In church last spring, our children learned the song, “Jesu, Jesu Fill Us with Your Love.” It includes the line, “neighbors are nearby and far away,” which gave our five-year-old son pause.
“Are neighbors far away?” he asked at breakfast recently.
“No,” I said.
Who your neighbor is and how you should treat them were topics addressed by keynote speaker Lisa Sharon Harper at Saturday's Summit on Race, Poverty and Inequality held at the Henderson Fine Arts Center.
Let me tell you about Steve the neighbor.
When my sister and her family moved some years ago, they quickly learned that they had a lot of retired people as neighbors. Steve lives next door, a former postman who had to retire because of a balky hip. Big and strong, a little rough with the language — all part of his charm.
Steve and two retired buddies on the street spend a lot of time together, grilling together, helping each other through the many challenges that come with getting older. And if anybody needs assistance with anything, they are there to help.
They often say: “We’re neighbors. It’s what we do.“
Steve knows when my sister’s children get home from school, so on snowy days, he’ll rev up the plow and clear her sidewalk and driveway so they can get through without getting stuck. He does it without prompting. Anything else I can help with? The garage door is shimmering? There’s a shrub that needs to be dug up? Be right there with my buddies.
You know those people who make you feel better just because you’re around them? How their upbeat attitude rubs off on you? You leave them with a smile on your face? That’s him.
As my brother-in-law puts it, Steve is a perfect neighbor. Concerned, but not nosy. Willing to help, but never pushy. No payment is accepted. The feeling that they’ve helped someone is thanks enough.
They’re neighbors. It’s what they do.
Gov. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) did a shocking thing recently. He broke with his political allies and decided to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor people in his state through the Affordable Care Act. Then he called a spade a spade, saying: “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor.”
Kasich’s statement came just two days ago. And today, 47 million low-income Americans will see their food stamps benefits decrease as stimulus funding ends. In light of this newly named “war on the poor,” I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, and the man’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” What an intriguing question.
Of course one of the most incredible things about this story is that Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question. Rather, he tells a story about a man beaten by robbers on a dangerous road. He was stripped naked left lying there, clinging to life. Both a priest and Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan went out of his way, broke his usual routine, used up his own gas (or at least his donkey’s energy) to bring the man to an inn. And he took care of him overnight at the inn, offering the innkeeper what would today be about $330.
And then Jesus flips the script! The lawyer asked who exactly is my neighbor? Who do I have to love? And conversely who can I cross off my need-to-love list?
Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus returns his question with a question: “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Nowadays we hardly have a concept of what it means to be a neighbor anymore.
Our relationship to place is so conditioned by our life experiences. When I moved to North Cambridge, Mass., from the expansive West Coast, I got a lesson in the meaning of “near” and “far.” Walking around my new neighborhood, I greeted an old woman sitting in front of her house.
“Did you grow up around here?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she assured me, “I grew up way over on Sherman Street.” Sherman Street is about three blocks from where we were talking, but it is a different neighborhood. So in the language of her personal geography, Sherman Street is not “around here.”
When I traveled to Israel this summer with a group of seminary students from Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University School of Theology, what struck me most was another lesson of geography: If you live in a country the size of New Jersey, your sworn enemy might literally be your next door neighbor.
Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.
Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.
But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.
So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it.
Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.
Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.
It's a joke. Well, it was. There we were talking with Diana Butler Bass and others from SOGOMedia in an online forum about the Presidential Election and the words flowed forth: Neighborliness is the new sexy. It was ridiculous, but then I started mulling the idea over and this is what happened. Adam Ericksen and I started pondering what Seven Marks of Neighborliness might look like.
1. Be a regular somewhere: Our neighborhoods are actually rather expansive spaces. Some of them involve strip malls. Some of us commute to work and, in that sense, we live in various neighborhoods. Yes, plural. How can we root ourselves in these places? ...
Neighbors and neighborliness.
They're messy, surprising, and all of us.
Lowes pulled its ad dollars from a show that aims to tighten the tapestry we call America because of a faux controversy drummed up by a hate group that said, through its claims of “propaganda," that it's not possible for Muslims to be American.
But the fabric of our nation exists because of the genius of our nation’s founder, who, in the very first amendment to our Constitution, protected the integrity of religion by forbidding the establishment of any one religion as the religion of the state.
In every single society before the founding of our Union, religion and state were married. History has taught us that religion co-opted by the state loses its integrity and its prophetic power.
Ours was a grand experiment that built America into a grand tapestry of ethnic and religious groups that thrive side by side in relative peace—more so than in any other nation in the world.
Cutting foreign aid programs will do little to get us out of debt, but would be a devastating setback in the fight against global, extreme poverty.
Are religious tracks passed out along with (or in lieu of) "treats" really the best way to spread the gospel message?
Or do the roots and practices of Halloween run so deeply counter to Christian tradition that Halloween is best ignored by believers?
At times such as these, the church often finds itself wrestling with the big question H. Richard Niebuhr posed in his seminal 1951 work, Christ and Culture. That is, to what extent should Christians engage in and interact with the world around them?
We should all be marching in the streets.
We are the 100 percent.
We are poor. We are well-to-do. We are those somewhere in the middle. We are aware of the struggles and unfairness of this world and for this reason we are sensitive to one another's needs. So, we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Let’s face it — while lawmakers are picking their own battles in Washington, they aren’t fighting on the ground in Afghanistan. Winning elections has become more important than implementing winning foreign policy strategies that would end the war and bring our service men and women safely home.
And it’s my generation that’s being sacrificed.
This Sunday (Oct. 9) , Sesame Street will introduce a brand-new Muppet character — a magenta-faced, impoverished 7-year-old named Lily who represents one of the 17-million Americans who struggle daily with hunger and poverty — during a rare prime-time special called, "Growing Hope Against Hunger."
From the official statement by #OccupyWallStreet: "As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power."