite of Paul:
Where there is neither Muslim nor Christian, neither 1% or 99%, there is no male or female, no black, brown, white or “other”, for you are all one in Christ Jesus