When I was a kid, the world that surrounded my house was pretty straight forward. There was Mom and Dad and I to start with. Dale and Doris were a set of grandparents who lived on one side of us. To the other side was Nikki; Nikki had a cat, Miss Kitty, who would regularly invade our home and take up residence on our couch. Across the street was my friend Adam, who moved away in grade one. Taking his place were Kristen and Allison, who immediately had some street cred for having a swing set that I would eventually break both my wrists on. Eleven houses down from us, at the edge of my known universe, was a friend from school, Nick. Such was my world.
So it seemed; until one day at Sunday school when we talked about the Good Samaritan. A legal expert and Jesus get into a discussion about inheriting eternal life, and loving our neighbours, and the laywer asks “who is our neighbour anyway?” Jesus replies that our neighbour could be anyone we come across. My world shattered. It was overwhelming for my little mind to process the idea that I would have to love and care about anybody who would potentially cross my path, not just Nick, Kristen, or Miss Kitty.
In the subsequent years, in hopes of sorting the ramifications of this out, I have had many conversations about what it means to love one’s neighbour as oneself. How do we love them? What does it mean when Christ encourages us to show mercy? How can we do these things while being sensitive of differences; while maintaining appropriate boundaries; without imposing ourselves on others or burning ourselves out? The ‘how’ questions are seemingly endless; but the ‘who’ question has never really come up: our neighbours are those who we may come across.
As of late, I’ve been coming back to the expert-in-the-law’s question: “Who is my neighbour?” In the fall, my wife and I moved into our own house. After years of living in apartments with cultures of transience, we have a place that, statistics suggest, we will be in for thirteen years as opposed to thirteen months.
To one side we have… her clothing suggests that she’s a nurse. To the other side… I don’t know. They have a massive dog. I think they work evenings. Ditto for the family across the street, I guess. We’ve been in the house for six months, and all I’ve said is thank you to the nurse for shoveling out our sidewalk after the first snowfall.
In the past few years, there have been volumes written about the decline of American civic institutions and the increasing alienation and antagonism that we have towards those who live in the cities and spaces around us. Anecdotally, at the same time we moved, I overheard a few coworkers comparing notes about the last time they had seen or talked to a neighbour. The “winner” hadn’t made contact in eight years, and lauded it as the nice thing about her neighbourhood “nobody knows one another; it’s great!” This isolation had become a badge of honour.
In this era when membership in institutions – not just the church – but organizations like the Masons, the Red Cross, the scouts, and bowling leagues is dropping, I wonder if the expert-in-the-law (despite the light cast on him by the Evangelist Luke) is offering us a new mark of the Christian life: curiosity. Curiosity about the shared environment around us, curiosity about the people in it. What if, in these coming years, Christians became known as the people who asked the expert’s question; “Who are my neighbours anyway;” and became known as people who earnestly and fervently seek to know them?
Alex Quick received a Dip.Min from Montreal Dio in 2013. He currently resides in Grand Rapids Michigan, where he is a hospital chaplain with Spectrum Health.