A good friend of mine recently wrote a great piece on "other" thinking, and the beautiful reaction of the families of those killed in the Charleston shooting. It was too good not to have it more widely circulated, so I am proud to feature my dear friend and colleague, Louise Reilly, as a guest blogger:
I have a confession to make – and I’m not proud of it. Something troubling goes on in my subconscious when I hear (it seems on a daily basis) of the latest tragedy or atrocity that has taken place in our broken world. My first reaction is, as for all of us, shock or sadness or disbelief or anger or confusion. The events that take place in our world today are heart-breakingly mind-blowingly difficult to get our heads around, and my head can often do little more than breathe out a sigh of weary lament.
My second reaction – which seeps in often unnoticed, as a reflex reaction to any sign of threat or danger – is what troubles me. In an attempt to reassure myself that the news I have just heard is something that could never happen to me or those I love, I find myself subconsciously trying to work out the differences in our stories; the factors and circumstances that mean I need not worry. The trouble with this is that instead of focusing on our common humanity – on the truth that there is no other, there is just us – I am focusing on difference, on turning people to “them”, simply for the sake of feeling more secure. With every fibre of my being, I do not believe that we are in any way different. But for a fleeting moment, when a breaking news story feels a little too close to home, I often allow my mind to wander into this territory.
Each member of the JustUs team, myself included, believes strongly that a “them and us” mentality is one of the biggest hindrances to each of us truly becoming justice bearers. Only when we truly understand and live into the truth that every single human being is made in the image of God, and has equal value, worth, and dignity, will we be able to humbly and effectively address the injustices in our world today. This paradigm shift may not seem risky, and yet if we allow it to become part of who we are, there will be significant implications. Tragic news stories and events will break our hearts more deeply, and we won’t be able to so easily sweep away our fears, as we recognise that the people impacted are just like you and I – that we share this common humanity, and that each one of us is treasured by God. But it also allows us, instead of defaulting to self-preservation mode, to catch a glimpse of God’s heart for the injustice or tragedy that has taken place, God’s heart for those who are impacted, and God’s call to respond with love, rather than fear.
In the midst of this paradigm, I am increasingly convinced that if there has to be a dichotomy at all, or a moment in which the designations of “them” and “us” are to be rightly used, it has to relate to our response to injustice, and to the matter of love. There are those who choose hate, revenge, violence – and there are those who, in the face of hate, choose the painstaking, revolutionary, glorious way of love. There is a dichotomy here, and a choice that presents itself to us all in different circumstances of life, both in small ways and in large and significant ways.
But what if even this dichotomy was framed in the context of the “just us” paradigm? What if we allowed our understanding of shared humanity, our shared position as God’s image-bearers, to impact how we respond when the choice between love and hate presents itself?
I think this is what we saw in action as relatives of nine shooting victims stepped up one by one in a Charleston courtroom last month. As I listened to these family members speak directly to the young man who had killed their loved ones only days before, choosing to forgive him, choosing love over hate because of the belief that responding with hate would accomplish nothing – I saw this reality in action. In that courtroom, there was a killer (“them”) and there were grieving victims (“us”); two groups of people separated by the horror of racially-motivated violence. And yet in the midst of the overwhelming grief, those family members stood before another broken human, and showed the watching world that compassion, forgiveness, love, towards someone who in that world’s eyes could not be more “other”, was possible. I don’t know about you, but this filled me with so much hope.
Whether the difficult circumstances we seek to address present themselves to us in the news or in our own lives, are we willing to step out of our comfort zone and embody this “just us” thinking? Will we choose love over hate and fear? Compassion and mercy over self-preservation and security? We are fragile, vulnerable, sojourners in a broken world. But we are loved, held, and empowered by the One who brings light and love into the darkest of places. Let’s follow Him where He leads us – together.