There “They” are, walking down the street in my neighborhood. Who do “They” think “They” are? Coming into my place as if “They” belonged here, coming into my faith, my country, my neighborhood, my screen, my mind! Why can’t “They” go somewhere else, be someone else, or be more normal like me? Why do “They” persist in believing, behaving, and thinking so strangely? Why do “They” have to be so strange? Why can’t “They” just accept that “They” are wrong?
I call the above sentiments the voice of anti-shalom in my head, the voice of division and wholesale devaluing of the image of God that is borne in “the stranger.” One of the key pieces of Christian theology is that every human being bears the image of God, that there is no person that does not, in some way, reflect the divine image. In other words, when I allow myself to fear the strangeness of the stranger I miss out on the way that person can uniquely usher me into the presence of God.
So, who are “They?” Really, who are those others who we find the most difficulty in seeing the divine image? I suspect that for some of you, I am part of that “They,” or maybe you are part of my “They.” For some reason, we humans feel the need to place people into categories and define them by others we have encountered or heard about in that category. We have many names for this behavior that end in “ism”, and it has become more and more convicting to me that Jesus sees something very different when he looks at this person or group for whom I feel disdain or fear.
In 2001 I began to be convicted to practice a new spiritual discipline to start building the Shalom of God in my heart. This discipline radically changed me and has been painful at times, but it has enabled me to obtain some of the peace that passes understanding. After the September 11th attacks the Holy Spirit began convicting me to pray for those involved. I wrote down a few names like Osama bin Laden and al-Queda and began to pray for God’s image to be visible to me in them. This earned me some very strange looks and the opportunity to practice the discipline a little closer to home, but I felt a sense of peace I hadn’t before.
The love of God began to drive out the fear of those “scary” others, and opportunities opened for friendships and relationships that weren’t thinkable to me before the Shalom of God’s love began to be welcomed into my heart. I would love to tell you that the work of Shalom is finished in my heart, but since I am still breathing there is quite a bit of work left to do. Now though, when I read, hear, or feel that command to welcome the stranger I think “The stranger the better. Let’s do this.”
I would love to invite you to practice this discipline with me and share how it impacts you.
- Take some time to pray and ask God to help you discern and write down the name of someone or group that is strange to you or that you have a reflexive distaste for.
- Now that you have this person or group in mind take some time to pray and ask God to reveal exactly how the divine image is revealed in that person or group.
- Put a piece of paper or sticky note with the names or group somewhere you will see it every day, and whenever you do ask God to help you see how the divine image is present in those whose name or group identity you have written.
- Whenever you encounter someone in that group or that person ask God to help you see that person or group through the lens of divine love.
I pray that this will be as transforming for you as it has been for me.