If being neighborly means crossing the street, then we must ask ourselves what streets are we willing to cross. And for whom? And for what purpose?
As a child I witnessed how the forced busing mandate further segregated people in spite of itself. Instead of helping to end racial segregation in public schools, by bridging the gap between the different ethnic races through education, the mandate forced many people to push their racist beliefs further inside where their hatred percolated and festered.
The Supreme Courts ruling that allowed all children to have a equal shot at a quality education is a good thing. However, some did not agree. Issue after issue that are weighed out in the high court have been used repeatedly in my lifetime to divide this country further.
As a result, our social circles become more closed off. We don't just secretly fear people who are different than us, but we begin to hate them. It is often a hate that grows from the inside out, and more often than not results in violently acting upon the fear and hate.
When we separate ourselves, we are not crossing the street. We are not getting to know the people around us. We are not being neighborly.
I believe we have enough separation in this world. Between gay and straight, republican and democrat, black and Hispanic, Muslim and Jew, free and imprisoned, the rich and poor, sick and healthy, and even between Catholics and Protestants. We are divided by age, gender, intelligence, social status, education, residency, and so on. The lists of groups is endless, but the bridge is still the same. Unfinished, under construction, or even unknown. Because of this separation, we tend to overlook the simple truth that we are all children of God, having been made in God's image. As such we all share the same blessings as well as the same judgment. At its roots is love, compassion, and peace.
We need to cross the road, step over to the other side from time to time in order to understand how to be more neighborly, more compassionate, more just, more gentle, and less violent, hateful, and ignorant.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us who our neighbor is. He also teaches us what we must do to be neighborly. We must love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), we must not judge our neighbor less we bring on judgment ourselves (Matthew 7:1), we must care for them, feed them, give them drink, visit them when they are imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). As the Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia, "Am I trying to win the approval of men, or of God?... If I were trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)
Take the time to cross the road today. If you need to build a bridge to do, don't wait. Just build it. Close the gap by opening your heart, your mind, and you hands to someone new today. Who knows, the favor might be returned to you.
The better we are at embracing our neighbors, the better we will be at truly understanding ourselves.
Many of us live our lives in a kind of community. We live in neighborhoods and apartment buildings. We work in offices or commune in classrooms. We have social communities, religious communities, and of course familial communities.
We know who our neighbors are, and for the most part we even know many by name. But what do we really know about them? And how would you describe them? After the events of September 11, 2001 many people began to shut their windows and lock their doors to the outside world. Many began to divert their eyes from strangers, preferring to keep to themselves, while at the same time keeping a close watch on anyone who might seem different than them.
I was guilty of this at times. I too began to look at people with suspicious eyes. Especially those who "looked" like they were of Middle Eastern descent. As security at airports intensified, I began to blame anyone who looked "brown skinned" for the pain and suffering I had to endure by taking off my shoes before I could go through the metal detector.
I recall a Latino remarking to a friend that he was not only accused of being an illegal alien but now people thought he might be "one of those terrorist." Here was a man who had personally understood discrimination, who had felt the burning gaze of police and citizens alike, and he himself could not see his neighbor as anything but a threat to his way of life.
The current plight of the thousands of people (many whom are small children) who seek refuge in a country like the United States is difficult to balance. On one hand they need refuge and safety. On the other hand, we need our rules and regulations to be safeguarded to protect our citizens from people who seek to inflict real damage and harm.
But as political lines are drawn and as peoples lives are being further disrupted, I cannot help but to think of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-36).
The story begins by answering the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Is it the person lying in the street, beaten, robbed and barely alive? Or is it the priest who, because of religious purity laws and fear, pass by the wounded man? Or is it the wounded man's enemy, a dirty untrustworthy Samaritan, who not only risks his own ifs to save the guy, but also takes on the financial burden to ensure the man recovers from the violence that had been afflicted upon him?
The neighbor, as Jesus makes clear, is not the first two but the latter. He is the one who has crossed the road, "bandaged His wounds, pouring oil and wine on them...lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him."
Who are we crossing the street to care for? Who are we going out of our way to meet? Who are we helping when no one else will? What laws can we overlook to in our lives to protect and care for those who are dying on the side of the road?
Who is your neighbor? Henri Nouwen writes, "My neighbor is the one who crosses the road for me."
From the blog of Scott Colglazer, senior pastor of First Congregational Church Los Angeles, addressing his point of view on the immigration issue:
There has been a lot going on in the news about the aliens who soujoirn in our country. In spite of what the bible clearly states(i.e. to care for the poor, feed the hungry, etc) many Christians tend to contradict God's commands by protesting against welcoming the stranger on our land.
This was a daily devotional sent to me today that is just one of the many scriptural reminders of caring for all, especially the unwanted refugee, or illegal alien.
He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him. (Psalms 72:12-14 NLT)
God cares for the needy, the afflicted, and the weak because they are precious to him. If God feels so strongly about these needy ones and loves them so deeply, how can we ignore their plight? Examine what you are doing to reach out with God's love. Are you ignoring their plight or are you meeting their needs?
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”