Miroslav Volf responds to the recent killing of unarmed black men, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Exclusion takes many forms, but is marked by both a pursuit of false purity and a failure to see the other as fully human.
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Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. For more information, visit faith.yale.edu.
This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity. I'm Evan Rosa with the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
This week Miroslav Volf offers a brief response on the recent killings of unarmed black men, Ahmad Arbery and George Floyd. Ahmad was followed, shot, and killed in Georgia on February 23rd. Only after a video was released on May 5th, two and a half months later, and under nationwide social media pressure where his killer is indicted.
George Floyd was killed under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer this week on May 25th, Memorial Day. Exclusion, Miroslav has written, comes in many forms: exclusion as elimination, exclusion as assimilation, exclusion as domination, as abandonment. But in each case, he says, and deeply relevant to the sickening metaphor turned reality of a white police officer's knee on a black man's neck, they emerged from a pursuit of false purity while failing to see the other as fully human. One of the witnesses of George Floyd's death says directly to the police officer, "He is human, bro."
Recording of the witness: He's breathing right there, bro.
Evan Rosa: Miroslav writes in Exclusion & Embrace, "The rhetoric of the other's inhumanity obliges the self to practice inhumanity." Here's Miroslav.
Miroslav Volf: A kind of self-enclosed identity unporous to the other, identities that want to be pure, unsullied by anything that is different are one of the most dangerous things in the world, especially dangerous for those who are weak. And we can see examples of that clearly in the history of race relations in this country, but in many, many other places of the world. But most recently, Ahmad Aubery and George Floyd their killing embodies what happens when we close ourselves to others, when we vilify the others, when we want the world without the other.
And there's no way in which people belonging to different communities can live in peace with one another, can live in harmony with one another, unless we practice something like porous identities, have porous boundaries. Now, to have an identity, you have to have a boundary. But you can have a very hard boundary that creates internal space that is pure, that is a fortress against the others. But you can also have porous boundaries, which is open to the other, which doesn't want to give up necessarily of the character of the self, but nonetheless, doesn't see the other as a threat to identity, but as a potential enrichment.
And this is what I suggested with the idea of, with the metaphor of embrace—opening one's arm to let the other in, to let the other stay in for a while, and then release the other so that they can be themselves and we can be ourselves, but nonetheless, that we can be so as enriched by the other, as having appreciated the other. That kind of identity, I think, it's crucial in our world. It's crucial in our families, but it's crucial also in our communities. It's crucial in relations between nations. If we only insist on our own identity, our own right, our own good, we will have violence in our hands.
I think what we need to say to the victims of exclusion, to the victims of oppression, first and foremost: "I'm there with you. We're there with you. We want to take part in your struggle—struggle for justice and struggle for truth, struggle for the beloved community (to use King's language.)"
I think we have responsibility to create the cultural milieu in which the weeds of racism will not receive proper nourishment and will die out. And so I think we need to join that struggle, join protecting people from racial practices, but join also transforming the entire culture in which racism will not be allowed.
Just recently, I received an email from one of the visitors at Center for Faith & Culture, from Berlin. And he tells a story that just recently happened of a youth leader of a church who is from Mali, and who saw three guys assaulting a young woman and came to her rescue. He was stabbed and almost bled to death. That's the kind of fact that ought to be celebrated. This is doing, in some ways, God's work. This is showing that when we protect the least among us, when we protect those who are the most vulnerable among us even at our own cost that we are doing what we are called to do.
One of the ways in which exclusion operates is that we dehumanize the other person, literally think of them as subhuman. And I think the way to embrace is averse of that. Once we discover in another person their humanity, once we discovered our joint humanity, we can open ourselves up to embracing that other. Maybe the will to embrace can be born in us and we can realize that we are living below the level of our own humanity, that we're betraying our own humanity, if we do not seek to embrace the other.
And I think for us as Christians, my response must be a kind of a spirit of embrace. I remember when I was in Zagreb and I was at a book event speaking about this: the Croatian translation of Exclusion & Embrace has just been done. And I was speaking about embrace. I was speaking about the will to embrace and so forth. And throughout the whole event, there was a person in the back who was looking at me. And I was sure that after I finished speaking, he's going to come to me and talk to me. When everybody was gone, he came to me and said, "But how do I get it?" And I said, "How do you get what?" And he said, "How do I get to the will to embrace?" And I think this is really the crucial question for each one of us.
And I think the response is discovering the humanity of another. Response for us, Christians, is: seeing that other person with the eyes of Christ who has embraced the entirety of humanity, opening oneself up to the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of embrace, and let ourselves into what we sometimes deem as a dangerous zone of opening ourselves toward another person, but in fact, is incredibly rich space in which whatever we give, we will have multiple times return to ourselves
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologian, Miroslav Volf. You can follow him on Twitter @MiroslavVolf. I'm Evan Rosa, and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
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Thank you for listening and we'll be back this coming week.