Since my strong sense is we focus way too much on who is our enemy, I’ve decided to focus a little bit more on who is our neighbor. Remember: as long as we can curtail the category of who actually is our neighbor, we don’t have to love them, like them, or even try. We don’t have to respect them. We don’t have to invest in relationship. We can instead judge them and ignore their perspective in its entirety. After all, they are the enemy.
Much of the current challenge with this enemy label mindset is that we have begun to attach the enemy label to others because of their social, political standing. We have veered far away from finding the enemy on any Ten Most Wanted list; we have made other people worse based on what they believe.
Harder still is that we’ve had some pretty poor examples in regard to who fits into what category. Very intelligent people have unfortunately offered some very foolish answers regarding both friend and foe. I have found myself guilty, too, at times — even if only silently opined. At various points in my life, I may have given the distinct impression that my “enemy” was either Patriots’ fans or that kid who started on the mound in place of my son. I allowed myself to think less of them. Let me rephrase: I allowed myself to judge them… as… someone less wise than me. I was able to think less of them because I could not see them as my neighbor.
But what if we could change that? What if we could broaden the category, so-to-speak? What if we realized who our neighbors actually are? … and then… wouldn’t that affect how we treated them? Wouldn’t that make the hard conversations possible? And better yet, would that not offer solution in some of the tough areas?
Who is our neighbor?
I’ve been doing much reading on the subject as of late — especially moving hundreds of miles away to a community in which I knew no one. Who is my neighbor? And what is required of me?
Allow me to share one insight that struck me… from Levi Rogers, a writer and coffee roaster from Salt Lake City…
“… 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. If I were to see a member… dying on the side of the road, I would walk by with joy. Congress in my mind — can go to hell.
I can empathize with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, with minorities, with people of differing genders and sexual orientations. But not the rich yuppie who lives on the Hill, who is against immigration reform, and in defense of laws like Florida’s Stand Your Ground. These people I cannot empathize with. The people who, as Kanye says are, ‘Prolly all in the Hamptons, bragging ‘bout what they made.’ These people are my neighbors and the ones Jesus calls me to love. And it bugs the crap out of me.
‘Who is my neighbor?’… The central question here being: how do I love and serve the very people who I abhor the most, especially when I disagree with them? How do I love them even at times when I feel righteous in my hatred…?”
I love the sincerity in the above expression. Feel free to change up the demographics… maybe a person’s righteous hatred isn’t directed toward “rich, white, Christian politicians.” Maybe it’s directed at “rude, in-your-face, Black Lives Matter protestors”… maybe it’s directed at “out-of-touch, outspoken celebrities”… maybe it’s someone else. The point is that we are each capable at minimizing who our neighbor actually is.
All of the above are our neighbors.
Our neighbors are those who are next to us. Our neighbors are those who are in need. Nothing else disqualifies a person, but we keep justifying the disqualifying of a person as a neighbor… maybe because they’re rich and white… rude and in-your-face… or out-of-touch and outspoken. We continue to find reason to disrespect, reason to judge, and reason to reject all empathetic attempts from all of the above. We don’t listen well. We are simply not very good at neighboring.
In my reading I keep coming across this “neighboring” concept. It’s an active verb. It’s full of intentionality. There is something required of me. So what does it mean to “neighbor”?
To near. And to care.
On Sunday, barring no unforeseen events, I’d like to talk somewhat about racial reconciliation. It’s actually a post I’ve been working on for well over a month. It’s hard. It’s a tough topic. Good people disagree. We have different opinions and approaches. So let me set Sunday up with today’s truth: we must realize who our neighbors actually are.