Who Is Your Them?

I keep seeing this phenomenon in the last couple months.  There is this tendency in us to separate people into Us and Them.  Christian and Atheist.  Democrat and Republican.  Rich and getting by.  Muslim and… well… not Muslim.

Wiley Miller, years ago, wrote a wonderful little series of Non Sequitur comic strips wherein a man finds himself stranded on an island where there are two tribes.  He has the hardest time figuring out who each tribal member is referring to because both tribes refer to themselves as “Us” and the other as “Them”.  Once the amusing confusion finally clears, he asks, “So no matter where you go, you either mindlessly follow the crowd or end up an outcast?”  “Isn’t that how it works everywhere?” replies the native.  The man finds himself struck dumb and horribly disillusioned.

Now that I’ve butchered Wiley’s strips (my apologies)…

Wiley attributed the problem to a lack of critical thinking, which is certainly part of the issue.  However, I’d like to suggest there is more going on than lazy thinking.  I think our fears and the sin in us make us look for targets.  Isn’t this the Garden in some ways replaying itself over and over?  We want someone else to blame.  Who wants to step forward and say, “Yeah, I’m partially or even wholly at fault for that.”?  Or “This is a result of a complex set of circumstances that I don’t fully understand and will probably require a significant amount of time, sacrifice, and struggle to resolve,” when it’s easier to just say, “They’re making it bad, and if we just make them stop, then it will be good again!”

So we create a Them.  Paul notes that there are times to create a Them (e.g., 1 Cor 5), but he also, along with Jesus, notes that love remains the highest virtue.  If all we end up doing is reviling our Thems, then we end up missing what is more important.

And in many respects, I imagine we’re trying to give ourselves security.  We so often are afraid and look for simple solutions to that fear or someone else to take the blame for it.  What’s underneath “The country is going downhill, and it’s all the [insert political party or ideology]’s fault!”  Is there fear of the uncertain consequences beneath this?  Is there a more broad fear underneath, and this particular issue is just a means of giving the fear a name and face to point at?  Could it be that fears for our personal safety are making us lump entire groups together as enemies?

So who are your Thems?  A political party?  An ethnic group?  A social class?  What drives you to separate them off?  Is there fear or anxiety underneath?  Does enmity get in the way of seeing them as people or loving them?  Could God be calling you to see them in a different light?

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5 responses

  1. Found via tag surfer. You are absolutely right Matt. “Them” are all mirrors in some sense, reflecting back to us what we don’t want to see within ourselves. Hence, the image frightens us and we lash, not recognizing that we are attacking our self. The better response, for our own personal growth, is not to deny the reaction we have but, rather, ask the Lord “What are you trying to show me here?” If we take this practice with all of the “Them” we meet, then those people become what they were intended for: a wonderful ministry of love, by the Lord, on our behalf.

    June 11, 2011 at 7:06 am

    • I’m not sure it’s always ourselves that shows up in the mirror directly, or at least, it’s not our own selves that we attack in response. Not everyone who attacks, for instance, homosexuals has homosexual inclinations. But perhaps you’re not being that concrete.

      Regardless of whether or not it’s directly an external manifestation of ourselves that causes us to react or just something in us that’s broken, your response is right. When we react, that can be opportunity to open up in the presence of the Spirit to the fragments of sin and distortion in our hearts.

      Thanks for chiming in, Don.

      June 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm

  2. Julie Shiposh

    Good point! It is like Jesus’ teachings on Matt. 5:21-22 Matt. 5:28. Though, I am confused at why God uses the language in places in the Bible of righteous vs. unrighteous and the wise, fool and evil one. It confusing to me because it seems God labels people. But yet, in those passages in Matthew Jesus says that when we judge another for murder, we need to look at our own anger that is destructive and not just point the finger.

    June 11, 2011 at 8:39 am

    • Hi, Julie

      I think the distinction between righteous/unrighteous and wise/fool are indicative of intention of heart. We’re all fools, and we’re all unrighteous. It’s stuck in us. But with the redemptive work of the cross and the indwelling of the Spirit, we have the capacity to turn away from those things. We’re going to slip up as the sin in our hearts comes out, but for some people, there’s no intention of being otherwise.

      On another level, I think some labels are just and right. The saved and the unsaved are different categories, as are Arab and Asian, but the call is to love regardless of category. Love doesn’t always eliminate categories, but it does always transcend them.

      But yeah. Finger pointing. As the old saying goes, when you’re pointing the finger, note that there are three more pointing back at you…

      June 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm

      • Julie Shiposh

        Thanks for the reply, that helps clarify things for me. It was especially helpful for me to hear that “some labels are just and right….but the call is to love regardless.” I see what you’re saying that we all have been fools and unrighteous, but through God’s grace and redemption we have the ability to be different. Good point!

        June 15, 2011 at 8:03 am

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