We are living through divisive times. Just about everywhere you look, you are likely to encounter and observe a lot of opposition. The air is often thick with mistrust, scorn, brittle anxiety, and resentment. To me, this feels qualitatively different from people simply disagreeing with each other. Disagreements and conflict can be energizing and life-giving, especially when the parties respect and honor each other. But in our day, respect for the other who is different from us seems hard to come by. Much of the time, we demonize, categorize, and avoid the other who is different from us, or who embodies a different perspective or approach to life. Liberals avoid conservatives, conservatives avoid liberals, and moderates avoid them both!
In his beautiful, spiritually demanding book Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf invites readers to make space in ourselves for the other who is different, who may even be the enemy. In this approach, we not only tolerate the other and the enemy; we become willing to embrace them. This embrace of our enemy must be done prayerfully and thoughtfully, bearing in mind the demands of justice and righteousness. But if there is to be any possibility of bridging the divides in our world, it is going to require some people to make space in themselves for the other who is very different from them, and who may even represent some threat.
We may notice two things: (1) Almost no one does this these days. Instead, we hunker down in self-protection and self-defense, we make our arguments, and we try to defeat the other. (2) Making space in ourselves for the other is a concrete way to follow in the steps of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus embodied both solidarity with the victims of oppression (thus bearing the demands for justice), as well as forgiveness for the guilty (“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Rom. 5:8). Jesus made space in himself for us, while we were still enemies of God.
As we begin 2015, we may ask ourselves: What in us is drawn to the idea of “making space in ourselves for the other/enemy”? What in us is resistant or opposed to the idea? Who in your life fills the role of the “other” or the “enemy” who is different from you? It may be someone close to you, or it may be a person/group in the world whom you find troubling. What feels right and true about making space in your heart for that person/group? What feels wrong or dangerous about it?
Rev. Scott Ramsey is the pastor of Germonds Presbyterian Church, an energetic, lively congregation in Rockland County, New York. He is married to Rev. Laura Cunningham, and they have two children, Will (11) and Ginny (7).