by Merry Gordon
My daughter made this in church a couple years back.
When all the other little Sunbeams churned out cute little Sugardoodle versions of themselves, mine managed to take the same raw materials and produce a vaguely homicidal-looking clown with a mock turtleneck and a sunken skull. Oh, and two left ears.
(For the record, the daughter in question is a doe-eyed, waiflike pixie of a thing with a perfect Valentine face and blonde curls.)
Fortunately, my parental combat training kicked in before I could recoil in horror and/or crack a smile: “What the—honey, how…interesting! Tell me about your picture.” <insert generic mommysmile here>
“I am a child of God!”
Truth be told, I hadn’t even seen the caption until she pointed it out (I was a little preoccupied with the pink-lidded serial killer stare). At this point, I finally lost it and doubled over in fits of laughter.
That my daughter would depict herself in that way was hilarious. Disturbing, and hilarious. But that wasn’t really why I reacted the way I did.
The absurdity of an ugly cartoon mug shot proclaiming itself a child of God was too much. If I was being honest, my gut-level reaction was that if this was a child of God, it was definitely not the same kind of child of God I was.
That’s when I stopped laughing.
Because if I could marginalize a simple drawing, I could marginalize a person.
In fact, I probably already had.
It’s easy enough to do these days. A glance at the headlines will tell you that there’s growing factionalism both inside and outside of the church—and the trolling in the comments underneath the articles will reveal plenty of otherizing going on.
Don’t recognize the word?
Otherizing is responsible for a lot of the ugly in the world.
Otherizing takes differences—of opinion, of race, of religion—and blows them out of proportion to the point of contention and stereotyping. We stop seeing people when we otherize them; instead, we see typecasts, two-dimensional caricatures without intricacy or humanity, people Not Like Us. Otherizing makes difference look like deformity.
The problem is that to otherize someone is to devalue them.
And devaluing them only devalues us.
It’s like this: if we believe ourselves to be children of God then we have to believe that statement applies to everyone else—equally. It’s not an exclusive club. Our membership in the church makes us no more or less children of God than anyone else we meet.
Perhaps the worst thing about otherizing is that it happens even when we’re trying hard to avoid it. For example, can we stop saying we’re “taking the high ground” every time we repress a snarky one-liner? That phrase reeks of moral superiority. It suggests we’re not even travelling the same road as the people around us when nothing could be further from the truth.
Getting past otherizing is hard.
It’s tougher than fast Sundays and subbing in nursery. This is Christianity in the trenches.
It means we must listen—not just hear—because we can learn something valuable from everyone. We must offer compassion without condescension and service without self-congratulation. If we’re smug, or dismissive, or even mildly patronizing across the ideological divide we reduce Christ’s message to a bunch of Pinterest clichés. Choosing to see divine potential and worth in those we disagree with does not compromise us—in fact, it strengthens us.
In fact, I became a shining bastion of tolerance and Christlike love scattering empathy like manna to the masses. I burst forth from the heavens on the wings of a Pegasus: wars ended, flowers bloomed, trumpets sounded. Roll credits.
(Actually, that’s not true. I sort of cussed out the guy who cut me off on the freeway this afternoon. “Stupid tool of a California driver” may or may not have been among the more printable epithets I had for him.)
But I am making a stand today, and it’s not about gay marriage or Ordain Women or anything else that seems to make the church newsworthy lately. It’s about looking inward instead of pointing outward. I may not always get it right, but I’m trying.
Because I owe that to my brothers and sisters.
Because Christ, who taught us to be one, is the opposite of otherizing.
Because we are all—and I’m looking at you, vaguely homicidal-looking, turtleneck-wearing clown—children of God.
|The author and her daughters. Note the strong familial resemblance.|