NAMC Sermon 09202020 - The "Other" - Exodus 3:14. Ch David Little speaks of “The Other” and life in crisis or struggle in our world. Does the “Other” matter to you in your walk? Ch David takes us through history, the religions of our world, and the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in his and our search for “The Other” and the relationship that will help us in times of chaos.
NAMC The “Other”
September 20, 2020
David E. Little
When I talk about “the Other” in this sermon, know that I’m talking about our need for “the Other” – the Triune God in my Christian terms. “Other” meaning not a human being; different; a relationship that we desperately want or need ourselves. I say “Other” not out of irreverence, but from the ground up view. It’s backwards theologically, but it gives us a vantage point to say why we need God – or “the Other” in our lives. They say, “there are no atheists in a foxhole” and “we have a God-sized hole in us”: why do the proverbial “they” say that, and is it true?
The Crisis Mentality
We have been in a Crisis, and you’ve probably heard me say that enough times to politely – or not so politely – ask me to stop. But crisis or chaos brings a certain character out of human beings – whether it’s good or bad. More on that later, but in crisis people rise up or crumble beneath the weight of the world. What causes that? Well, there are a whole list of things, but mostly in America it’s because a majority of us are not in personal crisis that much; or maybe it’s because there is so much crisis, we get on overload. For those that are in crisis, we have counselors that help them through it – both psychological and spiritual, and maybe help from psychiatrists. Guess it’s a sign of the times… For those that are trained to live in crisis, it’s easier, but it’s still hard to go through the struggles that chaos brings…
Pandemic, Racial Injustice, these times
So, what about our – in the hospital or hospital community – situation? I’ve said it before in my sermons and in talking, but we are in a crisis upon crisis even upon crisis. Whether it’s patients, families, or even staff, the weight of the pandemic and the racial struggle is bearing down on all of us. Each has their own story and journey though it, but it is taxing on the mind, body, and spirit. Where do we go to get rest? To recharge? To deal with the struggle – day in and day out? Or to deal with death before we’re ready to? Death of a loved one? Sister? Spouse? Parent? Or even child or infant?
To those going through the tough times, we pray for you and our hope is that you have some “Other” to cling to, to trust, to struggle with you, and to provide hope in the disarray that you’re in… and we that are the staff of the hospital will be there with you in the chaos that you or your family and yourselves are in, this day.
Other evidence of the “Other” – Constitutions
Did you know that God or the Divine is mentioned in every state’s constitution? In all 50 states, it is referenced once, and 200 times overall. The states were in struggles at the time, trying to become a state and the baggage that came with a new land.
Think about Texas, which became a state in 1845. In 1836, we fought for our independence from Mexico, and finally got annexed into the U.S. in 1845, but it was slow going to change from Republic to statehood. One of the factors was slavery, and would Texas be a slave state or a free state. The other issue was Mexico and fights over land that brought on the Mexican-American War, which occurred in 1846. Not that God was part of the equation from God’s standpoint – though we hope and pray He is part of the equation even though we are fallen and make some errors or mistakes (like the horrendous act of slavery in Texas) – but that people in crisis thought of “the Other” in those times. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas had God in it, too.
In addition to the 116 mentions of God in the state constitutions, there are also 14 mentions of a Supreme or Sovereign Being, 7 mentions of the “Creator,” 3 mentions of “providence,” 4 mentions of “divine” and 46 instances of the word “almighty.” While there are 32 mentions of the word “Lord,” all but one refer to “the year of our Lord” and so are not direct references to God. (The U.S. Constitution also refers to “the year of our Lord.”)
The Constitution of these United States of America does not have God in it, though the Bill of Rights has religion in the 1st Amendment. It does have the Supreme Being in the Declaration, however, further stating that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the declaration, the divine is inclusive, and God is – in the writing – generic. Citizens of this country can therefore give homage to the words “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Supreme Judge,” and understand them to mean the god they worship.
Why did the U.S., during the Revolutionary War from 1775-1803, where we insurrected against the Government of Great Britain and declared our independence a year into the war July 4, 1776, give such homage to the Supreme Being? Because we were in a conflict that cost lives, property, and were in a fight for freedom.
Sept 11, 2001
We had the 19th anniversary of Sept 11, 2001, this month. Boy, the world has changed since in a number of areas! The Department of Homeland Security, the crackdown on security in airports and entrances to this country, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are just the beginning of what has become a new world.
And in crisis, talk of God – “the Other” – necessarily rose to the tops of people’s tongues and actions. It was a rock to cling to, a steadying hand, a truth that could give hope, and a sword that some wielded - with cost of lives, property, and expenses. There was an interpretation of an “Other’s” writing – Allah through the prophet Mohammed - that started the terrorist attacks, at least in some people’s view.
But certainly, it was crisis or chaos on a big scale, and “the Other” was part of the conversations. It seems when we are at a loss to explain things we see in the world; we go to God to get answers – or at least a steadying guide while we struggle.
The “Other” in religious contexts
In religious contexts, there are many names given to – what I will call – the “Other.” Even in monotheistic religions, where there is only one God, there are various names of God. This is to describe qualities of the Supreme Being, whether it’s the Jews Elohim (God), YHWH (He will be), or HaShem (השם) (the Name); or Islam’s Allah (God), Ar-Rahman .(The Entirely Merciful), Ar-Rahim (The Especially Merciful); or Hinduism’s Bhagavan (God), Brahman (Supreme Deity), or Isvara (Lord).
There are a number of monotheistic faiths: You have the Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity (which includes for this purpose Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses), Islam (which includes Sufism), Bahάi Faith, and Mandaeism. Then you have Hinduism (which includes Arya Samaj), Jainism, Sikhism, Yazidism, Zoroastrianism, and the list goes on… All have different names for their God - including Islam which has 99 names for Allah - but they reach up or out to something other than themselves.
Then, there are several polytheistic faiths, and then there are faiths like Buddhism – which is based on the 4th BCE awakened leader Buddha (a human) and Nirvana in Buddhism which is the state of liberation. By the way, Buddhism is the 4th largest religion.
In order of rank in the world, Christianity is the largest (31.2%), then Islam (24.1%), Hinduism (15.1%), and finally Buddhism (6.9%).
Biblical evidence of “the Other” or HaShem.
In religious texts like the Hebrew Bible, the Qur’an, or the Holy Bible, there is talk of God. But in the beginning, when the relationship started, introductions were necessary.
In Moses’s time, when God came to Moses and instructed him to free His people – the Chosen people – from slavery in Egypt, Moses asked His name. It’s in Exodus 3:14. Let’s look at it for a minute…
English Standard Version
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Exodus 3:14 Or I am what I am, or I will be what I will be
In Hebrew, it’s more like the footnote 2: “I will be what I will be.” Even God reveals Himself as “other” than words can relate. Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Ehyeh is the Qal imperfect version of the verb havah: "I will be."
God says to Moses: "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'Ehyeh — I will be' has sent me to you" Ehyeh by itself is God's shortened name when he speaks of himself in the first person. In contrast, when people refer to God in the third person, God taught them to say "Yahveh (or YHWH) — He will be" (not "I will be").
God is “the Other,” though reverently so, such that Jews do not say the tetragrammaton - YHWH - or Ehyeh, because of Jewish law. They say HaShem, which means “the Name” or Adonai in prayer (which means the Lord).
The “Other” in hospital settings
I have been blessed – along with Ch Mike Adams – to be a Chaplain at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, and especially during this pandemic. I have seen patients, families, and staff tired, worn-out, fatigued, and heart-broken – among other things – as the weight bears them down. Yet, I have also seen courage, teamwork, a service heart, and a strive for excellence in the midst of chaos that is remarkable. I hope you have seen it, too.
In my residency, Chaplains go through Clinical Pastoral Education, where we learn about ourselves, the hospital ministries, and being with patients, families, and staff at difficult times, and ministering to them. Lots of times, it is just being there, listening, and giving care and comfort when there are no words. Such are these times in the hospital.
What Chaplains have found out is that the literature shows that religious and spiritual beliefs support mental health, physical health, and support the actual prevention of illness. Such beliefs also provide psychological benefits and social resources across divergent religious or faith communities. For example, for hospitalized patients in the United States, 90% say they use religion or spirituality to cope with illness, while an amazing 40% say spirituality is the most important factor that keeps them going.
Studies indicate than many patients and/or families rely on spirituality to help them cope with the stress of medical crisis, surgical procedures, chronic medical illnesses, psychiatric disorders, and the end of life. Not only that, spirituality has been linked to health outcomes, patient’s quality of life, and patient satisfaction.
Patients and families want to see a chaplain to be reminded of God’s – “the Other’s” – care and presence. In fact, one study showed that 77% mentioned this as a reason for seeing a chaplain. They also wanted to provide support to their family and friends (70.7%), to be with them during times of anxiety (61.8%), and to pray or read scripture to them (61.8%).
The fact is that people in the hospital – especially patients and families – need “the Other” when they are down, out, or needing help that no mortal can give. “The Other” is not human, is different, is vertical in position, and is spiritual. The reach for “the Other” in times of need, and a hospital (unfortunately) is that kind of place, even with the best doctors, nurses, and medical staff caring for them.
Nietzsche – The other side of the issue
Now, let’s look at the other side of the issue. Do we really need “the Other” or is it just psychological games that we play to justify our existence?
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher that lived in the late 19th century. He is famed, at least in military circles, for saying or writing “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” …and there’s truth to that saying, at least in my life. Nietzsche questioned the morality of the times (based largely of Christianity and Judaism) and wrote on the subject in great length and detail.
His book, On the Genealogy of Morality, (1887) included talks of Good/Bad and Good/Evil. In those sections, Nietzsche said that the oppressed and low made “Good” the opposite of what the noble thought “Good” was: paraphrased, instead of power and might, the meek and lowly were good in the eyes of the “slave morality,” and the nobility’s good was renamed “evil.”
The noble life then, is powers like Rome, or oppressors. According to Nietzsche, the oppressed had to psychologically reverse the good/bad into good/evil so they could live with the oppression. This led to Judaism and Christianity, among other religions. The idea that “God is Dead” which Nietzsche also spoke of, is that the perfect human self is absent of God or anything outside the human, including the soul.
But oppressed people are in crisis most if not all the time. They turn to an “Other” to get them through the struggles. And rather than have enemies – which is one way to look at it (and Nietzsche’s way); when love, care, and compassion are moral virtues, human beings look to “the Other” to get them through the chaos.
Bring it to the Community
So, do you have a time when you look to “the Other”? God – whatever that looks like for you? There are times in this world – as I’ve alluded to – when people of various times and places had “the Other” or God in their conversations, writings, and actions.
That maybe when you look beyond yourself, beyond even human beings to an “other” who can bring peace to you, bring hope to you in the darkness, or be with you – even in eternity? If not now or in your past, be on the lookout for it – it seems to come to everybody at some point in their lives.
In Christianity, we have “the Body of Christ.” The body of Christ is us believers, walking on this earth, and being there for each other. Not only in a worldly sense – such as bringing meals, visiting in the hospitals, mowing lawns – the hands and feet of Christ, but in a spiritual sense, too. Whether it is praying for, being with, or comforting someone in the darkness or depression. It is this “spiritual” sense that I’m referring to – something outside yourself – something “Other.”
Unfortunately, the fact for most or all of us is that someday, life is going to get difficult. You look around, and it doesn’t look good because suffering for you or yours is in the future. Spirituality – “the Other” – is the only reality that gets you through such times, like the patients who want to see a chaplain that I’ve talked about before. It isn’t the chaplain, but what he or she represents – “the Other” – that brings peace and blessing in a time of sorrow.
It’s theologically backwards, to speak of our need for “the Other,” instead of “the Other” creating us, but it begs the question that I alluded to in the beginning: is there something there in “the Other” that we should investigate or get to know better?
So, I have a question that you get to ponder, if you’re willing. If human beings in crisis yearn for “the Other,” something spiritual to help them through when they can’t do it themselves, doesn’t that beg the question: Is there an “Other”? And if there is, why not get to know “the Other” before the crisis or struggle? Just a question, but the answer could change your life and the people around you.