In My Back Yard
The view out the back door
A (Low) Tech Perspective

Neighbor Love

If you can't see yourself in your neighbor, see Christ in them.

We know we're supposed to Love our neighbor. That principle is one of the anchor ideas in the Bible. Let's assume we agree that it's a good thing to do. But, it's obvious that it is a great struggle for most everyone on the planet to do well. So, how do you love your neighbor? There's two answers to be found, each in the same Bible.

Love your neighbor as yourself, reads the command (Mark 12.31).

To do this, at the most basic level, you need to see your neighbor like you see yourself (we also remind ourselves that we need to have a basic love for ourselves for this to work ... but the principle is powerful no matter what, because everybody - even the self-haters - function in a selfish mode). So, in whatever way you love and care for yourself, even if very basic, you can and should do that for others ... see that they're fed, clothed, cared for. Compassion and gracious love are possible when we 'put ourselves in their shoes'. God identified with us in this way, by condescending to live in our skin, to put himself in our shoes. This is one way of describing the arrival of Jesus Christ. He's the great high priest who lived the very same life that we do.

But, what if we can't at all see ourselves in our neighbor? What if we have one color skin and our neighbor has another? What if our bank account is one size and theirs is another? What if we buy our clothes off this rack and they buy theirs off that rack? What if our home looks like this and their home looks like that? Hear what I'm saying?

There will always be a kind of person who's shoes we wouldn't want to get into! If that's true of us, are we off the hook? Not at all.

"Then [Jesus] will also say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, accursed ones ..., for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me ...'" (Mt. 25.41f)

When the unhappy audience at this talk protested and asked, "When did we fail to do these things?", Jesus said, in essence, 'every time you didn't do it for the person least like you, you failed to do it for me.' How is this so? because Jesus is there in that moment. Jesus is present with the other, especially the suffering, the poor, the weak, the hungry, and the just plain funky. Jesus is present in the very moment we encounter others who are very unlike us -- he's pulling for us, just as he is fighting for them.

So, when we can't identify with our neighbors (near or far), when we can't imagine what it's like in their shoes (because we'd never be caught dead in those shoes) ... when we simply can't see ourselves in our neighbors ... that is when it's really important to see Christ in them.

Fixit Garage

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all the ways we teach

Everything teaches. That is to say that people learn lessons on so many levels, not just from things that are intentionally taught. Parents say, "Do as I say, not as I do!" because 1. our actions often clash with our stated principles, 2. children learn by imitation, and 3. we would like to control what our children learn (but not change our behavior). Forget it.

We need to learn that teaching happens at many levels, not only the verbal/intellectual level. That is to say, content is only one level of teaching. The way we talk (and listen) and the context we create also communicate important truths. For example, if you look at at a normal church gathering, you'll see multiple levels of information transmission going on ... multiple levels of learning taking place.

For starters, at a top level (a conscious level), there is the spoken content, an intentional lesson communicated for intellectual assent. It will include ideas the speaker wants to communicate, a reason for the gathering, and maybe goals for the future. Vision is transmitted, truth is communicated, and boundaries are laid for behavior or discussion. In a sermon given in a church on a Sunday morning, this would be the idea you hope the listeners would leave wrestling with, even the truth you hope they'd grasp.

At a slightly deeper level, the listener will learn values by how the lesson is communicated. Does the speaker sit apart from the listeners? Is there time for discussion? Questions? Is the whole talk manuscripted, or is the speaker willing to adjust the talk based on who is present? Each of these questions gets at how the speaker values the community that has come to hear the talk. In a church context, encouraging discussion (vs lecturing, or "speeching", as Doug Pagitt calls it) teaches the value that the whole community has the capacity to contribute ideas of merit. In the same way, priority given to prayer would communicate a value that God's voice is of (at least!) equal importance to the voice of the speaker. To fail to give time to prayer and listening would communicate a disregard for God's voice, or worse, that only the speaker can hear God's voice, leaving all others dependent). Similarly, the type of language used in a talk may indirectly communicate attitudes of sexism, racism, or other isms, attitudes, or values that may be reproduced in the lives of the hearers.

At a deeper level still the format of a gathering, the experience of coming together, teaches a worldview. What does the speaker (or organizer) feel about community? What is true about this particular group, and how will the structure of the meeting reinforce or compete with that truth? Will they sit and listen and then go home? Do they participate passively? Is the goal of a meeting only to answer questions, agree on some facts, or achieve consensus? What if the organizer was intentional about the experience of the meeting? The venue, style, formality, process, and rythms all "teach" a member of the community what it means to be a member of the community. In a church, our gatherings should have a flavor of heaven. How do you organize that? If we believe that the church is the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, then our meetings probably should not look like a meeting of local business leaders. If we believe that Jesus is the Head of the body which is the church, then do we think that each meeting should be the same as the last one? There is a reason why heaven is popularly pictured as boredom among the clouds.

Church leaders (I include myself in this category) say a lot from behind the microphone about heaven that doesn't exactly align with the experience of our gatherings. What we teach at the top level is not the same as what is being learned at other levels. Do we really want to be caught saying to the people we serve, "Do as we say, not as we do" ...?

ambition is recession-proof



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