A Saturday Caesura
I call these weekly reflections caesuras because I want to pay attention to the things that force me to pause, to ponder and examine my lived experience in the world. I want learn, to grow, to wonder. Many times these pauses are connected to something that ultimately brings comfort or encouragement. But not this time.
I’m still processing a conversation with a neighbour that happened earlier in the week — a neighbour with whom I have never had an actual conversation. Ever. And he and his wife have been our neighbours for several years. These facts alone make me pause…and squirm, and then start listing my justifications for being a neighbour-by-proximity-only. At the top of my list of justifications? They are aloof and don’t seem interested in anything more than a casual acknowledging wave across the fence. Even if this is an accurate observation, it was the neighbour who initiated and invited me into the conversation when I could just as easily have done the same.
We chatted about birds and golf and COVID — comfortable and relevant enough topics, but he made one comment that stuck in me and won’t let go. “I feel like maybe you don’t think very highly of me,” he said. My response at the time was something about not really knowing him, so it wouldn’t be fair to have an opinion one way or the other. He accepted that response (or appeared to), but the truth is that I have had an opinion, or at least a perception of our neighbours based on what little I see of them. And obviously, his perception of me somehow included an attitude of disapproval or superiority.
But how and why could he possibly come to such a conclusion?
He may simply have been looking for a form of acceptance. He knows that we are Christians and that my husband has been a pastor. He is a self-professed alcoholic and a “little rough” (his words, not mine). Does he assume disapproval from us based on our different lifestyles? By the same token, over the years have I attributed an aloofness to them that actually had its origins in me?
My husband and I think and talk a lot about the importance of ‘second commandment living’ — that practical working out of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). But if my actual next door neighbour doesn’t sense that love, it should make me pause and evaluate. And squirm. I should not be comfortable with this.
Months of a pandemic crisis and the recent weeks in a long and painful history of racism have exposed our collective willingness to truly love others as Jesus commanded (and exemplified) or to ensconce ourselves behind rights and justifications and self-protections. In this vortex of global and national issues that do indeed call me to a greater love, it was one particular comment from a particular neighbour that ultimately challenged and exposed me.
We need to do better. I need to do better. Here. In my neighbourhood. With real people with real needs who live across the fence, across the street, down the road.
If I can’t live love in the particularities of this place, can I honestly claim to be living out Jesus’ love in the broader context of the world?