The Philosophy of Otherness
February 5, 2015
by Jane Tawel
My husband sort of missed the point of my last blog on shooting people. He was right to tell me that in this day and age you have to be careful since people take threats online seriously, but he failed to realize it was satire. Changing it to nuking people was a compromise and wise, but it also ironically weakened the point.
My blog called: “People I Would (sometimes) Like to Nuke (Shoot)” was satire in the sense that it was ironic, exaggerated, parody of self. My husband is part French, Italian, Phoenician – they don’t get humor unless it is about laughing at someone else. I am Irish, Scottish, Native American – we get self-parody. My People have had to learn to laugh at ourselves because we have never ruled the world. (Some day……..)
I am vehemently, politically and spiritually opposed to physical violence – I am after all a non-gun owning pacifist – That doesn’t mean however that there aren’t lots of times I want to kill someone.
And that was the point of my last article. I often want to kill someone for doing the very thing that they might want to kill me for doing. I feel an irritation that more often than I would like to admit, borders on a maniacal desire to seriously wound or obliterate someone. This is sometimes a random irritating stranger and sometimes an irritating beloved one. Either one I could kill on the turn of a dime sometimes.
I will bet you 59 thousand million dollars that these very same strangers and loved ones quite often feel like shooting or nuking me for the very same or similar reasons I feel like annihilating them. Maybe you are one of them.
This is the problem Jesus talked about when he talked about missing the giant Sequoia in your own eye but finding the speck of sawdust in some one else’s eye. Same product. Different perspective.
I have spent years studying the theology of the Deity. I have not spent as much time on the theology of “Otherness”. The weird thing about my religion though is that you cannot actually have a belief system about God without having the same belief system about others. The Great Command equates, parallels, combines the command to love and know God with the command to love and know my brother/ sister/ neighbor. (Mark 12:30 -31) (Leviticus 19:18) Jesus of course takes it to the extreme and, even more weirdly, says we must also love our enemies.
I completely HATE that Jesus says that.
I have come to have a later life appreciation of what I call “the cursing psalms”. Just this morning there was a driver that almost killed me and I prayed the psalm that his children’s heads would be crushed on the rocks. I love the way the International Standard Version translates Psalm 137: 9 “How blessed will be the one who seizes your young children and pulverizes them against the cliff!” I mean it is right there in God’s Holy Word: “How blessed will be the one who pays you back for what you have done to us.” (Ps. 137:8) We are more wired to pay back, than we are wired to pay forward. Which is why we need Jesus to re-wire us.
The point of my last blog was that while I try to love God and try to believe that my life’s equation is:
Me + God = do good + love others= Me good person;
My real equation looks something like this equation:
I do something I want to do = good so God bless me; Other person does same thing= bad so God curse them.
Jesus ‘equation goes something like this:
I do bad = death; you do bad = death; Jesus + cross = life for both you and me.
Other people + Me= all bad persons = Grace from God through Christ for all= new life and the good life forever.
This is the philosophy of “Otherness”. We are created to:
- Honor Others. You don’t need to walk in my shoes to understand me. You are already walking in my shoes. All humans are broken. All are worth saving from brokenness. No one can do it by him / herself.
- Respect the Divine in Others.We are created with a Divine image – Imago Dei. There is not only a Story but a Glory in each of us.
- Clean Your Eyes before Permitted to Clean Someone Else’s. Some day we will be judged on how we treated the least of men on earth and the first shall be last and the last, first. The Other will always get to cut in line.
- Be one Body. Different parts, different functions, all vital to the health of the Body.
Jesus gave a definitive word on The Philosophy of Otherness in the story of “The Woman Caught in Adultery” (John 8:1- 11) Did you know this story was actually removed for a while from John’s text. In the earlier years, the Church was evidently afraid that the story would make people think Jesus was condoning adultery, a widespread problem even then. He was not condoning sin and makes that clear to the woman and to us when he tells her, “Go and sin no more”, but he was helping her accusers understand God’s Philosophy of Otherness. “You who are without sin, throw the first stone to kill her.” Here was the One who could throw stones; the One without sin and He, Son of God, chose to see the woman’s “Otherness”.
“Neither do I condemn you”. God’s Otherness means our Sameness. No one without sin. No one unforgiveable.
But what about when someone who claims Christ as Lord commits a transgression? When a fellow Christian sins and does not respond to constructive criticism – we are told to treat him / her like the pagans. First we are to treat fellow believers as family – come straight out and tell them what their sin is or how they have wronged us or another. Then we are to commit to helping them work toward restoration, both with God, with us, or with another. But if they reject your message given with love and humility on your end of course, then we are to treat them like they do not know Christ. That is to say, as if they still need a Savior. We are to love them enough to treat them as if they still need to know God’s grace and love – as if they are as ignorant as a non-believer or pagan– not one of the family, God’s family. We are to be even more humble and loving with our “enemies” or pagans than with our family members; Treating them with respect, perhaps even more understanding than we would if they believed as we do. This is God’s Philosophy of Otherness.
Gordon, my fourth child went to Trader Joe’s with me the other day and saw a bag of fancy pretzels he wanted. He put them in my hand and asked, “Mom, can these be only for me?” And being the good parent, I said, of course, we will hide them from everyone else and you can not share them with anyone.
With God, our Daddy, there is a fourth child in all of us. We want to ask Him, God can this blessing, this pass card, this free ride, this forgiveness be only for me? God, can I have it all and no one else gets any? (Especially not my mean and horrid older sister?)
We really hate the fact that the Bible assures us that the “Rain falls on the good and the evil.” (Matt. 5:54, Matt 5:43- 48) And that God loves to give His children good things—all His children.” (Matt. 7:11, Luke 11:13) We don’t want to be The Fourth Child, we want to be the only child. Perhaps the only way to really love and know God is to remember that Jesus was the Only Child, but He chose to live like the Fourth Child.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil 2:3 -11)
As we think about the complete Otherness of God, we should be humbled and thankful and awed that God become Otherness by becoming one of us. If He in Jesus can accept, forgive, love and not shoot me for my otherness, then surely I can do the same for your otherness. When we accept God’s Philosophy of Otherness, rather than seeing a log that blinds us to our sameness with our brother; we see Jesus in our enemies’ eyes and that illuminates Christ’s image in them. Then we can put down the guns and bombs and stones and, albeit precariously, balance our lives on The Solid Rock. Then we can love the New World into being. After all, as Rodney King, the prophet of the LA Riots said, “Why can’t we all just get along?” As the Greatest Prophet says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.”
If we put down our guns and bombs and stones and stand precariously balanced on The Solid Rock, taking up the banner of love, then we can love a New World into being.