Thank God for Them.
Whenever we’re in a fight, we need a clear enemy, and we need it fast.
There’s something about human nature that craves separation in times of conflict.
It’s a deep-rooted self-preservation that drives us to divide.
We so often find ourselves in the overwhelming mess of human dysfunction, and it all hits the fan like it has again this week; but instead of trying to truly understand what’s really happening before responding, rather than wrestling with the complex and the nuanced and the elusive; we simply look for an easy villain to condemn and remove.
Side-stepping the bulky, cumbersome, time-consuming tasks of wading through layers of history and culture and experience, and of uncovering the hidden heart of the current struggle, we move immediately to building the walls, drawing out the boundaries, and finding the lines with which can mark off the Good and the Bad people.
We rush to identify the clearly visible characteristics of those who will define Us, and more importantly, define Them.
You and I desperately need Them, so that we can feel justified in claiming absolute moral rightness in our position; a rightness which magically and conveniently resides on our side. (Virtue, fortunately always seems to align with Us, and never Them).
Whether we’re fighting for equality, or justice, or healing, or freedom, or solutions; having Them around helps us cope with our grief, and direct our anger, and channel our outrage.
It’s almost comforting in a way, because no matter how bad things get, no matter how jacked-up everything seems, and no matter how dizzying the days are, They never fail to give us a convenient, cozy home for our hate:
They are always the danger.
They are always the poison.
They are always the sickness.
They are always the problem.
And we use whatever we can, to help us define Them; gender, race, political party, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status. These all become the clunky, ill-fitting, easily-accessible armor we fashion when running into cultural battle.
It’s a quick, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, and They wear it so very well.
We’ll use these vague generalities and easy clichés to form the evil that we will fight ruthlessly against, even if it means ignoring the reality of the actual people caught in the middle of the fray—but we’re perfectly fine with that.
After all, in this battle, They aren’t people, anyway. They’re just the enemy.
Last week, leading-up to the Ferguson Grand Jury ruling, what my good friend Pastor Doug Hammack calls the “otherizing” of people began, (or more accurately, it simply continued). Here, as in so many of our national conflicts, (immigration reform, gay rights, racial equality, politics, religion, healthcare, gun violence), most of us had already decided the players long ago.
The Us and Them had already been crystalized in our minds, and were all stockpiling ammo; just waiting for a chance to use it.
When things started to get really ugly, we just knew They were going to mess it up, like They always do.
And since They are defined by us, They are always predictably horrifying to us.
(Funny how that works).
As a mix of human outrage and mob frenzy exploded, and as the rioting, violence, and looting, and the subsequent verbal warfare began spreading through America like a sick, toxic flood, we all began doing what we do almost instinctively; pointing the finger and decrying the horrible behavior of Them.
We called out the actions that could allow us all to say with self-righteous indignation, “See? That’s exactly what They do! That’s why I have a problem with Them! That’s why We need to keep fighting against Them!”
But who exactly are They?
Well, that’s actually part of the problem.
It turns out that what defines Them, changes depending on the battle we’re fighting at the time. No matter what the conflict, we can always manage to find a Them to rail against.
One day They are gay.
Yet these catch-all categories fail to contain or represent something as intricately designed as even one single human being, let alone the massive, invisible army of people that we’re labeling at the time—but we need to fight somebody, and so They needs to always have a name.
Making someone into Them is spiritual theft; it’s stealing their deep, rich humanity as you consider or debate them.
We’ve all done it, and we’ve all been victims of it.
You know what it feels like to be made into Them; to be summarized in a sweeping stroke, shrunken down into a tiny box based on one small aspect of who you are, and told that that’s all you are.
You know the hurt when someone takes you, in all your originality and uniqueness, and callously turns you into Them.
Our greatest mistake, is in believing that there is an Us and a Them at all.
Them, is a mirage. It’s a lie. It’s facade.
Them, as much as we wish, simply doesn’t exist.
Michael Brown is not Them.
Darren Wilson is not Them.
The police are not Them.
President Obama is not Them.
The Grand Jury is not Them.
Those who robbed stores are not Them.
Those who protested are not Them.
Those who counter protested are not Them.
Those who vote differently than you, are not Them.
Those who worship God differently than you, are not Them.
Those who love differently than you, are not Them.
Those who disagree with you, are not Them.
You are not Them.
I am not Them.
This world is inhabited by people.
The only hope we have to ever bring healing in this life, is to see those people fully; to look at them as they are alone; not as part of some convenient category that they will never fit into anyway.
Good people inhabit every kind of outer covering; those who do harm do so as well.
See people individually. It’s the only way they really exist.
Do yourself a favor. Do those around you a favor: Kiss Them goodbye.