Un-Othering Our Systems

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago the first thing I said to myself was, “the girls have to go.” I reasoned, “The girls have to be cut off because this disease is nothing to play with. If I remove a lump, it might come back worse.  If I remove just the affected breast, it might come back in the other just about the time I get healed up.  If we don’t get all of it out now, it will spread to every system in my body.” I continued in my conversation with myself (in my “oh hellllll NO!” voice) “I know I don’t have the energy for that, I’ve got more important things to do!”

So, I made my decisions easier for others by being slightly irreverent and comedic about my situation, trusting that God would carry me. I joked in all seriousness to the doctor, “These girls have nursed 5 babies, they’ve done their duty, so take them off, take them both off and give me a new set right up under my collarbones.”

I understood the science of biological systems and was certain from the moment I got the news that if I didn’t get rid of them, they’d get rid of me.

What is true in the natural world is often prophetically representative of the theoretical world of organizations, communities, institutions, and systems created by humans.  

Medical science can trace some cancers to a genetic propensity, or a “mutation” of normal cells, biological processes.  In other cases, cancers can be traced to toxic substances that were introduced to one’s environment, like agent orange, sprayed by the US military in Viet Nam war, or in another known instance, lead in the drinking water in Flint, MI. 

Whether biological process or human inventions, most things and people operate in systems, not independently. If one part gets sick (or broken), it causes strain and dysfunction on other parts. All things work together be they organs or city infrastructures.  This is the essence of “systems theory.” We built systems as we built a nation.  We created systems that favored some people (white males) with protections, profits, and power.  Those systems also disadvantaged some people with vulnerability, servitude, and powerlessness (black people, other people of color, and women); the “others.”

Some folks would have us believe there is no such thing as organized systems that are problematic in our nation, states, or local communities, but that rational flies in the face of the evidence presented by the natural world, science, and common sense.

Othering is a malignancy that cannot be ignored in our systems. We need a national double mastectomy of sorts.

Let us start with removal.  Before we can reconstruct anything healthy and life sustaining for all, we must first submit ourselves to the radical deconstruction of anything that has been touched by the cancer of racism or dehumanization of Creator God’s Image Bearers. 

To get radically serious about our recovery, we should remove every politician and CEO and pastor that is not actively anti-racist and humanity affirming. Profitability and humanity are not the same.  Profitability based on othering comes at the expense of humanity and is a systemic cancer that is killing the most vulnerable Image Bearers.

Our national cancer has metastasized, and the past few years have been the “MRI” that has shown us just how much it has spread. From before the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery to the recent murder of Tyre Nichols, we have seen our national, state, or local leaders and systems either ignore the obvious, or wake up, speak up, and stand up.

We can begin “un-othering” by seeing, listening, and removing those who insist on ignoring their cancer. We can’t unsee the evidence of our collective condition or the individuals who have power to choose life for everyone. We see it.  We see you.

However, it seems we are at a moment in time that new folks are rising. The un-othering has begun. They have been growing quietly and invisibly as we have watched the tragedies, while something redemptive has begun as historically “othered” people have run and won many offices, taken many jobs, leadership roles, and microphones. Even when they did not “win,” their voices were heard, and got us all thinking a little differently. The mere hearing of historically muted voices has created a collective cognitive dissonance that cannot be dismissed.  

My dear friends, do not lose hope.  Instead, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he send forth laborers into the harvest, for the harvest is great, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:38). I submit that YOU are part of the un-othering, part of the harvest.  You are a vital part of our reconstruction as a nation, as states, counties, townships, school boards, classrooms, non-profits, denominations, businesses, and families, YOU are our hope. 

I challenge you to ask our Creator to show you how to be the strongest laborer you were created to be right where you are.  Ask Creator to send YOU into the harvest, no matter your age, education, or profession, God can use you to minister grace through the pain of the radical removal of cancerous policies, laws, and leaders and to set us on a new, solid foundation. 

If we shrink back in fear, we will remain isolated as a nation of others. You and I are the laborers God is calling to be change agents and to “un-other” our churches, communities, schools, and nation.

Get started by learning how to “un-other” your church, with my book, “Loving Our Neighbors” available on Amazon.

By Doc Courage

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