Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Othering and "One Anothering"

This article is partly the lament of an old white guy. It was sparked by a Thinking Friend telling me in an email that she had been advised to "give up on old white guys."
The Problem: Othering
My thinking on this subject was also stirred by Cierra Lockett writing about how some African-Americans have a problem feeling bicultural because “though they're American citizens, it's hard to feel American because of how the country historically and currently oppresses and ‘others’ them.”
That, without a doubt, is far, far worse than the othering I have experienced. But it is a difference of degree, not of kind. While in the U.S. it is much worst for African-Americans and American Indians, every group—or individual—who suffers from prejudice is a victim of being “othered.”
It is not hard to see why old white guys are the target of criticism—and of being othered. Perhaps most of the problems of the world are the results of the “sins” of old white guys.
But prejudice is thinking that all the people of a group partake of the characteristics of the problematic people of that group. Thus, I am saddened when “written off” because of the mistakes of so many old white guys, past and present.
For example, I have been disappointed that few youngish people read and comment on my blog articles. I have tried to get people below 30 or even 40 to read and comment. Few have—for a variety of reasons, no doubt. Perhaps one main reason, though, is because most think that an old guy doesn’t have anything of value to say to them.
Last month I was criticized for suggesting that becoming/being bicultural might be something beneficial for African-Americans to consider. I was told by several people that whites shouldn’t make any suggestions to blacks.
There is also the problem of us guys saying anything substantial about matters relating to women: the charge of “mansplaining” has become rather common.
So, whether intended or not, “old white guys” are sometimes (often?) othered by those who are young, by people of color, and by women. Perhaps such othering serves us right—but, still, it is a cause of sadness. 
The Solution: One Anothering
Is there no way we all can relate to one another simply as human beings?
The Bible says “Love one another.” That surely doesn’t mean we are to love only people like us—for the old to love the elderly, whites to love whites, and males to love males. (And, of course, I am talking about agape-love here, not erotic love.)
To love one another surely means to accept/respect everyone without prejudice regardless of age, ethnic, or gender differences. Is that kind of mutual love/acceptance/respect too much to expect?
Back in 1990 Richard C. Meyer, a Presbyterian pastor in Florida, wrote a book titled One Anothering. The book was mainly written for small groups, but the title has an important broader meaning.  
Those of us in a position of privilege, though, have the main responsibility to take the initiative and to reach out in love to those who have been othered most severely.
South American liberation theology has often spoken about the “preferential option for the poor.” It is perhaps time for most of us, especially us old white guys, to promote a preferential option for those individuals/groups who are suffering most because of being othered.
That kind of one anothering means actively loving whether we are reciprocally loved or not. 


  1. I was happy to receive the following comments from Thinking Friend Drew Phillips. He is originally from St. Joseph, Mo., and is now Associate Minister to Chowan University in North Carolina--and also one of my "youngish" Thinking Friends. Drew wrote (and gave me permission to post),

    "Thank you for this thoughtful post. As a white guy who, I figure before I know it, will be an old one, too, I have an internal struggle with knowing that by virtue of my race and gender I'm a privileged person.
    And that means others are poor because I'm rich.

    "I've come to the conclusion that my best practice is to listen and rather than be a 'voice for the voiceless' (an unfortunate phrase and identity I adopted and have long since eschewed) I should cede my power to whoever other there is.

    "The struggle is that as an ordained person serving in a community I have been given the authority to tell the gospel truth. I'm more often than not unaware of how much my whiteness and maleness have served me well at other's expense, but in listening to the others, I'm becoming repenting.
    I've learned there's no repentance without reparation and that is a painful, necessary conviction.

    "Thanks for making me think and sharing."

    1. Thanks, Drew, for your significant comments. I especially appreciate you writing, for you are one my "youngish" Thinking Friends.

  2. This may be a bit off-subject, but your article evoked it. Thanks.

    Here are the final paragraphs of my ordination response; my public “believe that” statements:

    Let it be known today that I believe that we are all called. We are all being called day by day, moment by moment, over a lifetime. In the church I hope we learn how to “pay attention” to the call and to each other and to those not like us as well.

    Let it be known today that I believe that when God, the Power of the universe, says, “You are my people, you are to be my people,” it is not that we belong to God, as if God “owns” us; but that God belongs with us: Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” Indeed, in the story of Jesus we learn that “invited or not, God shows up.”

    Let it be known today that I believe that of us, sons and daughters of A`dam, of us, daughters and sons of the earth, of the clay; that of us, God, the Power of the universe, says, “You earthen vessels, my dwelling place is with you, I desire to belong with you.” May we pay attention.

    I remain convinced that paying attention to God’s call (what God desires of us) entails the “Divine Empathy” in which we move “out” of ourselves “into” one another and into “those not like us as well.” It is a more-than-reciprocal, a prodigal attending. When done well and appropriately it increases right-relationship (righteousness). I guess this is my language for “actively loving.”

    Like the Jesus I love, whether “invited or not” [vocatus atque non vocatus], I need to “show up” [aderit] in solidarity with “those who have been othered most severely.” In this I have often failed. I hope for forgiveness and to be turned by God’s love.

    1. Thanks much, Dick, for sharing such meaningful comments. I was very favorably impressed with the paragraphs of your "ordination response."

      I also appreciate your emphasis on solidarity with "those who have been othered most severely."

  3. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Charles Kiker in Texas.

    "Very interesting, from one old white guy to another. I think us old white guys need to be accepting, loving, encouraging etc to one another. But also to young women who have suffered emotionally, physically, sexually at the hands and mouths and thoughts of some old white guys."

    1. Thanks, Charles, and I appreciate what you said about young women. But I'm afraid that the mistreatment of young women has been common by those who weren't necessarily old (Roy Moore was in his 30s when he mistreated teens) nor white (Rep. Conyers resigned today because of sexual misconduct allegations). When it comes to the mistreatment of women, it seems to be just "guys" who are the culprits.

  4. And this from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "That sounds good to me, Leroy.

    "In Louisville some of our predominantly white churches (Broadway, Highland, Crescent Hill) are trying to love disadvantaged people in the west end of our city, who are mostly black. The west enders reciprocate and teach us a lot about loving one another, although we are slow learners."

    1. Thanks, Dr. Hinson, for your comments -- and more power to the churches you mentioned!

  5. I like the phrase "One Anothering." It contrasts well with "Othering," which happens much too easily in our world. I think it is important, though, to remember that while we are "one in Christ Jesus," we are not identical. Some are old, some are young, some are male, some are female, some are free, and even in this day day some are slaves. We need to be One Anothering all, not just those like us. Indeed, having declared myself "off-white" in a recent blog, perhaps I have more trouble relating to my fellow old white men than to other groups. Having just returned from a second visit to my new grandson, I know I am big on One Anothering with the young! It's just that when I start to talk about One Anothering with LGBT people, or immigrant people, or even native people, some people get worried that I am a threat to their interest and dividends, not to mention their favorite prejudices. I hope I am. The last thing America needs is another tax cut, especially for the rich. But that is another topic.

    1. Thanks, as always, Craig, for your comments.

      You alluded to the main point I wanted to make: "one anothering" includes agape love for all people--and the individuals or groups who have been othered the most are those who especially need to be one anothered.

  6. I'm generally skeptical of inventing new words to be applied to old social problems. The problem with new terms is that there's no history of mutually understood definition. To the extent that "one anothering" encourages peaceful acceptance of religious, cultural and social differences it appears to be a positive term.

    In the late 1960s the term "generation gap" and the saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30," were coined—words that are not as widely used today. At the time I was on the lower side of that age divide, and I understood the sentiment that created those expressions of frustration. They were gross generalizations but did carry an element of truth on issues such as the Vietnam War, sexual mores, and feminism. I've often wondered what happened to all those young activists now that the age group is now retired and generally the most conservative demographic. I believe the liberal activists were never a significant majority of that age cohort—they were only the ones grabbing the headlines.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Clif. Yes, there is always a risk in using new words/terms, but they can often help us gain fresh insights into old issues. I have not seen anything negative about the use of "one anothering."

  7. The general concept is good. I'm not sure of the caveats.

    By and large this needs to begin with and focus on people of goodwill. Those looking for trouble will always find trouble.
    May those of goodwill find the means and time to not only seek the good of fellow believers ("one another" in Christ's words), but also all people of goodwill (one's "neighbor" in Christ's words).

    1. It could well be that the term "one anothering" should be used primarily with people who share common faith in Jesus Christ, and perhaps "neighbor love" (as well as "love for enemies") should be used for those outside the circle of faith.

      But Christ's love, as I understand, cannot be limited to people of goodwill--although it should start there. It may that it is people of "badwill" because of having been severely othered who most need agape love shown to them.

    2. A good, and Biblical challenge.

      I have faced my share of ill-will. Most have (we are all others). But there are enough people of goodwill, most I would say, that if we could just build better relationships with them, the world would be a better place.

      Love your Enemy (the intentional trouble makers) is the most difficult of the commands in my mind. Many would claim that Love One Another is just as difficult, since there are such dramatic differences within Christendom and excommunication is so appealing.

  8. I really like the notion of 'One Anothering,' and I will add it to my lexicon. Thanks as always, Leroy, for introducing me to the book and a way of expressing the concept of inclusiveness in a catchy way. I also resonated some with Clif's thoughts. The rejection of 'old white men' by the upcoming generations is nothing new. I am thinking about how that was once crystallized with Carroll O'Connor's portrayal of Archie Bunker in 'All in the Family' during the 1970s. Today, we have our own version of Archie Bunker in the White House. History rhymes yet again, to borrow from John Robert Colombo's oft-quoted poem.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Greg.

      I wasn't familiar with the poem by Colombo--and was surprised to find when I tried to look it up that the words "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes" are also attributed to Mark Twain.

    2. Seems that Colombo attributed it to Mark Twain in a 1970s-esque creative poem. Twain never wrote it, but the idea was bubbling around in the American zeitgeist for at least half a century before it was crystallized in Colombo's poem...