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  • Jacob Winn

Shadows on a Wall and Humanizing the Other

IRPJ is creating a new series on this Blog featuring our students from our Certificate program by providing them with a venue to contribute short posts on topics related to religion, peace and justice. The following is the first instalment in this series.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that when people are controlled by fear, they are typically truly afraid of only a shadow on a wall. This is especially true when those who have been “othered” cast these shadows and are therefore left unknown (in any true sense) by the people who fear them. These shadows may be created by fear-mongering or by our own internal prejudices, but these shadows we see nevertheless do not represent reality.

However, as in Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, people often struggle to discern between shadows and reality. As a result of this challenge, countless people have been reduced to only shadows on a wall by many who have been gripped by fear. For example, when many Christians in the United States see a Muslim today, they do not see this person as their neighbor. They instead see a shadow that has been cast upon a wall by the media, by public paranoia, and by the viewer’s own internal biases. This inevitably prevents the authentic flourishing of compassion. At that point, peace and reconciliation become more and more difficult to attain. We cannot live out Christ’s call to love our neighbors if we are fixated upon mere shadows on a wall.

If the problem, then, is the damaging and disfiguring effect of the way people often see one another in their shadow-on-the-wall form, the solution is to make a conscious effort to avoid allowing ourselves to become fixated on those shadowy projections any longer. Jesus illustrates this brilliantly in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In telling how the Samaritan showed mercy and compassion to the injured man along the side of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, Jesus humanizes him by effectively redirecting the audience’s gaze from the Samaritan’s shadow on a wall to the true nature of the neighborly Samaritan.

God did not create shadows on walls. God created people in all their wonderful complexity and beauty. We (humankind) have created the shadows of one another that we cast on the walls of suspicion, marginalization, and fear. Therefore, let us make every effort to look not to our own creations, which propagate false images of our neighbors, but instead look to the wonderful image of God that can be seen in each and every person we meet.

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