Thursday, May 28, 2020

Love your neighbor. For the love of God.

" 'Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' [Jesus] said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How do you read it?' And he answered 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.'  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ' And who is my neighbor?' " Luke 10:25-29 (ESV)

Last night I woke up in the wee hours and checked my phone (I have terrible sleep habits, I know.). There was a message from a former neighbor in Arizona with a question about our house there and the alarm code. He needed to help the current owners. It was good to hear from James and as I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, I thought about his sweet family and how our little girls learned to ride their bikes on that cul-de-sac.

My girls and I have spent some of our time during this stay-at-home season running the neighborhood behind our house. Although we are still newcomers here, I feel like we have gained some insight into our neighbors. We know, for instance, who has seniors graduating this month from the signs in the yards. We know who has dogs and how many. We know who is working on landscaping projects, pool builds, and who has the cutest pillows on their front porch. And if these new neighbors have looked out their windows at all, they know exactly how many times I can pass their home before my legs slow to barely a crawl. 

I don't yet really know my neighbors here. So the admonition to love them as I love myself seems a bit challenging but also, perhaps because I don't know them, it doesn't seem impossible either.

I knew my neighbors in Mississippi a bit more. We didn't talk often, but when we did it was pleasant and prior to learning we would be moving, I looked forward to getting to know all of them more. 

Except perhaps on Saturday mornings.

Our direct next-door neighbor's garage was on the master bedroom side of our house. And apparently Saturday mornings were his ideal time to test the engine of his sports car. I honestly am not sure exactly what was happening over there except that earlier than I wanted to be awake on Saturday, the revving noises from his garage would rattle the walls in our bedroom. The whole love your neighbor thing might have felt like a bit much in those waking hours.

I am making light, but in all seriousness, I have had these verses on my mind all week. As the world re-opens and we all attempt to resume some normalcy, I have been astounded at the outrage over wearing masks in public. Astounded at the sheer volume of people who flat-out refuse because they say their rights are being violated in the asking. I can't even.

Truly, is there a better way right now to love our neighbors? Wearing the mask protects us from unknowingly spreading a virus that you might be strong enough to fight but you are preventing the spread of your germs to those who might not be as strong. You are preventing the spread to vulnerable my sons. And your refusal, while certainly within your "rights," will force my family -- and so many others like us --  to have to continue staying home.

The form of the word "love" used in this verse is agape (ἀγάπη). Agape is an unconditional love, a selfless one. We are to love God with our heart, soul, and mind in a selfless manner. In other words, with no conditions, with no reservations. And wait. We are also supposed to love our neighbor -- to agape our neighbor -- with the same selfless love. Oh wow. 
And if I had not watched the news once this week, I would spend a couple of paragraphs encouraging you to selflessly wear your masks (really, I need you to). And I would say Amen, and be done with that. But.

But apparently, we live in a country where asking someone to put their dog on a leash, results in a 9-1-1 call using skin color as a bully tactic. Not exactly love of neighbor there.

And then the video of George Floyd. The heart-wrenching video of George Floyd has made even that incident in Central Park look blasé.

My heart breaks.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." Love your neighbor. Love.

And I realize how ridiculous it is to ask people to wear a mask -- to personally inconvenience themselves -- in order to think of others first, when, apparently, we can't recognize the rights of anyone beyond ourselves, especially not anyone who looks different than the reflection we see in the mirror. We can't recognize how our neighbor might possibly not be a mirror-image of our own face. How is it possible that in 2020 this is still happening? 

The lawyer talking to Jesus wanted clarification of who exactly his neighbor was. In reply, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. (Read Luke 10.) See, the Samaritans weren't a people the lawyer would have recognized as a mirror-image reflection of himself. Jesus knew we needed point-blank admonitions to love those who aren't exactly like us. 

Jesus told us to love our neighbors. He equated the love of our neighbors with love of God.

And it is exactly for the love of God -- and all things godly and good -- that I feel the need to shout that it is time for my fellow white people to stand up and scream that enough is enough. We need to join hands with our friends of color, and with our neighbors of color, and, for the love, with strangers of color, and assure them we stand with them against the horror of what happened to George Floyd. We stand with them in demanding justice, as well as in committing to end the violence. We stand with them. We kneel with them.

We need to love our neighbors.

Carol - The Blessings Counter