Be The Neighbor The World Needs You To Be

This week’s Courier Herald column:

I don’t have the answers.  At this point, I’m not even sure we’re asking the right questions.

A nation already on edge over experiencing a public health crisis simultaneously with the greatest economic challenge in a century is now dealing with public protests and riots. Our divided nation seems only united by shared anxiety and pain.

Like too many problems we face, social media has the ability to provide a comfortable bubble of like-minded people who can affirm our predisposed beliefs.  We can scream and scream that others are the problem while receiving likes from those that agree, and block those who do not.

I mostly avoided social media over the weekend while peaceful protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others devolved into riots.  The quick scans I observed were filled with people shouting that others must listen, but few themselves willing to do the same.

I’ve decided that, for myself, when the world gets noisy it is time to get quiet. The last thing we need right now is another “hot take”, and it’s impossible to listen while talking.

Quiet reflection yields to the reality that the problems we face are bigger than any one of us. We have a role to play, but no single one of us will fix the myriad of problems we face. 

I have no issues with yielding ultimate responsibility to a higher power, nor for asking in guidance and understanding.  My thoughts sent me to Old Testament and New Testament lessons.

Genesis 11 begins with the story of the Tower of Babel.  The people of a great land were only a few generations after being delivered from the great flood, but they had become too impressed with their own intelligence to worship.  They instead decided to build a great tower as a monument to themselves and their own self-reliance. 

The tower crashed down, and the people suddenly couldn’t understand each other.

Thousands of years later we have a still young “one nation, under God” with people screaming words like justice, equality, opportunity, and fairness past each other, each having differing ideas of what these concepts mean.  We have become one nation divided by a common language.  We barely feign attempts to understand each other.

Were that the end of the story the anxiety we’re experiencing would offer little divine relief or hope.  The New Testament gives us that, with some specific directives.

The Old Testament gives us ten commandments.  The 22nd Chapter of the Book of Matthew gave us an 11th:  Love your neighbor.

The directive is simple enough and yet not, so we were brought a parable in the 10th Chapter of Luke to answer the question “Who is our neighbor?”

In the story, a man was traveling down a road, minding his own business, when he was robbed, stripped and beaten.  A priest – the highest representative of law and order of that day – passed by and did nothing.  A Levite – a person welcome in the highest of society’s circles – also was too busy to see or help.  It was an outcast – a Samaritan – that interrupted his travel and made sure the victim was rescued and brought back to health.

The story is often told to emphasize the power of interrupting our routine or agenda to help another in need, but the question asked at the end of the story punctuates it’s meaning, with Jesus asking who of the three men in the story proved to be the innocent man’s neighbor.

Who is George Floyd’s neighbor? Who is Ahmaud Arbery’s neighbor?  Who is the neighbor of the shopkeeper having to replace windows and merchandise lost in a riot?  Who is the neighbor of the policeman now standing in angry crowds to protect both them and those in the path of the protests?

The world doesn’t need more shouting.  We need more of us to be a good neighbor.


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