Tuesday, April 12, 2011


In my WE! reflection, I mentioned in passing that the word "them" is one of the most destructive, divisive words we know.  Such a statement certainly deserves a bit more explanation.  Now, it is certainly true that without the plural third-person object pronoun, our language would be far more unwieldy; it's not this utilitarian use to which I'm referring.  Rather, I mean to minimize the objectifying use of the word "them" (and "they," by extension).

They say, "They're just words," but "they" never seem to have a face.  For instance, if I say the word "Muslim," I'm willing to bet you have a reaction.  These days, it's pretty hard to simply have an intellectual understanding of the word, namely, that it refers to an adherent of Islam, one of the three faiths claiming to have Abraham as its founder.  No, it's far more likely either that you know one or more Muslims or that they are a completely foreign group to you.  Now, I chose Muslims simply because they have been in the news lately, most notably in relation to the hearings called for by U.S. Rep. Peter King, but you could just as easily substitute any number of groups in any number of settings.  For instance, I feel like I sometimes need to defend Christianity in conversation; I've heard things like, "Don't they hate gay people?" and "They are so judgmental."  It only takes a small but incredibly loud minority to paint an inaccurate picture in the public's mind.

"Them" is the most whitewashed name a group can get, and it's an incredibly small cage for what is usually a vast diversity of individuals.  When you can manage to cram everyone into a cramped space like "them," it becomes much easier to slap labels on the group, to point "over there" and say "I am not like them."  It becomes much easier to say words like "extremist," "judgmental," and "hateful," but it is also tempting to point (perhaps at ourselves) and say "open-minded," "loving," or "peaceful."  There is danger in making any kind of general statement, and that danger is in losing perspective on the unique qualities of individuals, be they admired or feared.  Jesus turned over the tables of the temple's legal moneychangers and told the parable in which the master chastises the servant for safely burying his gold, but Jesus also defended the woman accused of adultery and promised the convicted thief that today he would join him in paradise.

One of the many things to be learned from the Gospel accounts of Jesus's life is that individual people deserve individual consideration, and each person needs to be loved in a unique way.  God loves you because God knows you, has been with you every moment of your life, and wants to be in a relationship with you.  Your relationship with God is different from every other relationship because you are not exactly like anyone else and God loves you in all your wondrous uniqueness!  Because we are already loved, we can turn our pointing fingers and arm's length barriers into welcoming embraces, making our "us" and "them" into a "we" where we get the privilege of knowing each other as siblings in God's diverse family.

No comments: