…a day or two into the week, I suddenly remembered how differently my mum and I like to do holidays. Let me paint a picture for you.
Day 1: I’d been asleep for 10 hours and was ploughing on to reach the magic number 12, when mum burst into my room to announce the sun was shining and it was time to get up. An hour later, I was just getting ready to sprawl out across a sun-lounger when she suggested a trip to the supermarket. Later, I’d have just got settled and she’d want to go bird watching, or for a walk to the beach, or on a trip for some postcards.
Now there are times when I am up for an adventure as much as the next person, but there are also times when I just want to be lazy. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to lie on my sun lounger and read my book! I found myself getting more and more wound up until I came across this chapter entitled Embracing the Other in the book I was reading and I was stopped in my tracks.
Why had I been getting so irritated with my mum? Because it’s at times like these that for me my mum is ‘THE OTHER’. I was in a situation where I was experiencing how different she was to me, experiencing something of ‘the other’ in her and I was choosing to reject her because of it.
Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian, is the author of the book Exclusion & Embrace. He experienced first-hand the tragedy of the Yugoslav wars back in the 90s – a battle over identity and rejection of ‘the other’ on a huge scale. Consequently, he was challenged to face this very difficult question about how we learn to embrace the other – when the other we’re talking about isn’t just a loved one who has mildly irritated us, but is an outright enemy. This is how Volf explains the journey he went on in writing the book:
“After I finished my lecture, Professor Jurgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions: ‘But can you embrace a Chetnik?’ It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian fighters called Chetnik had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a Chetnik – the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say: ‘No, I cannot – but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.’”
The Apostle Paul wrote something similar in Romans 15: “Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.”
In other words, we need to know Christ’s welcome and embrace of us. Because it is only when we have experienced the welcome and the embrace of Christ ourselves, that we can truly extend a welcome and embrace to whoever is ‘the other’ in our lives.