The Other is a Gift
Bonnie A. Perry
Last I preached, you may recall it was just a few days after 49 people were murdered in the Pulse Night club massacre. That morning I compared what was happening in our country to a tornado with multiple vortices, a tornado of hatred, violence, terror, xenophobia, and religious superiority, coupled with an inept congress and the American public's passive acceptance of the National Rifle Association's apparent belief that the second amendment can continue to slaughter the first.
Not much time went by and then Alton Sterling was killed, then Philando Castile was killed. Then Dallas Police officers: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa were killed, and then Nice. 84 people killed, 200 people wounded, 26 of whom are still in critical condition after having been run over by a truck, driven by a man with a history of violence, a possibility of mental illness and a recent embrace of radical Islam.
The world now appears to be a tornado, wrapped in a hurricane, all taking place during an earthquake.
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Some might say that political scientist Samuel P Huntington, anticipated the international portion of this earthquake in his 1993 Foreign Affairs essay, The Coming Clash of Civilizations. In this piece Huntington anticipates a clash between Western civilization and Islamic civilization. He predicts in 1993 a "re-islamization" of the Middle East and an inevitable clash of viewpoints, saying,
"Different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man [sic]; the citizen and the state; parents and children; liberty and authority; and equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries and they will not soon disappear.
Is it a clash between radical Islam and Western values that explain the killings in Nice, Paris, Orlando and San Bernardino? If this then is the case, is there then hope? Where then is God? God of compassion, mercy, and love?
Or are we doomed to be hapless victims on the periphery and in the center of this cultural crossfire? Enter the patriarch Abraham, some 5000 years ago sitting at the entrance of his tent, hiding from the heat of the day, when 3 travellers appear.
Seriously, the world is spinning out of control, foundations are faltering beneath our feet and now its time for a bible story of strangers visiting, welcomes extended, cakes baked, water proffered and absurd promises made.
Abraham, from a place we now call Iraq, hearing God's call and living in a place we now call Israel, offering water, cakes to strangers how happen by from God knows where.
Strangers who say, in nine months time when they return your wife Sarah (who is in her 90s) shall have a son. This absurd prediction, layered atop previous promises of Abraham having descendants as numerous as the stars is, as it can only be, it is laughable. Sarah, overhearing the strangers' words, Sarah who has left her family, friends, and homeland, Sarah who has put up with her husband wanting to follow this call, Sarah does what she can. She laughs. She, as she mixes and kneads the flour and water into dough, laughs and laughs. "I have grown old, my husband too. Now I shall have pleasure? Oh indeed, I will bear a son."
The visitor hearing the baker of his bread, cackle in the corner, said to Abraham: "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"
This then, friends, is the question of our lives. "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"
Can the impossible become possible? Can the unlikely become probable? Can our world change? The killings stop? The terror end?
The stranger angels, the messengers of God, ask us down through the ages what they asked Abraham as Sarah laughed, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"
Or are we as Parker Palmer once said, functional atheists, mouthing the words but believing little to nothing will actually change for us?
Can there not be something more? "My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God. My God, my rock and my salvation, my craig and my stronghold to keep me safe.
Weeping may linger at night, but joy, Joy comes in the morning.
As Biblical Theologian, Walter Brueggemann says, "Abraham and Sarah are models of disbelief. They have become accustomed to their barrenness. For them hopelessness is normal. So when faced with a strangers' prediction that in less than a year she will bear a son, all they can do is laugh at the absurdity of the promise. Brueggemann says, the promise of God outdistances their ability to believe it (p 159 Genesis Commentary).
Yet it is what happens. For God does not promise in vain and God does not leave us to perish.
Abraham and Sarah needed to leave their home, relinquish the world they had known and travel to a distant land, encountering unfamiliar customs and people. But God's promise was fulfilled.
For us too—God has promised from the beginning to time to be with us always. God's promise and presence has not ended. Though we find ourselves journeying through this valley of the shadow of death, God is with us still.
In his book, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggeman, points out that University of Chicago scholar Martha Nussbaum has written a book that answers and in many ways refutes Huntington's thesis on an inevitable clash of civilizations. While studying the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India, she found not a clash of civilizations, but rather a clash of two different types of people. She writes, "The real clash of civilizations' is not 'out there' between admirable Westerners and Muslim zealots. It is here, within each person as we oscillate uneasily between self-protective aggression and the ability to live in the world with others. (Pp 144-145 The Practice of Prophetic Imagination).
He continues, "the world everywhere is being reshaped, from homogeneous, white male dominated, straight society to something that is people by others who do not fit into those neat categories."
Our role as people of faith, people who can hear God's promise of something more, "is to process this clash within and to legitimate the gift of the other as a gift from God." (Brueggemann p 145).
The other, is not other, the other, each and every one of us is made in God's image and likeness. Holy are we, Holy are they. What can we do? Be people of faith and immerse ourselves, push ourselves, to go beyond ourselves.
The other is a gift from our God. As it was to Abraham as it is now. A promise given.