The Hard Work Of Being Neighbors

The Hard Work Of Being Neighbors

The Hard Work Of Being Neighbors 1920 1280 Stephanie Thompson
The day after the last Presidential election, I woke up to a raw reality. A tidal wave of voices-loud, vulnerable, celebratory, discouraged, respectful, disrespectful, urban, rural, old, young, male, female washed over our shared land of Earthly citizenship. The feelings of divisiveness that had been bubbling below the surface for so long exploded. Americans of every political perspective spoke: some through words; others through actions. And running through it all was a question that lurked in the hearts of all: Does my narrative matter to anyone?

The Pharisees challenged Jesus with this question: What is the Greatest Commandment? Jesus gave an unexpected answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Pharisees themselves didn’t fully grasp the implications of their own question.

We don’t often grasp them either.

How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t see your neighbor as yourself?

You see, for the past year, opinions, pleas, conversations have flooded social media, workplaces, social gatherings. There are lots of voices and not all of them are audible. But does anyone really listen?

It’s much easier to reduce people to labels and perceptions that keep people at a distance. Listening takes work. Especially when passions are at play. Many times, our passions are viewed in the context of our narratives. The problem is that our narratives are not complete. We are still living them. There are more experiences that will shape us, new information that will challenge us and people that we need to encounter that will further expand our perceptions of what it means to be Americans as well as fellow Creations of our God.

Investing in others’ lives takes work.

Lauren Winner writes about the spiritual practice of hospitality in her book Mudhouse Sabbath. She writes, “God’s Creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God’s Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes further than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives.”

Further, Winner suggests that the invitation happen in the context of our messiness, not when we think we have our “home” orderly. That, my friends, requires vulnerability. Letting go of the walls of our cause and standing in the same space. Acknowledging that at our core we are all humans created in the Image of God. We come bearing our imperfections and our common longings for validation.

It’s easy to love neighbors like ourselves. When we feel misunderstood, we tend to look for comfort in those who share our views. We long for someone to listen and validate our pain and hopefully our identity as we see it. But when we engage in those interactions, we must be aware that there is a bigger narrative at work. One that involves the stories of people different than us.

To love neighbors as ourselves demands movement into places of discomfort. Vulnerability. Risk. Because that is what we long for from others.

The Travel Channel’s “Breaking Borders” brilliantly challenges us to come to the table – a symbol of community – and to really know your neighbor by listening and restraining the temptation to exert control with words. By hearing each other’s stories. By asking questions. By understanding that perspective is shaped by our personal stories.

Who would have thought that Israelite settlers and Palestinians living in the West Bank could engage in civil conversation on the politics of homeland? But it happened. Despite disagreements. Sharing stories and breaking bread together remove walls. We recognize that most of “those” people are really like us.

Loving our neighbor can only come about through recognizing that Jesus makes it happen. Even if our neighbors don’t know Him. He’s the root of our love. God ordained love. The kind that transforms the way we see each other through our earthly lens. Love that is born out of the Holiness of God’s character. Sacrificial love as described in 1 John 4:7-9.

Navigating through these tumultuous waters is not easy, friends. Can we covenant to doing the hard work together? To venture into those sacred spaces as we are led? And to be willing to be transformed in the process?

 

Stephanie Thompson

Stephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared on Mudroomblog, The Mighty, Altarwork, as well as other sites. She is a writer for the Redbud Guild. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into some of her writing. Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens. A speaker at various venues, she blogs at http://stephaniejthompson.com/ and can be followed on Twitter @s2thomp and facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StephanieThompsonspeakerAndBlogger/ .

All posts by Stephanie Thompson