experiencing the other

I’m going to begin touching on topics (or beliefs or doctrines) I have personally wrestled with, or am still wrestling through. This is not a theological examination; I am not a trained theologian or pastor or biblical scholar. Nor are solutions and answers presented. My aim is to stir questions, propel reflection, and honor experience. Each individual is responsible for their own conclusions, according to their own conscience, before their own God.

I simply want to put into words what many others from similar Christian or spiritual backgrounds are thinking, feeling, and experiencing, but can’t or don’t want to verbalize (whether in fear or suppression, or not knowing where or how to start). I understand the contention and emotion and controversy and debate over some of the topics I may discuss. But if we all maintain open hearts and minds, allow ourselves to see other perspectives, accept other human experiences, and attempt to walk in another’s shoes, we can disagree with an attitude of empathy and compassion, without personal compromise.

Again, this is not an attempt to answer, only to perpetuate the question. I approach these topics from an experiential space more than a theological one. Not to mention with a little hesitation. 

My undergraduate degree is in anthropology. I never got a job within it (unsurprisingly) but certain principles and takeaways have remained. In cultural anthropology there is something called ethnography, when an anthropologist enters, researches, and writes about a specific culture or subculture. In this discipline the observer does their best to enter the world of the other(s) and become “native”—or, one of them; to learn their cultural language and understand their way of life. While acknowledging the inherent bias and subjectivity of all humans (we bring everything to the table), the ethnographer does their best to be an objective observer without making moral judgments (of course, there are exceptions). The goal is to enter, to see, to understand, to walk in another’s shoes, not in order to make ethical or moral claims, but to realize another way of life, attempting to see the world through other eyes.

This is what I want to do: attempt to see these various topics and issues (mostly Christian or spiritual) through the eyes of others; to identify with their experience without judgment; to walk in their shoes without making moral claims about where they’re at or where they’re headed. This is the job of the anthropologist. And, more broadly, it presents a challenge to all of us, especially the religious who, instead of seeking to enter into another’s experience, often attempt to bring someone into their own experience (the “truth”). We could learn a thing or two from social scientists, no matter how “secular” and “humanist” they tend to be labeled.

Though the approach tries to be anthropological, most of the experiences and questions are my own. I owe thanks to those who have given me safe spaces in which to voice them. 

I wonder if the words of Jesus apply here. Instead of walking one mile when asked by the other, we walk two. We go further than is comfortable in our effort to honor and understand the stranger, enemy, or unknown—another way of being. Perhaps even to understand ourselves.

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