Who Is My Neighbor Now? The Third World

November 4, 2014 — Leave A Comment


“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:

Compassion Fatigue.

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.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Warden

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2 responses to Who Is My Neighbor Now? The Third World

  1. I have really enjoyed this series. This topic has been a huge challenge for me to live out in practical ways. I have done a fair amount of research on supply chains and the resources used for my very basic purchases – food, utilities, gas, clothing. I’m a bit of a minimalist, so I don’t have many significant purchases outside that. Even living simply in those boundaries is challenging. I feel that the locavore food movement has made decent supply chains for food more accessible, but it presents its own sustainability challenges. For example, in drought-ridden Texas, is it an appropriate use of water for us to grow all our own food locally? Clothing – I literally could not find American suppliers. That was my initial test, because I know our labor practices, and I figured less fuel would be used on transport than from an international company. I read multiple articles about designers who tried to produce in the States, but the process was incredibly difficult because they were still shipping parts from abroad. There were articles about whole blocks in Hong Kong simply dedicated to shoe grommets, so of course shoe designers build the factories closer to their parts. Of course I can buy secondhand, but that is not sustainable for all. There must be firsthand purchases to supply secondhand markets. This topic of supply chain ethics and labor practices and sustainability is quite literally one of my very favorite topics, and I’m still looking for my tribe for ongoing thoughtful discussion surrounding it, because, while the ideas are spot on, the living them is hard, even for the minimalists among us. Thanks for shedding light on the discussion!

    • I love how you’re thinking about this, Sara ~ it’s inspiring! I hope others (our tribe) join in tackling these tough questions. I agree there are probably no easy answers, but I think our faith demands that we honestly engage the questions, especially in the brave new world we now find ourselves in. Thanks for sharing!

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