Pentecost, Othering, and the Kingdom of God

The other day I was sitting in a meeting where we were talking about how the hot new word in academic circles is "Othering." First, we had other. Then we had Other, capital O. Now we have Othering.

I expressed my dislike of the term. Mainly on aesthetic grounds. I don't like the sound of it. However, I do get what the term is doing and find value in its attempt to name, succinctly, a sinful dynamic: The process of turning a fellow human being into something foreign, alien, strange, and "not one of us." In a single word, Othering names what I consider to be the root cause of sin.

It's Othering that makes it so hard to be a part of a group. Any group. Even if the group is completely arbitrary. Consider the psychological research where participants come into the laboratory and are assigned to one of two groups by the flip of a coin. Later in the experiment the participants are asked to allocate rewards and punishments in a game/task to their fellow participants. Time after time, participants show favoritism toward their own group. This knowing full well that their group was formed by the flip of a coin! Think on that. Othering needs nothing more than a flip of a coin to begin doing its work. Now imagine how Othering scales up if we start thinking about skin color, language differences, and the love of God and Country.

Today is Pentecost, the celebration of the events in Acts 2, when God poured out his Spirit upon humanity as a sign of the inbreaking of the Kingdom. But what does this mean? What is the sign of signs that marks this "Kingdom of God"?

I'd suggest this: The Kingdom is marked by its assault on Othering. Where Othering has vanished the Kingdom has come.

Consider how Pentecost echos back to the primordial story of the Tower of Babel, where human hubris (in a tale similar to many Greek myths of humans-seeking-to-be-gods) is thwarted by God in the creation of the language barriers between the nations:

Genesis 11.1-8
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
But God doesn't leave humanity in this condition where Othering flourishes. God's plan is to pull humans back into solidarity but, this time, in a redeemed state, under the Lordship of the Lamb. Thus, in Pentecost, as you all well know, the confusion and curse of Babel--and the sins of Othering--are reversed in the Kingdom:
Acts 2.1-24, 36
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
And the event of Pentecost--reexperienced every day as the Spirit continues to prompt Christian communities to overcome Othering in their midst: personally, locally, nationally, and internationally--is a foretaste of a greater eschatological culmination:
Revelation 7.9-12
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

Have a blessed Pentecost.

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