This summer some of us from our church meet every other week to discuss a query dealing with some issue related to things happening around the world. A few weeks back we talked about a query dealing with the oil spill and how it is or is not affecting us, and our larger society. We kind of think of our group as the world problem solving small group, of course we say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Our last meeting we discussed the Arizona Immigration law, our thoughts on it and what is it about now made that law possible. I felt we had a really helpful and meaningful conversation. We had a small group of people there but a spectrum of ages were represented, and we actually had a woman who is an immigrant from Germany there, and another woman who was in a bi-racial marriage, has children from that marriage and is half Hispanic herself. She was able to talk about racial profiling in a very real way.
This got me thinking about today, and the history of those who are for one reason or another stuck on the outside, and are seen as “abnormal” or “alien” by another group (often those in power). The Arizona law is the symptom of something that runs through the course of human history. We continually find ways to make hate acceptable.
Today, in America, it is okay to hate illegal immigrants, it is okay to hate people who are gay, it is okay to hate the earth, often it is okay to hate “fundamentalists” as much as it is to hate “liberals,” and by in large it is still okay to hate African Americans. Apparently in our local area it is okay to hate Russians. We each know the people we are “allowed” to mistreat, speak disdainfully of, or deliberately turn away from where no one will second guess you for these actions.
To put it differently, hating the other is still alive and well, and not even under the surface in our society.
I repeatedly hear and see comments about these groups of people that, if we are only very lucky, thinly vail hatred and fear. Many moons ago I wrote about the Homo Sacer and Civilized Racism, which this post today reminds me of. The concept of Homo Sacer harkens back to the Roman Empire when people were marked as “Legal Exiles.” That is people with no rights other than that they may not be killed. For those of you with biblical knowledge this should rightly conjure up the story of Cain and Abel. There are many “legal exiles” in our society today, not just “illegal” ones. Despite the fact that many of us have experienced deep hatred in one way or another, or come from families that were despised at one point in their history, and despite the fact that we have reaped many benefits from such nonviolent movements that have led to better equality and more rights for more people, we are so easily moved to such violent hatred.
And I wonder how and why this is?
And I wonder what it is like to be in their shoes? What is it like to be the Homo Sacer? So that every place you turn you hear comments, you get threats, you are legitimately not safe and cannot expect the law or any human rights arguments to save you.
For people of “The Way,” people who call themselves Christians there is no excuse. Expect that maybe we still hate and fear ourselves? That we have not yet experienced forgiveness and love for ourselves and so we cannot in turn give it to others? Or is it that we have a theology that is really based on a God of hate and violence? If our God is a God of scarcity then we will be people who hoard, if our God is a God of gift and abundance, we will be a people who live likewise.
But I had the impression that God is love.
Jesus’ said those pressing words we so easily forget in these heated moments of attacking the other:
?You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ?You shall not murder?; and ?whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.? But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ?You fool,? you will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:21?22)
These are not easy words, but they are what we called to for each and every person irregardless of who they are, where they come from, what color of skin they have, or what sexual orientation they assume.
And maybe it really is the case that today those who are the Homo Sacer within our world conjur up a lack of acceptance of ourselves, a lack of understanding that God really does love us and accepts us. Maybe those who are most hated are really in some way a symbol of what we hate about ourselves? What we hate about God, or what hatred we project onto God? Or what we do not understand and therefore fear the most?
In Kester Brewin’s recent book “Other” (which I recommend) he points out that there is an other in each of us and there is an other in God. ?Those parts that we cannot accept, that we fear and shun, and it is only upon coming to terms with these parts that we may be able to extend a hand of love and forgiveness to the real Other.
It seems to me there is much work still to be done in this area, and much of this work needs to be done among the church itself. We are not going to be able to come to terms with creation, immigrants, homosexuals, or otherwise until we recognize and deal with the deep seated hatred that we have in ourselves and is reflected throughout our practice, our theology, our politics, etc. In Quaker speak, I do not think we will be able to find a sense of the meeting, centered on God’s Spirit, until we recognize first that God is a God of love, one who loves enemies, one who welcomes the outcast, and sides with the foreigners.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say,
?The LORD will surely separate me from his people?;
and do not let the eunuch say,
?I am just a dry tree.?
For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant?
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
[flickr photo from @mjb]