Friday, August 1, 2008

"Love Thy Neighbor": A Conversation (Nedra Voorhees and Beryl Simkins

Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment than these.” Mark 12: 29-31

Nedra: To love your God is almost a given, but it seems to be connected to the second commandment here almost inextricably. It is as if in order truly to love God, we must also fulfill that second responsibility. To love you, I can surely do. But some others I can think of--- there begins the problem. How far does this neighbor concept extend? Who do you think is that neighbor?

Beryl: This is quite a question, and we may not always like the answer. I believe that the neighbor is anyone who comes into our “neighborhood,” or our locale. It certainly includes Christians in our midst, but also those in our midst who are not Christian. The dictionary says a neighbor is one located or living near another. So our neighbor is anyone who is located near us for whatever the reason.

Nedra: In this world, today, we can’t be that limited. It must be global, if we consider just our impact on others throughout the world by our American demand for what we consider to be our share of the world’s goods. Or if you look at it from a gentler perspective, the impact we can have when we respond to the world’s needs as we can in the MDG’s. But even if you narrow it down, how can you love all those people with the same care and concern you reserve for yourself?

Beryl: Well, the expectation of love may be limited to those who are here, now, in the same situation I am considering now, so that brings it down to the human that I am. Here and now I may be dealing with my spouse with whom I may be angry, but whom I certainly do love. But when I am angry, will I listen to what he has to say, or will I be concerned with proving my own point, whether or not I am right. Treating a neighbor as self happens in all the situations around us, and with all the people we encounter. I think the way we regard others around us has long reaching effects that go out into the world.

Nedra: I think the spouse may be easy (though maybe not). But what about the other with whom you might be angry, who happens to have no concern for your thoughts, your ideas, your beliefs and can only see the world from his/her point of view? How can you extend that love to that person when there seems to be no concept of love for you as a neighbor? Isn’t this a two way street or does the responsibility rest solely with you?

Beryl: Well, with my spouse it is a two way street, and that builds relationship. However, there are those, fellow Christians even, who disagree with me strongly, with whom I have argued on the blogs. I find that they reply to my comments without even hearing what I have said, and that they minimize my views and twist my words. My inclination is an angry reaction and in some cases just to sign off and ignore them. So is this my neighbor?

Nedra: That is exactly my concern! I think they are your neighbor. And if they are, then where does that leave you and me? WE can join them at the Communion rail, but will they be willing to join us? I think there is a strong possibility that they would exclude us, unless we were ready to capitulate and join their point of view. If that love does not reciprocate (like your two way street) how can it then be love? There is an unbending rectitude that is almost tangible among some who are purported to be our neighbors that troubles me.

Beryl: So how do we respond to that in a loving way? For me, probably not while I am still angry or hurt, but after I walk away from the matter a while. There are things that I should not do, because it is not what I would want done to me. (And that is what some of this is about, treating others as you would be treated.) So I would not go out and rail about the person to several others, especially if the person has no way to defend himself and might feel misrepresented . I would not “label” the person reducing him to a one faceted individual. I would recognize the humanity of the other who has come to that point of view through many years lived and many experiences that are very different from mine. This might be all that I can do.

Nedra: So that’s it? That old concept that we teach in pre-school. Walk Away? Is that all? Just leave and be silent? What if they happen to be ones who rail and misrepresent you? I had a priest tell me once that the other cheek concept applied only if the other was Christian and knew the concept. Is it the same with loving your neighbor? It only applies if both parties agree to the idea, or is Jesus demanding something more of us here? Can we afford to be silent as the world looks on?

Beryl: Well, I was just saying things I should NOT do. And that was just a start. And I think what we are discussing here is beyond turning the other cheek. This is about LOVING your neighbor. It is not about giving up my principles either, because in loving myself, my principles come out of my lived years and my experiences, (as in the case of the other), and out of a lot of thought and prayer and some choices made about what is right. I think the loving response is not in walking away. I may do that, but I may come back and truly and lovingly engage the other.

Nedra: I cannot help but think of +Gene Robinson and his role (or non-role) at Lambeth. Isn’t this the very experience that he shows forth to the world? He is there, willing to love and be loved. Of all who carry that crozier, he does the best at remembering the symbolism of the shepherd’s crook as he shows forth the love of the One who loves him. Maybe it goes back to your previous post about being more than the Body of Christ, being Christ in the world. If you can love with that intensity and purity, perhaps you come closer to what Jesus would do.

Beryl: Certainly it is it! Loving my neighbor as myself, tries me, sometimes, to the soul of my being. It takes humility, and also strength and tenacity. It is being right there by and among the individual/s who do not love you, not walking away, but being available to engage, and somewhat vulnerable. So is this what we are to do, being Christ in the world? How are we to respond? Does +Gene give us an answer?