We spout and spew through our fingertips. We belittle and ridicule, we mock and shame with a quick tap on a glowing screen. Individuals fade to fuzzy gray and meld into an amorphous anonymous unit: the Other. Names are replaced with categories, identifiers with unmistakable connotations. “Oh her? She’s a democrat. Oh him? He’s conservative. Oh them? They’re gay. She’s black. He’s Latino. Are they even from here?” Just like that, we exonerate ourselves. We need not listen to them because they are Other. We need not show respect because they are Other. We need not control our violent impulses because they are Other, and the Other is less than us.
I have been Other-ed. I have been treated as unworthy of respect and civility. I have been dismissed and had my experience questioned. So have you. But, when I am brave enough to be still, courageous enough to peer into the shadowy recesses of my heart, I see that I have done the same. I have Other-ed. I have belittled and ridiculed. I have dismissed the experience of others as invalid. I have elevated my experience over and above the experience of someone with whom I disagree, convinced that they just don’t understand reality.
At the heart of my new job is discipling emerging adults to grow in love for and obedience to Jesus. I often have difficult conversations with individuals about patterns of behavior and the fruit it is bearing, including the act of Other-ing people through social media. As I sit across from people who were once only a screen name and a thread of mean words, I am transfixed by faces. Their faces. Their eyes tell a thousand stories. The shadows and creases, the freckles, a dimple. Lines of weariness from untold burdens share the stage with smile crinkles at the edges of eyes. The Other takes on flesh, and becomes the Beloved.
We are transformed by the Grace of the Face. Labels, categories, identifiers we assign to people to keep them separate from ourselves lose their power. They are still them and I am still me. We do not become a colorless mass of sameness. But when we allow ourselves to gaze into the face of the Other, Grace floods in. We are both convicted and healed; we are extended mercy for our sin even as our own wounds are bound up in love. Confession can be made; forgiveness is extended and received.
The Grace of the Face. It is no accident that grace comes to us through skin and bones. It is not a fluke that reconciliation and healing occur through embodied encounters. God’s very self sought reconciliation with estranged creation through Incarnation, God-Become-Flesh. Grace in the Face of Jesus. God in Jesus has done it, reconciled us to himself when we were still trash-talking, fingerpointing, blame-denying, Other-rejecting rebels. Through the Grace of the holy Crucified and Resurrected face, with scars on the brow from the crown of thorns, we are being transformed.
May it be so, and may it begin in me.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18