The Others

World PeaceAbout 10 years ago, there was a movie starring Nicole Kidman called The Others.  In this movie, Kidman lived with her small children in a large house in the English countryside.  It was World War II era and the family was waiting for the husband to return from the war.  As they are awaiting his return, however, there were numerous troubling experiences such as things moving by themselves and ghosts appearing in the house that led them to believe that the house was haunted.  These “others” were, for some reason, coming in to their home and scaring them.  Toward the end of the movie, however, we realize that the “ghosts” that Kidman and her kids keep seeing are really not ghosts, but are the people who are coming into the home for seances to contact Kidman and the kids.  In other words, it was Kidman and the kids that were dead, but did not realize it.  It was only through convincing Kidman’s spirit to remember what had happened (she apparently went stir crazy in seclusion waiting for her husband and killed her kids and then herself) that they were able to let that family finally be at rest.  Kidman thought that these people were the “others” the abnormal outliers that didn’t belong, but it turned out that SHE was the one of the others and just was not aware enough to admit it.

This idea of being other or having some that are in the norm and some who are outliers came into my mind last Monday at the Memorial Day service at Montrose Cemetery.  It was a very nice service and it was neat to see the different religions perform their rituals, but as I stood there in the cool mist I couldn’t shake the thought of what we were memorializing.  It is well and good and quite appropriate that we memorialized those whose lives had been list in military service, but I was keenly aware that we were missing something.  There was something that we weren’t grasping that I thought we should.  That is, we did not mourn the loss of peace and civility.  We did not mourn the loss of tranquility during those times when we could bring ourselves – fellow humans – to see each other as so “other” from us that they were worth killing.  I fully think that Memorial Day should be a day to remember those who died in war, but I think it should also be a time to mourn that we even have war so that me might learn how to have peace.

Wars do not just happen.  There are a lot of intentional decisions that are made before a war can take place.  Take Hitler for example, he killed something like six million Jews and Armenians, right?  Wrong!  I don’t think Hitler probably killed anybody personally.  Many, many, people had to become complicit in carrying out the killings because they somehow bought in to what was being said about the Jews.  These were no longer fellow human beings, these were the others and they had to be exterminated.  These were people that had to be dehumanized and any link to our common humanity erased from memory so they could be deemed as “the others”.  It was this same type of thinking that made it “ok” to round up Japanese-Americans and place them in internment camps all across the country.

Such systematic dehumanizing did not only happen with the Jews.  It happened in every propaganda machine that war-time governments produced.  The Americans did it to the Germans and the Japanese and they did it with the Americans.  I will never forget a trip we made with my wife’s family.  We would go to Okinawa about once a year when I was living in Japan and we visited a place where there used to stand a school house.  It was made into a memorial.  The Japanese people were told by the government that the Americans were barbarians and would rape and kill women and children if they ever invaded.  So, as the American forces got closer and closer to Okinawa, the men would practice fighting drills and the women and children would practice suicide drills so that they would not be captured and defiled by those who would take away their dignity and honor.  In 1945 an announcement was made that the Americans had arrived and were landing on the other side of the island and every teacher and child, over 100 of them, took their life that day.  They died needlessly because they believed that these “others” were going to harm them – people that they knew nothing about but had been told about  – and so they made great and inaccurate assumptions.

In Luke 7 we find a very different situation taking place between others.  A centurion who works for the Roman Empire, an employee of the one who is deemed to be the living God – Tiberius Caesar – goes to another “living God” for help.  A man who has been employed to enforce the laws of the empire goes to those whom he is supposed to keep an eye on.  He has a need and he goes to the others to have it met.  This is not his son who is ill.  This is not his father or his brother who is ill, this is his slave!  Somebody who is so below him whose sole reason for existence is to serve him, but the centurion does not see the slave as the subhuman that some do, he does not see him as a mere servant, he does not see him as an “other”, he sees him as a brother and a friend.  So he goes to the Jews (who in case you forgot are not necessarily friends of Jesus) and requests that they go to Jesus on his behalf.  This centurion had heard of this renegade Jew who was going around healing people and stirring up trouble within the empire.  He made his job more difficult than it had to be.  As long as people sat still and did what the centurion told them to, Pilate would be happy with him and so would Caesar.  But this Jesus guy would not just let things be the way they were.  He had heard, though, that this Jesus was a healer.  Jesus was one of the others, perhaps the ultimate other.  The Jews were others to this centurion, but he cared for his servant and wanted him to be healed.

So now the Jews have to go to Jesus (undoubtedly gritting their teeth the whole way) because they had need.  The centurion who had paid for their synagogue had a sick slave.  When he came to them and asked them to talk to Jesus, how could they tell him no?  He had done so much for them so they had to go to Jesus with their hat in their hands and tell him that he had been requested at the home of the centurion.  It would not have been outside of Jesus’ typical antics to say, “Gee, let me think, ummm, nope.”  But instead, he listened to the Jews tell of this centurion who had built a synagogue for his people (because we can’t forget that Jesus was a Jew) and he started to follow the Jews to the centurion’s home.  As he gets closer, however, the centurion who had shown ultimate humility toward these “others” bows his head even lower.  Not only did he have compassion for on he who was completely beneath him, not only did he build a place of worship for his subjects who had a religion that was not his own, not only did he request the services of a revolutionary who made his job more difficult, but he sends friends out to meet Jesus and say “I am not even worthy that you should bless my house with your presence.  I have servants that go out and do what I tell them to, but I know you have the power to merely say the word and make great and miraculous things happen.”  It was not easy to shock Jesus.  But he turned to the crowd who had gathered and said, “Not even in all of Israel have I seen faith like this.”  The pinnacle of faith was exhibited by an “other”!  He didn’t have the same ethnicity, he wasn’t from the same region, he didn’t have the same religion but he is the ONE that Jesus said exhibited the most faith of anyone he had ever seen.  And so Jesus said the word and the slave was healed.

What kind of world would we live in if we didn’t see those unlike us as “others”?  How would things be if we were able to appreciate and love and respect one another?  What could we accomplish if we celebrated each other’s differences instead of condemning them?  It’s already happening in some places.  In the West Bank there are numerous stories of Jews and Palestinians working together not only because they need each other, but because they want to be in communion with each other.  When Salim’s house was bulldozed by the Israeli forces to create a settlement for Israeli’s, Jeff was there to help him rebuild it.  Salim’s house was on land that had been in the family for centuries.  When Israeli forces came and destroyed it again, it was Jeff who joined Salim in building an apartment building where such displaced Palestinians could live.  Salim is Palestinian.  Jeff is a Jew.

There is an association of midwives comprised of Palestinian and Jewish women who work together sharing information and technology to reduce infant mortality in the Middle East.  Palestinians and Jews working together to save those who are still too young and innocent to know how to hate.

When 12 year old Ahmed al-Khatib was killed by Israeli Defense Forces, his parents would not have it that their son should have died in vain.  So, they decided to donate his organs to save others.  There were no stipulations.  In fact, they wanted some of the organs to save Jews also to send the message that we are all humans and should help one another.  Ahmed’s organs saved the lives of five people – three of which were Jews – two five year olds and a four year old.

Such stories of people working together for the good of human kind regardless of their differences abound.  What if, when we see someone approaching from afar who doesn’t look like us, we didn’t see a stranger or a potential enemy, but instead a brother, a sister, a friend, a fellow human being with same needs and yearnings that we have?  What if instead of reaching down for a stick or a rock or turning the other way, we ran toward them and embraced them?  I would love to see what could happen if humans could only find it within themselves to do it.  What a wonderful world this could be.

 

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One Response to “The Others”

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