Tag Archives: Neighbor

Spiritual Bankruptcy

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (MSG)

It is possible to be religious, but not loving.
It is possible to be righteous, but not loving.
It is possible to be generous, but not loving.
It is possible to be doctrinally sound, but not loving.
It is possible to be right, but not loving.
It is possible to be politically correct, but not loving.
It is possible to be a defender of truth, but not love your enemy.
It is possible to know all scripture, but not love those who mock you.
It is possible to have spotless church attendance, but not love.
It is possible to have spiritual discipline, but not love.
It is possible to have success, but not love.
It is possible to have a million followers, but not love.
It is possible to have good intentions, but not love.

Jesus said there were two basic laws:
1) Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
2) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

When pressed to define who He meant by “neighbor,” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the person who had love was a foreigner and an immigrant. The person who had love carried scars from being the victim of racial prejudice, injustice and systemic social, political, and economic ostracization. The person who had love held heretical doctrinal beliefs. The person who had love stood condemned by the prevailing  institutional religion of which Jesus was a part. But, the hated, heretical, outcast foreigner had love, and Jesus’ story made clear that love was the one thing that mattered to God.

On this life journey I’ve taken a good  hard look at myself, and the prevailing institutional religion of which I am a part.

We still haven’t learned the simple and most basic lesson Jesus ever taught. All of my spirituality, righteousness, and religion is bankrupt without love.

Lord, help me love.

featured image is a detail from the St. John’s Bible

Good Samaritan Redux

This screenshot shows Paul Henreid and Humphre...
“I’m not interested in politics. The problems of the world are not in my department.” – Humphrey Bogart as Rick in “Casablanca” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labor, as it is to this day. But Solomon did not make slaves of any of the Israelites; they were his fighting men, his government officials, his officers, his captains, and the commanders of his chariots and charioteers. 1 Kings 9:21-22 (NIV)

I find it fascinating that throughout history almost every tribe, nation, and people on this earth have practiced some form of racial or tribal differentiation, dominance, and inequity. The systemic system of conscripted slavery described during Solomon’s reign is not unlike what the Israelites themselves experienced in Egypt, and what they would someday experience again with the occupations of Assyria and Babylon. What goes around comes around.

I sometimes hear people speak as if the world is getting better all the time, and that humanity is moving towards peace, harmony, and universal political correctness. Then I watch the evening news. Beheadings, genocide, mass graves, tribal conflict, racial discrimination, and religious intolerance are commonplace. We are all guilty.

Next to the major problems of the world that get pushed to the home screen of my phone on a constant basis, I sometimes feel small and insignificant living in my little Iowa hometown. I hear Humphrey Bogart’s voice in my head from Casablanca as Rick says to Laszlow: “The problems of the world are not in my department.”

And yet, they are in my department. I affect the people and world around me in my sphere of influence. I can recognize and fight the prejudices in my own thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was about the reality that the “neighbor” in His command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was not just your homogenous tribal group but also the person who is your tribal, racial, social and political enemy. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other the same way the Jews and Palestinians hate each other today. THAT was the whole point of the story.

This morning I wake up far from home amidst a culture very different from my own. I can choose to hold these people, who are very different from me, at arm’s length. Or, I can fight my natural inclinations and choose to understand them, listen to them, feel for them, and love them as I love the quirky white people of my Dutch American heritage back home.

 

 

Ever More Connected. Never More Alone.

Earbud love 1
(Photo credit: Dano)

Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”
1 Samuel 20:4 (NIV)

When the shit hits the fan and your life falls apart at 2:00 in the morning, who are you going to call?

I have heard a variation of this question asked numerous times over the years. I believe it’s a more pertinent question than ever. The America I observe increasingly exists in a culture of personal isolation inside a mirage of community. We connect on-line with strangers thousands of miles away and do not know the names of our next door neighbors. We bow our heads towards our cell-phones and walk down the street in our electronic cocoon, insulated from the flesh and blood people we bump into. In the winter we stay inside our warm homes and make friends with television characters. In the summer we stay in the air conditioning and vicariously experience love and adventure on television.

Never have we been more connected. Never have we been more alone.

I begin to wonder if Thoreau was a prophet. When he talked about the masses leading lives of “quiet desperation” did he realize the silence came from everyone having ear buds stuffed in their ears? Our individual heads are filled with the noise of the millions of song, movie, television and video options that exist at our fingertips. The silence comes from the fact that most often people sitting next to each other in public aren’t talking to one another. In fact, they are barely aware of one another’s existence.

Perhaps I’m overstating it. I hope and pray that I am. I don’t hate technology. I embrace it. It’s just that I begin to fear that when the shit hits the fan at 2:00 in the morning, many people find that they have thousands of names on their contact lists and in their LinkedIn network, but in the moment of personal crisis they realize they have no one they can call to say “help me.”

I am blessed to have what I consider a relatively long list of men whom I would not hesitate to call at 2:00 a.m. and whom I know without a shadow of a doubt would respond to any request with Jonathan’s words to David: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”

What about you?

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 35

“Don’t desecrate the land in which you live. I live here, too—I, God, live in the same neighborhood with the People of Israel.” Numbers 35:34 (MSG)

When I was a kid my universe was the 3100 block of Madison Avenue. There were a number of kids on our block and every summer evening was spent outside playing various games of tag, ball or make-believe. We knew who lived in every house on our block on both sides of the street. We knew which neighbors were friendly and which were mean. We knew the yards to avoid because the grumpy old lady who lived there would yell at you if she caught you in her yard. We knew which houses you definitely wanted to visit when you were selling candy to raise money for Little League because the kind old couple would always buy whatever you were selling.

Reading today’s chapter, I was struck by the way God described Himself for Moses and the gang. He was a neighbor. He lived in the neighborhood. He was not the God who existed remotely in a distant heaven, but the God who lived next door and was affected by local events just like everyone else. Jesus took the concept a step further when He said, “when you’ve done it to the least of these [neighbors], you’ve done it to me.”

Today, I’m thankful for a God who does not exist in remote distance that I cannot reach, but God who is near and chose to dwell in the neighborhood. I’m quite sure He would welcome us to play kickball in His yard.