Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Place of Shame

I have been struggling for some time with the issue of sameness and difference, In an e-mail about a year ago, I suggested that trying to ignore cultural differences might be one stage in a process of assimilation and, perhaps, the assertion of hegemony. If we are all the same, the sameness must be the sameness of the dominant culture.  But on the other hand, we are the same, we are all human, molded by cultures that, in spite of many important differences, are alike in defining themselves in rivalry with other cultures, in seeing reality as “us against them.”

It is that rivalry which, at its worst, leads to scapegoating and genocide, Ignoring our common humanity, the Other becomes the target of our hatred, the one on whom we project all the nasty bits of ourselves that we are unwilling to acknowledge. We begin to suspect that the presence of the Other is the reason why life isn’t perfect.  If only we could get rid of the Other, life would return to the way it used to be, the way it was always meant to me.

We see signs of this in the growing xenophobia in this country, as well as in the still dominant heterosexism. The chief cause of all our problems is the presence of immigrants, not only undocumented ones, but also those who have permission to be here and those who have become citizens. Of course, the evil Other is not every immigrant, but only those who are not like us,. The chief threat to marriage and the family is not the infidelity of married heterosexuals, but the lesbian and gay persons who have been or want to be married.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ we are offered the possibility of living without rivalry. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8) We see Jesus occupying the place of shame on the cross, freeing us forever from the power of death, freeing us to seek peace, not by driving out the Other, not by killing the Other, but by being forgiven and becoming forgiving.

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