I often hear about 'them'. They are sometimes people with whom we disagree. We cannot understand how they could be so ignorant, or close-minded, or unintelligent, or unkind. Usually they are people with different politics than we have, or a different religion, or a different way of life. We cannot understand how they could vote that way, or believe that about God or wear those clothes. They might feel differently if they understood our views, but we really don't think they would listen to us.
Sometimes, they are people we would like to help. We know they suffer, they are poor or discriminated against, and we really do want to make the world a better place. We want to care for our neighbors, and we hate that there is this level of need in our world or our community or our neighborhood. Maybe if we reached out to them, we would be able to provide resources, or support, or programs or safe spaces, and we could make things better for them.
They are difficult to pin down. Often we must imagine who they really are, and this is hard, because we might imagine they are noble and hardworking, and we might imagine they are angry or mentally ill. We might think they are just like us and we might think they are nothing like us. We may think we could be friends, or we may believe we could never be friends. Because of the gulf between us and them, whatever it is that makes them not us.
'Who do you say that I am?' Jesus asks, and this question always challenging for those who follow him. What do we believe about Jesus, and what are we willing to find out? How close are we willing to come? Loving God and loving our neighbor means, on some level, knowing God and knowing our neighbor. Coming closer. Introducing ourselves.
I am often fascinated by how 'they' creep into conversation. They always seem to be worried we might change things, they often get their news from the wrong source or have the wrong kind of pastor. Or else they just need a break, a meal, a job, or a better deal. How do we know these things? How are we getting our information about them? However well-intentioned our views on who they are, what they believe, and what they need, how do we know these things are true?
One of the real challenges of religious life is the courage and the vulnerability to see the face of God in each other, and being willing to let others see it in us. It means, I think, worrying less about them, who they are and what they think, and more about me, who I am and what I think. And then asking you about the same things. You can tell me who you are, what you believe, what you need. I can tell you the same things about me. Together, we might change each others' lives, but we need to be close enough to tell. We need to believe that Jesus spoke the truth when he said, 'be not afraid.'
There is not really any 'they'. There is only 'us'. And the more you and I are willing to know one another, the more true it becomes. No matter what they say.