love your neighbor
Our church community in Salt Lake City has been going through a series titled “Love God, Love Neighbor.” We’ve been going through Jesus’ famous response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus of course turns the questions back to the man asking, “What is written in the law?” the man responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It appears the man who asks the question — described as either a lawyer or expert of religious law — does not like Jesus’ response very much and so he asks another question. “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus’ response to the question is perhaps one of the most well-known parables in the Bible: that of the Good Samaritan. But the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a question we must still wrestle with today, as distressing and upsetting as it most definitely will be.
Who is my neighbor? If we are to examine the parable of the Good Samaritan it appears that Jesus wants to make it clear that our neighbors are everyone, especially — perhaps even specifically — our enemies. So another way of asking the question is, “Who is my enemy?” When I confront the question on a personal level, I realize that even though my neighbors or enemies are perhaps atypical from the norm, I am still called to love them.
Who are my enemies? For me, it’s simple really. My enemies are politicians, Congress, rich people, Wall Street Bankers, rich Christians, and the most hated form of all: “rich, white, Christian politicians.” I jest, but it’s not too far off.
What better way to honor Nelson Mandela on his 95th birthday today than to reflect on his concept of Ubuntu? Ubuntu, a word from the Bantu languages of southern Africa — roughly translated “I am because we are” — sums up Mandela’s approach to leadership, incorporating a generous spirit and concern for the wellbeing of one’s community.
I remember the first time I met someone without papers. They were 12 or 13, like me, and pretty unremarkable and brown. I can still feel the tension between my intense curiosity about this boy and my disappointment about him. Going from “I wonder if they have feelings like us” and “he doesn’t have a green card but does he have a mother who loves him” to “he’s kind of normal” and “this is not what I expected a real-life outlaw to look like” in a few quick minutes.
As life moved on and I made more friends, I met more people who were undocumented. I met grandmothers and little children and some college kids. My relationship with this issue kept transforming, from “I can say I have a friend who’s undocumented SO I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, OK?” to “I have friends, some of whom don’t have papers, and I’d like to government to be nice to everybody.” The more undocumented immigrants I met, the less they seemed different at all.
It happened that way with abortion, too. And gay marriage. Start out with a simplistic interpretation of the Bible and a black-and-white opinion, befriend somebody at odds with that opinion, the opinion changes. Time after time. I was against women pastors —thanks to Paul and bad exegesis — until I realized that my mother had been spiritually leading people for 20 years and most of them had turned out OK.
I’m sure that if I run for president in 20 years, somebody is going to find a paper I wrote for my Biblical Interpretation class decrying the moral state of our socialized medical system, contrast that with my current view, and label me a flip-flopper. And they would be right, which would have worried me three years ago. But I’ve met some flip-floppers since then, and they’re pretty decent people. So I’m okay with that now.
To be honest, I don’t really trust people who have had the same opinions their entire lives. Which is probably why I don’t trust much Evangelical theology, these days. I think it’s natural to have your views about the world change as you experience more of the world, and I wish it were easier to be honest about that when it happened. I wish it were encouraged.
After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:
The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.
Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.
The more I study theology and the more I take Jesus' teachings seriously, the more messy my life becomes.
I was raised to believe that Christianity is about going to church on Sundays, not saying bad words, trying to be good, and having all the right beliefs (and knowing who doesn't have the right beliefs). Within this framework, Christianity is very neat and proper. One dresses in such a way that conforms to modesty (no tattoos and piercings, thank you); one uses coined phrases to know who's really in or out (we say 'blessed' not 'lucky'); one never touches a cigarette or consumes alcohol (because that's what makes us 'not of this world' right?); and one makes sure to only hang out with those who have the same beliefs (for having different beliefs or opinions is clearly a sign of waywardness). This was my world all the way into my 20s.
Then something happened. Or, in actuality, many things happened. I am unable to pinpoint one thing that upended my world. It was a bunch of little and big things that projected me onto a path of radical living, and I give the credit to the Holy Spirit (and to my husband, but that's another story).
As a result of those many little and big things, I began to see the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament in new light. Passages I had heard all my life took on a whole new and radically different meaning. Beliefs I had taken on without thinking came crashing down, as I began to hold them in view of Christ's teachings. It was then I started to discover how far off my thinking, and thus my life orientation, was.
How do you love your neighbor when your neighbors sell drugs and exploit young women? I’m serious — this is a legitimate question that I am asking myself a lot lately and I am not sure I have the answer.
Nine years ago my wife and I moved into East Oakland to become a part of a small church community called New Hope and to direct InterVarsity’s Urban Project in the Bay Area. We’ve weathered some challenging experiences: stolen cars, physical assault, hearing a lot of shootings, witnessing a shooting, breaking up domestic violence, seeing a friend’s family torn apart by domestic violence, and endless amounts of trash on the streets. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to love about our neighborhood and community, but in recent months I think I’ve reached my limit.
The family that recently moved in across the street is friendly. The folks hanging out on the porch and the kids playing tetherball off the street sign honestly do contribute to the vibrant life of the block. But when I saw a total of 12 drug deals go down in broad daylight in the span of three days, loving my neighbor became a lot harder.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I feel so bothered by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.
I suggested to my husband that maybe I’m being defensive since I am an educated woman in a professional field who has very clearly chosen to “lean out” to spend more time at home.
Or maybe it’s because I disagree with putting any degree of blame for inequality in the workforce on women.
Or maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea of human capital.
None of those reasons, however, seem to explain why the book and the phrase “lean in” have become such an obsession for me. I certainly consider myself a huge proponent of equality and women’s rights. I have marched, protested, researched, worked toward, and fought for true equality for women all of my adult life.
So my discomfort with Sandberg’s book isn’t because I’m anti-woman or anti-feminist. It isn’t because I disagree with her and want all moms to stay home and bake cookies and volunteer for PTA. It isn’t even because I feel the need to defend my choice to be a 99-percent stay-at-home mom. Instead, it’s because, as a Christian, I believe that the whole idea of “leaning in” does not take into account the principle of putting others before self. (Phil. 2:3-8). This principle applies equally to both women and men.
(Caveat: neither women nor men should be trapped into subservience by children and/or spouse. I am talking about putting the real, rational, and loving needs presented by being part of a family before one’s individual needs.)
The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has been a powerful force for Christian social action over the past decade. CCDA's leadership development, resources, and vision have been powerfully focused on helping pastors and community leaders facilitate the restoration of communities all over the country and around the world.
Born out of the traditions of the civil rights movement, CCDA is now engaging a new generation of pastors, prophets, and ministers. This next generation of CCDA will naturally look somewhat different from previous generations as they respond to the ever-changing landscape of our society. As it turns out, one major difference is a hunger among leaders for a more robust and powerful theological foundation from which to pursue ministry.
Practics has long dominated the field of Christian social action. What works? What strategies and techniques will actually bring about change in our community? These have been the central questions of past generations. However, among a new generation of church and community leaders, practical questions are not the sole concern, and in some cases not even the primary concern.
The racist, anti-Muslim ad in the New York Subway that used the language of civilized and savages has more than met its match.
A large group of Jews and Christians have countered that hateful message by tapping into the rich mines of neighborly love that are at the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.
Maybe you've heard the buzz...
On Sunday, Sojourners' CEO Jim Wallis appeared on WABC-TV's Up Close news program in New York City to debate Pamela Geller of the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, who put up ads in NYC subway stations that read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
Like many other folks of good faith, we at Sojourners were horrified by the blatantly hate-filled ads. We decided to do something to counter hate and fear with love and affirmation for our Muslim brothers and sisters. Last week, we began raising funds to purchase our own ad campaign in NYC subways with a simple message: "Love your Muslim neighbors."
Their debate got lively.
See for yourself inside the blog ...
The most recent discussions of U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East, once again say more about politics during an election year, than they do about the fundamental issues we must confront if we want to see substantial change.
So let’s look at the basic issues and fundamental choices we need to make.
Today the Middle East — where about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25 — is a region dominated by humiliation and anger.
Failure + rage + the folly of youth = an incendiary mix.
The roots of anti-American hostilities in the Middle East run deep (literally and figuratively). We can start with the fact that our oil (and its economy) lies beneath their sands. Couple that with U.S. support of repressive and backward regimes, the continual presence of foreign troops on their land and in their holy places, and the endless wars waged there, ultimately fueled by the geopolitics of energy.
Add to that incindiary cocktail the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which continues to drive the deepest emotions of mutual frustration, fear, and retaliation throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Injustices and violence caused by the oil economy have sparked a reaction from dangerous religious fundamentalists in the Islamic world. Fundamentalism — in all our faith traditions — is both volatile and hard to contain once it has been unleashed, and it becomes hard to reverse its essentially reactive and predictably downward cycle.
Because the scientific evidence surrounding climate change is clear, and the implications for humankind are many, the response to these global challenges needs to be persistent, organized, and significant. As Jesus calls upon humankind to “love thy neighbor," and as the Old Testament prophets remind us to strive for justice, we recognize that within a deeply connected world “neighbor” implies all that God has created, and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.
So an implication of Jesus’ words and actions is to share and receive the Good News not only on Sunday mornings, but through daily acts of long-term advocacy that promotes sustainable livelihoods. With COP18 in Qatar on the horizon, the time has come when humanity can no longer afford to fight over our resources, and the moment is upon us to prod our elected officials toward legally binding legislation that values the gifts of creation that God has entrusted us to manage.
In early August, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., burned to the ground. It was the second fire that damaged the facility this summer — the first, determined to be arson. In light of this attack and others like it across the country — including the heinous shooting at a Sikh gurudwara outside of Milwaukee that killed six worshippers — Sojourners called on our community to help us get the word out that we are called to love our neighbors. All of them.
The response was overwhelming. As a result of generous contributions, Sojourners not only took out an ad in The Joplin Globe, but also erected billboards with the same message, both in Joplin and in Oak Creek, Wis., three blocks from the Sikh gurudwara.
The message is simple. "Love your Muslim neighbors." "Love your Sikh neighbors."
It's not radical in language, but it is a radical love that Jesus extends to us and asks us to show others.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So how are we doing?
Your neighbor is every man woman and child who touched the supply chain used to make your cell phone, used to make the clothes you wear, the computers you type on and the cars you drive.
Your neighbors are all of God’s children. The theological reality that people of faith try to live out is that our neighbor is not defined by geographical proximity. Our neighbor is the person in need.
Sometimes, caring for our neighbor means a change of plans. Sometimes, caring for our neighbor means we have to slow down a little bit. Sometimes, caring for our neighbor might even cost us money.
There are people who haven’t wanted to get involved in the mess by the side of the road. They walk by it and say that it’s somebody elses responsibility. My job, they say, is at the end of the road at Jericho. I’m just being faithful to my shareholders by maximizing profit. My job is just getting the products people want into the hands of those that want them. I can’t be worried about those who get left by the side of the road of my supply chain. If I stop to help clean up the mess along the way it might cost time and money.
Last night we watched the First Family light the National Christmas Tree.
We expected what we get every year: a broad message about generosity and the season of giving. But what we got was so much more.
President Obama’s remarks were encouraging. They were about the Christmas that Christians celebrate as a week of Advent, not just Christmas as a generic feeling or a season. Several news outlets, including CBN, CNN, and The Christian Post covered the story in a tone of support, somewhat surprised at the president speaking from a place of deep personal faith. His remarks were so wholly about the Christ in Christmas that it could have been delivered by a local reverend.
The way you think and feel about the world is shaped by what you see when you get out of bed in the morning. I remember hearing this from civil rights activists. It simply means that perspective is hugely determined by place, context, and vantage point. This is profoundly true for me and most of the people I've ever met. You see the world from the place you live.
Part of the problem in the current budget impasse in Washington, D.C. is the perspectives of the politicians in the debate. Every morning they see and hear each other; the gladiator ring of national politics; the Washington media; their donors; their ideological base; and their latest poll ratings.