On Westgate and “my kind of people”

This is a guest post by Eileen O’Gorman, a friend, a writer & a fellow St. Louisan.

I heard about the shooting in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall last Saturday and not too long later my Kenyan friends were posting updates about their safety and the safety of those they love. I watched the updates as they came to my home in the U.S.

It was similar to what had transpired just a few days earlier when terror hit Washington D.C.’s Navy Yard. In that case I learned of it via status updates first—with requests for prayer and thanksgiving for the safety of loved ones.

Westgate Shopping MallI visited Nairobi about five years ago and have spent time in a mall like Westgate. As I learned about the attack my mind went there: six stories, clothing retailers, a large grocery store inside. I could picture it. It’s not the same as an American mall, but full of people nonetheless.

When these incidents strike in foreign lands we may consider if it is as bad for “them” as it is for “us” when we face violence and death.

Sociologist call “them” the Other with a capital O. In writing this post I am inspired by another recent article that called attention to the term “Other” as it showed a black man

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP
Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP

carrying a white child out of Westgate. Depending on where you sit, one of the people in that picture may be Other to you.

The Other, for me, at times is the multimillionaire that lives one block away (I live in a modest apartment with a nice address). Or it could be the indigenous subsidence farmer in Latin America. I am not much like either one.

When these “others” feel pain do I have empathy? We tend to only have empathy for those with whom we can identify in some way.

How deep do we—as Christians—allow “otherness” to creep into our thinking? For instance, does the plight of the church in Syria and surrounding countries call us to prayer? Or do we need to wait for our country of origin to get involved in the conflict before we “tune in”?

The apostle Paul said of the body of Christ “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” 1 Corinthians 12:26.

Speaking to Americans in particular here, a comment from my Iranian friend may help lessen our self-criticism. She once said to me, “America is a huge country. You have a whole world just within your own borders you are trying to understand.” Her grace is appreciated.

Yet Paul also wrote, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Colossians 3:11. In Christ dividing lines disappear.

Back to Westgate. Can we be honest about how we feel (or don’t feel) when tragedy strikes in a foreign land? I believe Christian maturity calls us more and more toward awareness of all kinds of suffering around the world. We are called to see beneath skin color, language, hair—curly or straight. We are called to see that—as my seminary professor would say—God is not just a God of “my kind of people.”

And what do we do as we reach such realizations? Are we suddenly in charge and in a position to solve the problems of this world that we now see? No. We are called to dependence. Dependence on the One who created our world. We are called to cry out to the Lord to save this world that we don’t understand. And to ask for clarity on our role in contributing to the common good—good that most certainly will stretch across national, ethnic, racial and political boundaries.

Since the tragedy at Westgate Kenyans and others are using the hashtag #OneKenya. Lets add a couple of hashtags to the mix: #OneChurch and #OneWorld. And let’s depend on the Lord’s grace to seek this reality.

You can reach Eileen through Twitter @eileen_clare
 

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Chris Hatch

Seeking to love God and neighbor