Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on May 14, 2015


Human Geographers are interested in understanding how people occupy space together.  How do we get along?  Difficulties arise anytime people of different backgrounds (racial, ethnic, religious, financial, etc.) are called upon to share finite space, role definition becomes important pretty quickly!  Hierarchies (pecking order), equitable division of resources, friendships, enemies, etc. are all important.  What’s interesting to me is how contrast emerges as a primary means of definition when we look at these roles.  More specifically, if Gill Valentine’s general perspective is correct, in the west, pretty much everyone is held in contrast with white men.

“Black” is measured against white in gradations, the darker skin the more bad or dirty or scary or treacherous a person is.  A woman is either feminine or “manly” based on the contrast against quintessential man.  But I suppose if contrasts are going to be the main way to create definition then a fixed position is demanded.  Otherwise, otherness can’t even happen.  This seems to be a recipe for warfare at every turn.  Why must this be?  Why must my individuality rely on another to be legitimate?  I’m curious…

Is it possible for us to be simply different without an implied inferior-superior spectrum?  Can I be “Jon” without being thinner than, fatter than, shorter than, taller than, dumber than, smarter than, less important, more important?  What would our societies be like if “different” didn’t demand a superlative?

For example, gender (in my view) is a function of creation NOT volition.  If a hierarchy of importance is removed then differentness is not seen as being socially constructed… it’s just different.  Simple.  I wonder sometimes if we don’t make things complex on purpose?

And one more random thought.  I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of the body as space.  I have always thought in terms of the body providing definition of an individual that occupies space, not as space in and of itself.  This is a new concept to me, one which requires some consideration before calling “BS!”

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

14 responses to “Otherness”

  1. Travis Biglow says:


    You are on it brother. Our way of living is always about somone being better than another perosn. I agree with you about coming to grips with the body as being space. I learned a lot about how stereotypes are created and it has a lot to do with space and geography. Where you came from, where you live now and so on. Its just the finite minds of people who develop theses spaces. I thank God he fills all space! And no matter where you came from or are going God is already there!

    • Brian Yost says:

      “I thank God he fills all space! And no matter where you came from or are going God is already there!”

      I love this. Defining ourselves within God’s space makes the differences an item of beauty and celebration.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, Love your questions.

    “Why must my individuality rely on another to be legitimate?” “What would our societies be like if “different” didn’t demand a superlative?” Our differentness, otherness, scares people. Somehow we need to help the church celebrate differentness/otherness.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Nick, the matter of differentness being measured against a fixed norm implies that one thing has to be the standard, hence “better.” It is almost impossible for us westerners to think differently than this but different thinking is required if we are turn going to land at “different but equal.”


  3. Dave Young says:

    Why can’t we all just get along…. The best question for me was: “Is it possible for us to be simply different without an implied inferior-superior spectrum?” Remember in Asian theology I spoke on subordination within the divine family. That submission has nothing to do with – in your far more eloquent words: “implied inferior-superior spectrum”! It’s just simply a difference. We find it in the godhead and we find it in society. It’s our fallen-ness, or the influence of our culture that pressures us to see this as a worth- equality issue. Moreover it’s generations of taking something beautiful like – differences; and twisting the beauty into justification for abuse, that makes this such a volatile hard to embrace idea.

  4. Brian Yost says:

    Great questions. The issues raised by Valentine are resolved in very different ways when they are wrapped around the reality of God. Without God, space seems to be more of an observation. With God, we see an ultimate space that finds reality in a Kingdom.

    On the topic of body as space, your mullet and pick-up definitely make a spatial statement. : )

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Love the question, “What would our societies be like if ‘different’ didn’t demand a superlative?” I have heard it said that comparing can only lead to the sin of pride. If you compare and feel inferior it is prideful to think to little of yourself, and if you feel superior it is prideful to think so much of your self. There is something about comparing and contrasting that causes us to think and arrange things into some kind of rank and file. Comparing an contrasting in this manner seems to be in our DNA but somehow needs to be redeemed as we follow Christ. Great question and great questions of thought in this post!

  6. Dawnel Volzke says:

    After reading your post, I began to think of the ways that we occupy space with others. Speaking as a female, there is a high level of awareness about one’s body or looks and how we personally fit into our surroundings. Around the age of junior high school, most girls spend more time concerned about their appearance and fitting in with others than they do anything else. If you are too pretty, then other girls don’t want to be your friend. If you are considered ugly, then they ridicule you.

    In many churches on Sunday morning, here is what you can observe:
    – If someone visits that doesn’t look or act like others, there is often a discomfort or disapproval expressed verbally or nonverbally by either the member or the visitor.
    – If the visitor is very professional or appears wealthy, then you will likely see people being overtly friendly to them.
    – If the visitor appears poorly dressed or is wearing attire that is unpopular, they are often ignored and sometimes even treated rudely.
    -Even if the church tries to be friendly and welcoming, the visitor will often feel uncomfortable if they physically look different than the majority of those who attend the church.

    So, how would it feel to show up to church with a mullet in today’s word? My guess is that the response would be obvious!

    • Mary Pandiani says:

      Had to make a funny comment on the “someone visits that doesn’t look or act like others” – my daughter (21) dyed her hair purple apparently because it’s the new cool look that fades to gray (and I try to get rid of my gray – go figure). She brought her boyfriend to church for the first time not long after the hair change. Her boyfriend is African-American, and we attend a church that is fairly homogenous with caucasians. She thought for sure he would get all kinds of looks. But instead, she discovered she was the one everyone stared at. So I wonder what that says about our church?!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Around here in Georgia, that kind of mullet would make you the king!


  7. Mary Pandiani says:

    I love how you push back, Jon. You help me become a better critical thinker. So does our body simply occupy space or is considered space?
    Michel Foucault defines space as: “The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space…..we live inside a set of relations.” (Wikipedia). I kept thinking about my body in the way that it claws and gnaws, especially when I’m hungry 🙂

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary, I have really been thinking about whether the body IS space or OCCUPIES space… If I reflect on that question from a biblical anthropological standpoint, I would land in BEING space. Here’s my rationale… I AM a spirit (eternal in nature), I occupy a body (temporal and with boundary definition). Therefore it follows that the body IS space and can be studied through social geographic lenses. Right?


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