Loving Those To The Left And The Right Of Me

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?
The most common dictionary definition tells me it’s the person who lives next door. That means there is a neighbor to the left and the right of me. Might I somehow love the whole wide world by simply loving my next door neighbors?
Could a “relay of love” spread household by household and neighbor-to-neighbor until one day there is nothing left in the world but love?
The whole wide world filled to the bubbling brim with love?
Sure. Right. Anything you say, Lord….
….But seriously, Jesus, that is so much pie-in-the-sky thinking that the clouds will be made of apples, pecans and a golden brown crust before the world ever spreads its lovey-dovey wings like that and flies off to a better place.
But, still, I must admit, kindness can spread kindness. A smile may beget a smile. I’ve seen and felt both happen.
Anger spreads like wildfire into war, so why can’t compassion put those flames out just as quickly? And why not before the first match is even struck?
Jesus knows that the biggest answers to the toughest questions all come from the same place: the human heart.
Every evil. All goodness. All darkness and every light are all born in the human heart before they ever flip a single switch in the world. That is why Jesus took relentless aim at the human heart, even to his dying breath of forgiveness on the cross.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he tells us, beseeches us, begs us.
Easier said than done. Which, of course, is why Jesus said it in the first place. It needed saying because it needed—and still needs—doing.
But, how long would Jesus last if he walked down the aisles of Congress preaching that soundbite of neighborly love?
What, are you kidding me?
Even the simplest definition of the word “neighbor” would have no chance at all in that political arena today.
Love the person to the political left of me?
Love the person to my political right?
You are asking me, Lord, to realize that you love them, too, those on my left and those on my right? Republicans and Democrats? And you’re asking me to love them all?
Jesus probably had a pretty sharp sense of humor, especially if it could help make a point, so I imagine him answering this way:
“Yes, because you are very much neighbors. Isn’t it called the House of Representatives?”
Everything Jesus ever said is easier to say than it is to do—until we actually go out and do it, and then we wonder what took us so long.
Washington, D.C. does often seem like a hopeless case—and it is a reflection of the current national divide among the nation’s population—but if you and I simply love those who live to the right and the left of us, well, one day that Relay of Love could reach Congress and then who knows what might happen next.
But before we begin that journey there is something we must do.
The first step, Jesus knows, is loving ourselves. Not in a selfish, egotistical way, but as a child of God—vanity replaced with humble, joyous gratitude. Only then can we recognize, and love, the child of God next door.
And from that moment we will grow to realize that our neighbors fill every nook and cranny of the world.

After Crucifying The Light

“The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.”
—Matthew 22:15

DAYLIGHT, ANYWAY

Even after
the sun set
for the very last time
we sat at the edge of the flattened, rubbled world,
dangling our legs over the side,
dipping our toes,
then up to our ankles and knees
until—not thinking—we were waist-deep,
and then over our heads,
wondering how we ever got there
and how long the baptism would last,
amazed that we could breathe while submerged in so much,
blowing bubbles of light
that became stars above a world that refused to be completely broken
by what people had done
to each other after the sun
rose that morning.

God’s Love Is An Eternal Season

We stood on October’s front porch and the door opens without our knocking. Autumn is upon us. Ready or not. The leaves of color begin to fall. They are blown against the bluest skies by breezes that mingle their coolness with the sun’s warmth. Humidity flies southward with the Monarch butterflies and beside the birds that have sung for us since spring nudged last winter out of the way.
There is so much to distract us in pleasant ways, to keep our minds off the coming darkness and cold that brings the inevitable scarves, ice-scrapers and our own frozen breath that hangs like a mist before sticking, frost-like, to windshields.
If you like sports, there’s football, baseball’s postseason, and soccer. There are fall festivals and school fundraisers, open windows and reading under a tree without swatting away gnats.
For those who love the great outdoors, fields, mountains and streams are now accessible in increasing beauty and inviting temperatures.
But always, lurking around the next football quarter and soccer half, is the bottom of Indian Summer’s ninth inning.
We can turn on all of the lights we want but the sun’s going to keep setting earlier and rising later. Soon enough, the landscape is going to take on funereal tones.
Melancholy finds me each year soon after the World Series ends, the sadness deepening when Daylight Savings Time follows the butterflies and birds, returning only when they do next spring.
But the seasons are blessings. All of them. They are different movements to the same symphony, necessary companions that allow the world of plowed fields and fulsome woods to rest and rejuvenate.
Without winter, there could be no spring.
Without darkness, who would recognize the light?
Walking through the woods and fields surrounding Appomattox Court House National Historical Park recently, I found a reminder that God is present in all of our seasons. Nature’s. And those within us, as well.
On a late September morning, I rounded a bend in a trail and could not believe my eyes.
Brilliant yellow crocuses in rich profusion!!
How, I wondered, could this possibly be? In all of my life I had never, ever seen crocuses shoot up from the ground and spread wide their sunbeam color in the fall.
The rest of the world, in a voice that was beginning to rise above a whisper, was speaking autumn, but these flowers, dozens of them clustered around the base of a tree, were declaring spring.
The sight felt miraculous and the spiritual message soon blossomed:
God’s love and grace are season-less. The rich bloom of God’s love is endlessly limitless and eternally everlasting. There is no Opening Day, no final Super Bowl. Not for God’s fathomless affection.
Most reassuring of all is that, like those crocuses, God’s love is not a miracle.
The flowers, I learned, are Autumn Crocuses. I’d never heard of them before, never seen them. But all of us can plant them in our own gardens to enjoy every fall.
Just as we can open our hearts to the love God yearns to cultivate inside us, the kind of love that can turn our seasons of the human soul inside out, blooming most brilliantly when it seems most impossible that we could even feel one petal.
Flowers come and go. Leaves fall. The final whistle blows on every season. But God’s love keeps playing beyond the final out of what seems to be our last inning. There is always a bloom for us somewhere around the next bend in our heart’s road.