“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa
The old morality tales don’t work anymore. The world has got too big for them. And we, perhaps, have grown too small.
It used to be loving your neighbor was a relatively simple matter of noticing the need of the old widow two doors down, and doing what you might to meet it. Or seeing the mother overburdened by her children since her husband got taken by the war, and making the choice to take her in as a part of the family without really giving her any say in the matter.
To be a good neighbor is still all that (thank God), but it’s not just that anymore, because your neighbors are no longer just the people living on your street. Now, thanks to technology and social media, the whole world lives at your doorstep, which is to say billions of souls ~ the vast majority of them far poorer than you are (if you live in the West), many with no water, or toilets, or education, or meaningful opportunities to explore their potential as image bearers of God. It’s so overwhelming to try to take it all in that we invented a term to describe it:
And yet, the world is here now, daily knocking on my television screen, buzzing on my phone every hour, and I cannot pretend any longer that the way I chose to live my comfortable life has no effect on how those souls on the other side of the world have to live theirs. Suddenly, I find compassion dangerous, because I know if I really let it take hold of me, it might completely unravel the life I have so carefully crafted for myself.
As Frederick Buechner has written somewhere:
“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside someone else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
So in this new world of intimate millions, globalized economies, limited resources, and near-instant awareness of what’s happening “over there,” what does it mean to love your neighbor?
I’ve heard it said somewhere that the answer lies in “living simply, so others can simply live.” Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but it’s certainly at least a place to begin. Most of us could live with less, and be happier for it. It’s both an interesting and deeply troubling thought to realize that if everyone everywhere in the world lived as we do here in the States, the world’s resources would quickly be exhausted and the planet itself laid waste. It’s an alarming thing to realize the American Dream, so much a part of the fabric of who we are as a people, is simply unsustainable in a world of 7 billion souls, and as long as we keep trying to live it, others will have to keep paying the price for our indulgence.
To be a neighbor as Jesus described, to really meaningfully love the “other” who now lives at our door, I think we must be brave, and begin a new conversation ~ to explore what “economic morality” really looks like in this new landscape, and to create a new dream together, not as Americans, but as Christ followers, for the kind of life we want to live, and the kind of neighbors we want to be.