This will likely strike you as naive, idealistic, narrow or too simplistic. It’s probably some combination of all of those and a few more platitudes that you can think up.
But since we live in a world where the best, brightest, most logical and most researched ideas do not always work (or, worse, cannot be agreed upon), maybe there’s space for a hunch that a simple and local hypothesis might play a role in navigating our world out of crisis and chaos.
Neighbor Love as a Necessary Way Forward
In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and in light of terrorist attacks in Paris (and elsewhere, but the West is primarily concerned about the West, so mainly Paris), countries, states, cities, churches and hundreds of other defined- and boundaried-groups are asking whether or not to receive the other — those who are not, in one or many ways, anything like “us.”
Many are choosing to say “no, no way, not here, not you,” and, in doing so, raise an ideological wall that may be just as effective as (if not more than) a physical wall in keeping the other out.
Part of my vocation is to help people understand, embrace and practice the Way of Jesus not for the sake of a particular, bounded set of people but for the sake of the world. This vocational calling arises out of a strong conviction that the Way of Jesus is an invitation into a better life not just “for us and also for them” but “for us because of and through and for the sake of and so that we might no longer see them as them.”
So when Jesus invites us to love our neighbor, I hear an invitation into a subversive, world-changing posture that is radically local and yet, when practiced locally, holds an uncontainable potential to spill out and ripple good throughout the world.
In a world where rejection of neighbor is the loudest story being told, neighbor love is a necessary way forward.
Safety Nets and Trampolines
A few of my friends have written and organized around the concept of neighborhood as a fabric of care. At the most basic level, this fabric of care acts as a safety net – when you need something, another can provide it; when another needs something, you may be able to provide it. Entering into the story of a neighborhood as a loving neighbor can provide support in the face of very real needs.
But beyond this safety net, a neighborhood fabric of care can also act as a trampoline, of sorts. When we extend and receive love from our neighbors, our life will not only be more ‘secure’ as we resource each other’s needs but more space is created to love, welcome, rest, and radically extend care to others.
There’s not just a safety net to rely on, there’s a trampoline to play on.
Set-Course Meals and Potlucks
Another helpful image is the contrast between a potluck and a set-course meal.
At a fine meal with careful preparation and specific invitation, it’s not easy to add space for an unexpected guest. The tone of conversation, the timing of the courses and the size of portion is precisely prepared to last for a planned amount of time for the planned list of guests.
Scarcity dictates the nature of this meal – from the place settings to the portions, there is just enough for those at the table. Scarcity, here, serves a purpose, providing a sense of safety, security, and intimacy, but the nature of this meal is restricted to those with a place at the table.
At a potluck, if someone shows up unexpectedly, you invite them in. Whether or not they brought anything tangible with them, their presence is welcomed. Food, space, timing and provision are both flexible and abundant. The warmth of the shared meal is extended to all who show up. At the end of the night, which may have gone on several hours longer than planned, there is an abundance of leftovers and laughter.
There is room in our world for both of these meals, yet it seems when it comes to neighbor love we often default to the scarcity of a set-course meal rather than the abundance of a potluck.
What if we began to live out of abundance in our neighborhoods and with our neighbors?
What if we lived into and contributed to our neighborhood’s fabric of care not just as a safety net but as a trampoline that, with laughter and excitement, we easily and often invite others onto?
What if, literally and figuratively, we began to host potlucks more often than set-course meals?
Might we begin to see those outside the borders of our family, neighborhood, city, religious enclave, or nation-state as those to invite rather than those to exclude?
Might we find ourselves as the recipients of unlikely invitations at unlikely tables?
Might we begin to blur the lines between ‘our space’ and ‘their space,’ them and us?
Might we begin to see a way forward globally as we act locally?
What do you think?