Loving the “other”

Have you ever had the experience of being “other than” everyone else? Have you ever felt like an outsider or been excluded because of some characteristic that somehow defined you?

Even after all these years, I clearly remember how it felt to be the only 7th grader in an 8th grade gym class. Some scheduling error determined that unhappy fate for me. One might think that a year’s age difference was not insurmountable. My parents cheerfully assured me it would be a learning experience. The teacher was uninterested in my reluctance. During that very long year I endured “missing” sneakers, my (incredibly ugly, yet required) gym uniform repeatedly disappearing, cold water being poured over the shower curtain, and endless snide remarks. I was the “other” and thus, easy prey.

Years later, while working in Germany, I was searching for an apartment. In those  pre-internet days, one would write a note in response to a newspaper advertisement. If an apartment was still available, the landlord would then call. Time after time, when the apartment owner heard my accented German, the apartment suddenly became “unavailable” and the phone call ended. No one wanted to welcome an “outsider” in.

Perhaps you know what it’s like to be the “other” because of your

  • gender
  • skin color
  • nationality
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • beliefs or political opinions

We humans are too ready to divide ourselves up, to single someone out, and to ostracize those who seem “other than” how we define ourselves. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism. Maybe life seems safer that way.

Jesus defied those rules of segregation and lived a life of welcome instead. His dinner table would have been empty if he hadn’t invited the outcasts, the shunned, and the misfits to join him.

His teaching stories reminded people that all of us are God’s children. One of his best-known parables is titled “The Good Samaritan” because it was so shocking to his 1st century listeners that a despised Samaritan could share compassion and embody loving kindness. Jesus reminds his followers that this unlikely hero lived the message of the Gospel.

The Samaritan knew what hate felt like. He offered kindness instead.

The Samaritan had experienced being “the other.” He offered a helping hand instead.

Sometimes people feel called to “give up” something for Lent.

This year, let’s try to give up hate. Or judgment. Or just being mean.

Instead, let’s take on love. And compassion. And kindness.

The poem “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham speaks to me during this Lenten season:

They drew a circle to keep me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that took them in.


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