"i'm not like those people"

I love what “but God says…” stirred up! Here’s the second installment of three phrases that really bug me for all kinds of reasons beyond just nitpicking-ness.

Years ago when I first started in healing ministry, one of the biggest obstacles I encountered wasn’t within the groups I was in or led. Those were easy; sure, the amount of pain and honesty and struggle in the room was hard but the people in them were so beautiful and brave that it far outweighed it. The push I got was always from people outside of the group–leaders, pastors, others who didn’t identify with “the hurting people” within the group.

They would say things like, “I just don’t have pain in my life” or “I already dealt with that” or “Honestly, Kathy, I’m just not like ‘those people.'”

Those people?

Those people?!?!

Yes, “those people.”

This obstacle hasn’t gone away in over 20 years of being involved in groups and spaces and places centered on honesty and real-life-together. It is still one of the most common things that so-called “regular” church people say about “other-than-them” people.

Argh, all of the quotation marks make me crazy.

People, we are those people!

This divide between the healthy and the sick, the together and the not put-together, the broken and the whole, the socially acceptable and the awkward, the pretty-&-popular and the not-so-pretty-&-popular, the strong and the weak, the _____ and the ______ is so pervasive in so many church circles that honestly, we are just used to it.

It’s a part of our spoken and unspoken language.

We separate, we divide, we find all the ways we aren’t like someone else and do what we can to stick with what are comfortable with.

We don’t only see it in recovery-and-not-in-recovery circles where a lot of my experience has been; it’s pervasive in conversations about immigrants and refugees and the mentally ill and #blacklivesmatter and political positions and theological convictions and a whole host of other people not-like-us.

It’s a travesty.

And exactly what Jesus was railing against all those years ago (and what continues to wreak so much havoc in the wider world still).

He kept trying to tell the religious people–“you are just like ‘those people.'”

In fact, you’re actually worse because you don’t think you are those people and believe you are better than them.

I’ve written so much about this in Down We Go, and continually draw back on what my dear friend Ken Loyd always says–“there is no us and them, there’s only us.”

There is no “those people.” There’s only “us people.”

This goes both ways–not just to people who think we are “better” than others (and somehow above), but also to those who think we are “worse” than others (and somehow below).

Oh believe me, as I write this, I am so guilty of it, too; my trouble isn’t so much with really hurting & struggling people but more with religious people. They tend to be my “those people.”

So I also am busted by my annoying phrase for today and am reminded, yet again, that there is no “those people” but there’s only “us people.”

This basic thought would change the church.

This basic thought would change the world.

This basic thought would change our hearts.

But oh, it is so hard to do, to grasp, to internalize, to live from, mainly because we are so filled with fear of “the other” and do not like to be uncomfortable.

And people not-like-us make us uncomfortable.

One of the reasons I love recovery & healing groups so much is that all those walls get broken down when we’re all together centered on transformation and trying to get to the core of why it’s so hard to love and be loved.  And we discover that’s what we all have in common.

We all want to love and be loved–no matter our background, our experience, our situation, our problems, our education level, our theological knowledge, our paycheck, our _________.

My hope, my heart, my-go-crazy-and-stand-on-tables-passion, is that we could keep working on breaking down the walls that divide us and let God work in our lives to see that there is no such thing as “those people.”

That we would give up our addiction to kings & inspiration and start working on placing ourselves in situations and relationships that make us uncomfortable (because that’s where the magic happens).

That churches and groups wouldn’t be so homogenous.

That we wouldn’t see the healthy and the sick as separate.

That we’d gather around our common desire to love and be loved and not around who knows what, believes what, earns what, looks-or-sounds-like what.

That we would connect more deeply in relationship with someone not-like-us instead of thinking we have nothing in common.

That we would take “those people” out of not just the vocabulary of our words but also in the vocabulary of our hearts.

I know I want to keep working on this one for sure.

What do you think about this phrase, “I’m not like those people?

//

ps: one more after this, one of my all-time-nails-on-a-chalkboard-phrases–“We want more meat.”

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

12 Comments

  • Oh wow. I often find myself talking about going to the fringe of society and helping people who are vulnerable. Just like Jesus did. Then this weekend I found myself supporting a mother who was losing her unborn child. She was definitely falling through the cracks of society. What I would consider “the fringe”. It struck me how meaningful and hard our time was together. How bridging that gap was so essential for dignity, hope, love to prevail in both of us. That experience tore down some barriers for me that I didn’t realize existed. I always talked about being drawn to people on the fringe. And, I suppose I am drawn to vulnerable people. But, in the end, maybe I’m just drawn to people? Those things that I thought qualified me to reach out to those people on the “fringe” of society actually were the very things keeping me from really going there and loving in the spirit of “there is only us”. Loved this post! Thanks Kathy <3

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  • It seems “I am not like those people…” creates a duality within ourselves where it is almost impossible to love. I am learning to see similarities instead of differences. We are more connected than we realize and everyone has gifts, value, beauty, and mystery to them if we look closely and listen deeper. “I am not like those people…” statements break down our unity together, making community impossible, destroys any collaboration, and makes us expressions of judgment over love, humility, and compassion. This creates a divided life within ourselves where we become fragmented and can’t listen to God through the world we live in. Looking forward to November Kathy! Always appreciate your thoughts!

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  • This is wonderful. I have found that being a “church member” is a lot harder than I think it should be.

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    • yeah, i am so with you. it shouldn’t be hard in the ways it is hard…and what is thought of as “crazy” or “radical” shouldn’t be. it should be a natural part of our lives as followers. the staying-comfortable thing really bugs me 🙂

      Reply
  • I am one of “those people.” So are all of us. To someone we are all one of “those people.”

    We’re afraid of “those people.” We imagine them inferior to us in some way. Then we relieve ourselves of any need to interact with them, to care about them, to love them. It’s o.k. to make them “less than.” We’re morally superior, richer, smarter, better looking, or better in some way.

    Did not God take on human flesh to not only show us himself, but also to show us his love for all of us? If so, there are no “those people.” There’s only “us.”

    (Pardon the gender-referenced pronoun to a being who in one way of understanding has no gender, or in another way of understanding includes the characteristics of both genders.)

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    • i am the same way as you, sometimes i say “he” but i never mean it in an exclusive sense, either. thanks for sharing. i always love your thoughts.

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  • I don’t think I will ever understand why some people want to huddle together under the fat middle of the bell curve to the exclusion of the thin outer extremes which are so much more exciting, vulnerable, real, and deep. Sure. Let’s huddle in the middle for a bit to assure ourselves that we are somewhat “normal” in some ways, but then let’s head out into the hinterlands … to shine our light in the dark recesses … those places in dire need of hope, of assurance, of faithful love, And, as I discovered (once again!) today, my shining of a loving gesture toward a friend in grief reflected back illuminating my own … which I had been ignoring. My empathy for her losses and emptiness revealed some gaping holes in my soul. And we will work together on filling them with hope. Hope which will emerge when the time is right, spreading its wings becoming a dream fulfilled. In her brokenness she revealed my own. We can live with that — and I fully intend both the temporal and eternal meanings of that phrase.

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  • Great article again, Kathy! You are one of “those people” I envy in that while I can have the same observations and general thoughts on things such as this, I just can’t put it down in such a flowing, interesting way (or only by working on it longer than I’m willing to!) However…. I’m not feeling inferior 🙂 … Yes, there is only “one of us”… “those people” (others) is a damned illusion and subconsciously we know it, resist it.

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  • Love this! I am proud to one of “those people”. The name people whisper during prayer meetings… “poor dear she has lost her way. Let’s pray her back to salvation…”

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