I Have Met The Stranger, and He Is Me

By Peter Rollins 5-01-2012

To believe is easy. You can fill stadiums with people wanting to believe, either to solidify what they already think or to grasp hold of something because they feel cast adrift and lost at sea.

To doubt, to interrogate your fear, to really question what you believe, that’s difficult. It’s difficult because we want to protect ourselves from doubt and unknowing. Indeed when we encounter somebody who is different from us, our first experience is often to see them as monstrous, as having beliefs and practices which are alien and stranger and historical and contingent. When we encounter them we either want to consume them, make them part of our social body, or we want to vomit them and get rid of them. Or perhaps we want to have some sort of interfaith dialogue where we can talk about where we agree.

In each of these experiences we seek to minimize our encounter with the other. We seek to domesticate them. In the first, I’m right and they’re wrong, and I want to make them into a version of me. In the second, I’m right and they’re wrong, and I want to get rid of them. In the third, we’re both right.

But in the genuine encounter with the other, we start to see ourselves through their eyes, and instead of seeing their beliefs as monstrous, we start to see our beliefs as monstrous. We see our beliefs as contingent, and historical, and alien, not just to them but to ourselves.

It is in this experience, when our beliefs begin to fracture and fall apart and our political, religious, and cultural narratives begin to fracture that we know what it is to experience a type of crucifixion. For the cross was a symbol of curse. The person was killed outside the city. They weren’t part of the political structure. They were no longer part of the cultural system. They were no longer protected by the religious leaders. They were the complete outsider. They were crucified naked and alone.

When we experience the loss of our beliefs, when we experience the breakdown of our narratives, it’s not there where we lose God, it’s there where we stand side by side with Christ.

Peter Rollins is a widely sought after writer, lecturer, storyteller and public speaker. He is also the founder of ikon, a faith group that has gained an international reputation for blending live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection to create what they call "transformance art."He is currently a research associate with the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College, Dublin and is the author of the much talked about How (Not) to Speak of God. His most recent work is Insurrection: To Believe is Human to Doubt, Divine. Peter was born in Belfast but currently resides in Greenwich, Conn., and is employed by The Olson Foundation.

Transcription by Ryan Pugh

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