Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Embracing the Other

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>

“It’s me!”


“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? 

You will.

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.

And once I realized this, I never judged another person again.

 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.


  1. I can hardly express how hilarious and wonderful this is! Nicely done, Merry!

  2. Oh, how I wish I could express truths as well as you are able to do. You keep them real - warts, pink eyelids, and all.
    Karen - too lazy to choose an account so I'm commenting as Anonymous. :-) Don't otherize me!

  3. I am laughing, I am sitting in silence contemplating your profound wisdom, and I am smiling at the beautiful way you expressed these thoughts. I will be sharing this!

    One thing that has helped me in this regard is when I was in the Young Women program and I was challenged to try to see people as my Heavenly Father sees them for one week. The experience totally changed my life, and I realized that most of the time people were just doing the best they knew how. So many people I’d always seen as stuck-up were really just insecure. Others who I thought were rude were just awkward and didn’t know how to communicate. Still others were just oblivious to things they did and never even realized they were hurting people. Once I realized that, I stopped being offended and started rooting for them instead, and trying to find ways I could help and serve rather than criticize and judge.

    Thanks again for the beautiful reminder.

  4. This is so very true! (That picture really is hilarious).

  5. Oh my gosh, I love the artwork! Child of God has always been my favorite label for EVERYONE, It's the only label we should give ourselves and others. It's the only one that matters, and will last. All other labels are short-lived, limiting, stupid, whatever. They are simply not true. Loved this!



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