By HiRho Y. Park, Director of Continuing Formation for Ministry
Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
How do people encounter otherness?
Of course, “othering” has been useful for forming national boundaries and identities. However, I define “otherness” as a point of connection within God’s creation because it completes the holistic circle of creation by mirroring the other side of revelation of God. We see the other side of God in others from their “otherness.” From this perspective, in Christian faith the very “otherness” could be a point of connection—connection to God the Creator—to the fellow sisters and brothers whom we believe are created in God’s image.
So the question arises, “How should Christians engage in ‘otherness’ as they respond to the calling to be faithful in a context where the church has to engage in the complexity of social and cultural diversity?”
When a Christian church ignores the theological and philosophical value of “otherness” within the holistic perspective of creation and humanity, “otherness” becomes the center of their ecclesiology, propelling rejection and exclusion. These practices have caused a lot of unnecessary pain, confusion, and dissention among Christians.
“Otherness” somehow offends us because it reveals what we don’t have or what we resist including within a certain periphery of our comfortableness. It shocks our system, and it pushes us to the edge of our comfort zone. In fact, it seems to me that people’s natural, first reaction to “otherness” is resistance, drawing the line, confusion, or murmuring. That does not mean that Christian responses should be the same.
A new mode of being as a church in a global context would bebuilding relationships among people; in other words, Christians are called to practice being “bridge builders.” The politics of being “bridge builders” requires an attitude of openness to learn from one another through dialogue, and a willingness to acknowledge that “otherness” is a part of God’s revelation also. By accepting that challenge, Christian “bridge builders” create a space for all people by expanding the boundaries. The ethics of “bridge builders” are expressed through the virtues of patience, listening, and respect, all fortified by love and the grace of God as Jesus demonstrated in His ministry.
This issue of WellSprings is a collection of stories about how God is working through United Methodist clergywomen to do new things by encountering “otherness.” The practice of being a bridge builder demands specific actions: God invited Godself to the world through Jesus to encounter the “otherness” of humanity. Jesus extended the boundary of God’s realm to the world by being the bridge builder, finding the very “otherness” of humanity as a point for connection. All of these clergywomen have extended themselves in specific ways to be bridge builders by encountering “otherness.”
I hope these articles will provide you with a breath of fresh air, enabling you to turn to a different side of God’s revelation.