The first person to whom Jesus announced his ministry (at least recorded for us) was the woman at the well. When Bethany Brady Spalding and I were writing our Girls Who Choose God for the Bible, we had to sift through a lot of options, but this one was a shoo-in. I LOVED the lessons taught by Jesus’ choice. In choosing this woman, Jesus was proclaiming the importance of women, the seemingly insignificant, The Other. The woman at the well was female, from a different tribe, was poor.
Christ lived two millennia ago. We wrote that book almost a decade ago. NOW, the importance of loving The Other seems the need of the hour. (Perhaps it has always been.)
So, I admit, I almost started writing this essay by citing Trump and vaccines and abortion and gender etc, etc, etc –All the things that currently divide us so starkly. I may have proved my point when people immediately turn off and quit reading, but I would have lost the ACTUAL point— it is time for us to learn to love The Other.
Who is The Other? Could be anyone. Could be many. Could be few. Could be a group. Could be an individual. Could be your neighbor, your spouse, your teenager, your friend. Could be yourself, even.
I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of the last few years being disgruntled at The Other. I can whip myself into a self-righteous frenzy with internet memes and statistics. I can eyeball, snort, disdain. I am sorry to admit it, but this comes easily.
What does not come easily is love.
In this divided world, it seems almost impossible to feel respect for The Other. When I considered writing this topic, I felt a certain amount of despair, frankly.
But then I remembered the Capitol Hill Ward. I lived in Washington, DC for more than a decade and prayed my way into the ward boundaries of the most soul-nourishing congregation I have ever known. What made so much light infuse that place? I would submit, loving and serving The Other.
The ward was a wide range of polarities across race, age, and politics. As you may or may not know, the Capitol Hill ward is located on Capitol Hill of Washington, DC. It is filled with The Others. (Perhaps the same as your own ward, if you dig in a little.) In this ward, many many of the members worked for the federal government, the legislature, social justice nonprofits…on all sides of the issues. We had the chief of staff of one of the most conservative legislatures as the bishop and Hilary Clinton’s speechwriter as his executive secretary. Politics was not just our job, it was a passionate display of our values system. How in the world did this ward function so well? Because we had so much need in the ward that all politics took a backseat to serving. We came to respect each other as we served together. (Even as we continued to disagree…and we did.)
As I drove across the country this summer, I saw a wide range of beliefs. And I started asking people along the way about loving The Other. One woman told me she had grown concerned about herself and how much she reinforced her scorn of others through news sources, conversations, social media. She saw that NOT loving The Other was impacting who she was becoming. I was inspired by her.
What does it take to love The Other?
It certainly does not require agreeing. It does not require not fighting what you consider the good fight. It does not require subsuming your values.
It does, however, require kindness, respect, civility, a sense of humor, and perhaps not forwarding memes? (I’m guilty of this within the last hour, even.) Let’s not propagate the otherness.
And, if my softer language is not motivating you, how about a clear statement from Jesus in the sermon on the mount? “But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hellfire.” (Matthew 5:22)
Yeah. I think that’s pretty clear. Feeling the temperature rising in my world…
But, because I am a person who likes to know HOW to do something, I called one of my dearest friends who’s got super smarts and almost always thinks differently about something than I do. I’ve known her for almost three decades. We have a deep and respectful history, even as we’ve learned to navigate our differences. (In order to write this article I had to practice, too.)
Here is what we came up with:
– Disengage online when it’s a pile-on.
– Don’t judge. Revelation can take you different places. It’s literally ok to disagree. The world can have nuance.
– Seek to be united. One heart and one mind does not mean we think the same. We are united in loving.
– Get to know someone who thinks differently than you do. Respect them, if not their choices. You don’t have to agree, but practice seeking to understand.
– Check yourself. Are you building or tearing down? Are you being hard-hearted or soft-hearted? Are you worrying about someone else when you simply need to check your own beam/mote situation?
– Put a reminder as you walk out the door…I happen to have a namaste statue. This phrase literally means, “the light within me honors the light within you.” The statue is a way to remind myself that all children are children of Heavenly Parents and should be treated with kindness.
– Learn how you fight with a soft heart…without demonizing. If you engage with a difference of opinion, stick to the topic. Name-calling is never the way to understanding.
– Make an effort to enlarge your literal or online bubble. Do you live in a smug or only reinforcing world?
Loving the Other can be hard. There are valid concerns…
How do you love someone when they are hurting others? As a different friend pointed out, “What does loving Nazis look like? I stand by and let them take my neighbors?” Good question. A well-read friend recommended the story The Hiding Place, if you want to be humbled by what loving The Other can really look like.
Another friend pointed out that we still sometimes need boundaries around The Other. You can love from a distance. Loving does not mean letting toxins seep into your life from an abusive relationship.
Another inspired friend taught me more. She said – Our Heavenly Parents are the ultimate proof of loving The Other. How foreign must we be to Them? How disappointing? Aggravating? Ridiculous? Mistake-ridden? And, yet, we are repeatedly told that They LOVE us. That They never give up on us. They are eager to welcome us home.
I went back to Capitol Hill ward this summer. Sacrament meeting had just ended and I turned around to find my old bishop/friend/cousin had run up to me to welcome me back with a big hug. This was the same man who had joking/not joking warned me to not teach his children about my wild-and-crazy environmental stances as I baby-sat his toddlers. He and I agree on nothing politically— but we sure do respect each other’s service and sense of humor. We were always able to find the good in the other.
Perhaps that’s the key. Look for the good. Focus on the good. Celebrate the good.
May we feel that same eagerness in practicing loving The Others we meet here and now. Probably today.
So, this is less of an essay and more of a clarion call— let us love one another, as God has loved us.