And you shall know them by their love.
As many of you know, I teach two sections of freshman composition at Baylor. Needless to say, this has put an interesting stress on my semester. Today, I took about half the class period and introduced the next unit - persuasion. I fortunately kept our discussion from turning into a political debate wherein the whole class disagreed with me, but I did manage to raise the question in some of my students' minds of "What does it mean to love your neighbor?"
I suppose I should rewind a bit.
I introduced the unit with an exercise in audience/authorship. My friend Chase posted an article a few weeks back that I just knew I had to use in class - Michael Moore's Open Letter to Christians in America. In this letter, Moore challenges Christians to think about what the relation between Capitalism and Loving Your Neighbor really is. Would Jesus be okay with some people getting a bigger piece of the pie than others?
Knowing that even just the name "Michael Moore" would raise some guards, I carefully edited it to remove any clues to who the author is, and presented it to my students.
The reaction in the first class was expected: "He's misusing Scripture! What is this? He takes those comments about the poor entirely out of context! He doesn't know his audience very well." Knowing that a debate on the veracity of his Scriptural references would simply take the class too far off track to do any good, I merely wrote their objections on the board, and questioned them. Again and again, I asked, "Did no one find anything positive in the article?" Not only were none of them persuaded, none of them seemed to even have questions raised in their minds about the issue. Christianity supports a capitalistic economic structure, no question.
I, quite reasonably, kept my mouth shut for most of the discussion, only prompting questions to guide them back to focusing on the writing because, after all, this is a comp class. I kept my mouth shut, that is, until the question of what it means to love your neighbor came up. Even then, all I did was ask the question: "Is it loving to take a large chunk of the pie to improve your bottom line? Is it possible to love both money and your neighbor?"
While it shut some of them up, the majority opinion chose to ignore the word "love" in the sentence. I was surprised at how quickly the concept was written off, especially by students whose lives have been surrounded by images of love, the idea that love is the highest possible good, and raised in families who told them, over and over, that God loves them.
What has happened to the concept of love in today's society? What does loving your neighbor look like?
These questions have become a consistent theme in my life, and not without reason. I live in the 16th poorest city in the nation, and I can't go to the post office without encountering a homeless person. While sitting at my kitchen window, I frequently see these two homeless people pushing shopping carts through my neighborhood - they're the same ones each time, and I see them about once every two weeks.
At one point this summer, I took the trash out at about 10:00 at night, and there was a man of about 40 years old rooting through our dumpster. I said hello, and he smiled widely at me, greeting me enthusiastically, seemingly unembarrassed to be found rooting through the garbage. I let him be.
That man, even if he doesn't live in my complex, is my neighbor.
The old lady, leaning on her shopping cart as she wanders through the neighborhood, is my neighbor.
The man sitting against the wall outside the post office telling me he only has $1.34 and just needs a little bit more so he can go buy some food...that man is my neighbor, my brother, my family.
What does it mean to love them? What does it mean to apply to the real world the somewhat trite, continually restated and reemphasized edict of "love your neighbor"? I think that may be the essence of the Christian life - learning how to work out that love for others as God loves us. Why else do we remain on earth when we are "saved"? It is so that we may love others.
Go and learn what it means to love.
(photo credit: Brandt Russo, of the group "Can't Ignore the Poor," taken in Skid Row, Los Angeles)
Posted by Dianna at 11:34 AM