“You will always be gadjo*,” the Roma pastor said to us, smiling, meant partly in jest and partly in seriousness.
I felt something rise up in me…a resistance…a protest…and a feeling of rejection.
“Well, yes, ” I thought, “Yes…and…no.”
Of course I will always be an outsider to Roma culture; in fact, sometimes I consider myself a double outsider because I am constantly interacting with two cultures—Croatian and Roma. I will never be Croatian, I will never be Roma. I will always be an American.
I have a theological problem with what the pastor said, because I knew that he was not just necessarily meaning on the ethnic-cultural level; the implications, when you know the history between Roma and non-Roma in Eastern Europe, go much deeper than this.
Because although I am an outsider, and will always be so, I am also very much an insider in terms of our most essential identities being children of God. And given the multitude of problems that exist between various cultures and ethnicities worldwide, it is here we need to focus—because it is here our prophetic voice can perhaps be heard with the most dissonant clang.
But perhaps this is easy for me to claim, given that I am coming from the West..from America, which bears all the unfortunate associations of self-imposing power and wealth.
“Yes, yes, we are children of God FIRST,” I can claim.
But what does it look like from the other position, when you are not consciously or unconsciously nestled in structures of power?
And is my simple utterance of this more of a naive Americanism more than anything else?
Lately I am hard at work on a piece of writing in which I argue that reconciliation and unity between Roma and gadjo is the heart of God’s mission in Eastern Europe.
There is a reason that Paul uses the word ‘enmity’ when he is talking about the walls between humans, although of course he is specifically talking about Jews and Gentiles. We humans tend to view the ‘other’ with suspicion, hostility, and judgement, particularly when there is a centuries-old foundation that forms the archetype for such attitudes.
But it was in his flesh and through the cross that he put to death the enmity, establishing peace between groups.
Transformed relationships are the flowering of the gospel; unity is how others will understand God’s love.
How then can we continue to view the ‘other’—even while respecting and enjoying their particular cultures—first and foremost through the lens of nation and ethnicity?
I am open to any thoughts or challenges on this…
*Gadjo is word for being non-Roma