This story has been in my thoughts this week as I hear the question: Who is my neighbor anyways?
When we lived in a townhouse in the suburbs of Washington, DC we shared a wall with an older man who was THAT neighbor . He had spent a number of years ill and alone. He rarely had company. He was a rule-follower and rule-enforcer. Enter stage right – the McGuire family prone to bouts of rebellion and asking too many questions, and pushing back against rules, firmly established guidelines for behavior, and the status quo.
We met this man during our great fracturing from organized religion, when we were in the process of evolving and shifting not merely following and believing simply because an elder, “older” person said so. We were stretching out as a family, growing and maturing not merely playing nice and coloring inside the lines anymore.
One evening as we sat down to dinner our neighbor knocked on the door – with a list of HOA rules in his hands he proceeded to tell us all of the ways that we were violating the community’s codes. I was fine taking the list and I was as polite as possible although perhaps a bit annoyed at being pulled from the dinner table – but then he had to stipulate that if we didn’t begin following the list he would make sure to report us; after all we were his neighbor.
I pushed back a bit and asked him if he planned on reporting the three townhouses directly across the street as those homes were also clearly violating a few rules from that list.
To which he replied, “Well no, they aren’t my neighbor.”
I scoffed and remarked, “You are kidding right? They are right there.”
He questioned me further, “I don’t like what you are inferring – it sounds like you are saying I am a snitch.”
To which I replied – that is exactly what I am calling you.
And as you might have guessed he made sure to report our noncompliance to the appropriate authorities.
This wouldn’t be the first argument that we watched him participate in or the last one we had with him. He was often hollering out the window at someone or something. Refusing to tip a delivery driver. Telling an immigrant worker that he was going to tell on him with threats about the worker not having a green card…. let’s just say that man left our neighbor’s yard in a hurry.
He always seemed to be in the neighborhood’s business, but then according to him only a few were actually his neighbor.
Our neighborly behavior towards him would change over time – as we pursued compassion no matter how weird he happened to get. One time we had friends stop by late and he shined a flashlight out the window at them as they returned to their car. But even when he was a bit of a snitch, and overly aware of what was happening in and around our home, even though we nicknamed him, “Crabby Neighbor Guy”– we tried to be good neighbors.
- When he talked about how long it had been since he had a hot meal – I started cooking him hot meals especially on holidays.
- When he could barely move around without having to rest to catch his breath– we started shoveling and salting his walkway and stairs.
- When he couldn’t bring in his groceries – he learned to depend upon our help.
- When something in his house broke – hubby would take time to help him with minor repairs.
If he rang the doorbell we were willing to step out of whatever we were doing and lean into helping him.
He died rather unexpectedly one Saturday morning the winter before we moved. He sat down in his recliner after taking a shower and he never got back up again. We watched the funeral home van arrive and hours after he had died the police carried his body in a bag out the front door and into that waiting vehicle. It was sad.
We tried to be the kind of neighbors we felt Jesus would have wanted us to be – loving and compassionate and helpful to a difficult man who did not deserve it or earn it.
I was reminded of this man and his words, “They aren’t my neighbor,” during this week as the Syrian refugee crisis and Paris terror attacks have played out across the headlines, and news feeds.
I think perhaps the greatest disappointment for me in all this swirling mayhem and chaos has been God-fearing Christians refusing to accept more refugees out of fear, misinformation, exclusion of the other, or simply because Republican leaders say so – even calling and applauding and petitioning our nation’s representatives to “do the right” thing and save us from those big bad refugee terrorists by denying shelter to future Syrian refugees.
There are a ton of ideas and a lot of opinions and not much fact flying around out there.
And while this particular article is more opinion based out of my Jesus-knowledge – I am also working on writing a more fact-based article about refugees to follow soon.
In the news we have Syrian refugees needing help as they flee terrorists and war in their homeland– and I am hearing so many Christians loudly proclaiming exactly what so many others are saying in fear:
- There is no room for them.
- This is going to cost too much.
- They are not properly vetted (which is not based in fact).
- We have our own homeless to worry about (why can’t we do both?).
- We need to keep this country safe (how many refugees living in this country have actually committed a terrorist attack? Name one.)
Christians are even heard saying, “They aren’t technically our neighbor.”
As they brush aside the words of Jesus. So when Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR as yourself… he was really only talking about the people who live next door? World neighbors do not count? We don’t have responsibilities globally too?
While I think perhaps the refugee crisis is complicated – it doesn’t have to be.
“For God so loved the world…” Am I missing something? It seems pretty uncomplicated?
We can lean into people who have been doing working with the 70,000 average refugees who arrive in the USA every year. There are people who have been doing this work way before it was popular to talk about it. There are people we can learn from in discovering the best ways to proceed. People who are not reactionary or fueling the fire of terror. We can lean in and listen to what they have to say.
We can meet with and engage people who have benefited from finding refuge here.
We can find our Syrian refugee neighbors and give them a voice into our fear and terror… an opportunity to speak their truth.
I think we can be a safe place for people of this world if we could begin to expand our ideas of “who is my neighbor?”
What are our global responsibilities not simply our rights and our country and our safety?
Instead of allowing the technicality of the word neighbor to be how we justify inaction and hiding behind our privilege….
How can we be givers instead of consumers, a place of safety instead of war makers, voters who hold our leaders accountable instead of people pulling party lever lines, people of hospitality instead of hoarders of wealth?
We can also listen to immigration experts, policy makers, and lawyers– people who have been doing this work for a very long time instead of listening to the diatribe of presidential candidates who are simply fueling the terror. They are not helping to make informed choices. Some of our presidential hopefuls – are not hopeful, or even knowledgeable about what they speak. Perhaps if you are hoping to lead and make decisions for this country you should have a clue how immigration works? Maybe we should throw away our party affiliations in favor of holding our presidential candidates up to the light of what they really know and live- wisdom is an essential characteristic of a leader.
I hear a ton of fear-mongering and bigotry from GOP candidates instead of steady, inclusive wisdom and understanding.
Right now US actions are doing exactly what terrorism is intended to do – produce terror-filled reactions.
I do not have all the answers. What I do know? I know that you can’t continue to hold onto Republican politics or Democratic Politics and still be Kingdom of God people… it is really hard to hold on to American Nationalism in one hand and Jesus in the other. They are often completely incompatible.
And Jesus is way ahead of us in his action… we never have to ask where he would be we should know.
Jesus – is already with the refugees. He has been there among them all along, walking with them, sleeping beside them, standing at closed borders, wiping tears, singing over terrified children as they attempt to sleep, and being a very present help in their trouble.
As Jesus Followers my questions to you, “Why aren’t you willing to be where he is? Why aren’t you willing to be FOR the refugees?”
Who is your neighbor anyways?