I grew up in the north side suburbs of Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s. Back then, when I was a grade schooler, there were two religions most of the children claimed to be, Jewish and Catholic. The only real difference between us was that the Jewish kids went to Hebrew school after school and the Catholic kids went to Catechism classes. We worked together in the classroom, ate lunch together, and played together out at recess. It didn’t matter to anyone that the Catholic kids ate tuna sandwiches on Fridays or that the Jewish kids brought PB&J on Matzoh crackers during the weeks of Passover.
By the time I went to college, however, it seemed like students of different religions became divided into sterotypes. Some of the stereotypes I heard were, “Christians think Jews are going to hell,” “Catholics aren’t Christians,” “Jewish people are stingy and greedy,” “That other group is a cult.”
Today in 2011, our children eat lunch and play on the playground with a much more diverse and pluralistic group of classmates than I had. As our children grow up in today’s culture, how do we free them from growing into young adults who stereotype or “otherise?”
Elizabeth Lesser, author of “Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow” suggests starting with lunch. She says, “Otherising is the dangerous act of turning someone into the enemy just because he or she looks different, prays different, speaks different, or thinks different. Some of history’s most tragic events – wars, genocides, terorist acts – began with ordinary people demonizing other ordinary people.” She continues, “First, think of a person you may be otherising – maybe a woman from a different side of the abortion debate or your brother who doesn’t believe in global warming. Next tell that person you’d like to understand him or her better. Ask if they would like to do the same with you. Agree to these ground rules: Be curtious, conversational, and real. Don’t persuade or interrupt. Listen, listen, listen. “
“Will the Heavens open and ‘We Are the World’ start playing over the restaurant’s sound system? Doubtful. But in the lunches I have shared,” she says, “I have grown in compasson and patience…perhaps if enough of us take each other to lunch, we can give our country the civility makover it needs.”
So my challenge for myself this week is to have lunch or coffee with someone who I might have the tendancy to “otherise.” I hope in this encounter I can relive those days in the grade school lunch room. I invite you to join me this week in this living enactment of prayer.
– Pastor Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer