Tag Archive | Spiritual gifts, Discernment, Empathy

Who Is My Neighbor?

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Over the last few days, I have been reading the story of the Good Samaritan and I have really been struggling with the definition of “neighbor.” Just who is my neighbor? And how do I handle people and situations that make me uncomfortable? I was fortunate to find an essay written by Spencer Perkins, who was the Director of Reconcilers Fellowship and author of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. Mr. Perkins modernized the parable of the Good Samaritan and helped clarify Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” and how it should motivate us to especially love those who are different from us, whether by race, social status, political or religious beliefs.  My next couple of blog posts cover this subject, so I wanted to share his parable of the Good Samaritan with you:

 
A PARABLE FOR TODAY

 
Let’s say you live in a mostly white neighborhood. You hardly deal with people of other races. You work hard, and you teach your children to love God and other people.

 
Now suppose you hear about an unusual teacher/activist who is going around preaching that same simple message you teach your kids: to love God and other people. But this teacher spends his time with poor people and members of the other race. You agree with what he teaches, but his lifestyle makes you uncomfortable.

 
Then one day you hear he’s in town, so you go to hear him teach. Afterward, you approach him to ask a question. Your question is probing and goes straight to the heart of the matter. You believe that his answer will probably be theologically unsound, so that you will embarrass him, discount his lifestyle and in the process affirm your own. “How can I be sure that when I die I will go to heaven?” you ask, going straight for the bottom line.

 
Instead of answering, he asks you an elementary question. “What did they teach you in church?”

 
You reply from memory, from the first principles you learned way back in Sunday school: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

 
He smiles and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and when you die you will go to heaven.”

 
But you feel a little slighted. His answer was too simple. You think, “If we agree, why then does his lifestyle still make me feel so uncomfortable?” And you realize that the difference must have something to do with the “neighbor” part.

 
Needing to justify your own existence, you decide to probe a little deeper. So you ask the question—the one whose answer was as ignored in Jesus’ day as it is today: “And who is my neighbor?”

 
His reply comes in the form of a story:

 
“One evening a man was driving from his suburban home to his downtown office. Because he was pressed for time he decided to drive the most direct route, which led right through the roughest part of the inner city. It just so happened that while driving through this mostly black part of town he had a flat tire. Because his white face stuck out like a sore thumb in this part of town, he was tempted to continue driving on the flattened tire but decided it would only take a minute to change it. While he was changing the tire, though, a gang of black youths attacked him, stripped and beat him and left him half dead.

 
“Now it happened that a preacher on his way to evening service also had to drive through this dangerous part of town. When he saw the car up on a jack he slowed down, and then he saw the man slumped over the steering wheel. But the preacher hurried on his way, deciding that it would be too dangerous to stop.

 
“A little while later another man, who had been a Christian all his life and was well respected in his community, also saw the injured man, but he too decided not to get involved.

 
“Finally, an old black man driving a beat-up pickup truck drove up and stopped, pulled the injured white man out of the car, laid him in the back of his truck and drove him to the hospital. He paid the hospital bill and then continued on his way, never seeing the injured man again.”

 
His story finished, the teacher then asks you, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who was attacked by the gang?”

 
You answer, “The one who had mercy on him.”

 
And he says to you, “Go and do likewise.” (See Luke 10:25-37 for the original version of this story.)

 
When Jesus was asked, “Who is the neighbor I’m supposed to love like myself?” he didn’t say “Your family,” or “The people of your neighborhood—people who are like you.”

 
For all practical purposes, Jesus turned the question into a racial issue. It was no coincidence that Jesus picked a Samaritan to demonstrate the meaning of neighbor to a Jewish expert in the law. Jews didn’t see the Samaritans as their neighbors. Samaritans were half-breeds, the scum of the earth, outcasts. The Jews believed that if a Jewish person’s shadow happened to touch a Samaritan’s shadow, it would contaminate the Jew. If a Samaritan woman entered a Jewish village, the entire village became unclean.

 
But in this story Jesus says that our neighbors are especially those people who ignore us, those people who separate themselves from us, those people who are afraid of us, those people we have the most difficulty loving and those people we feel don’t love us. These are our neighbors. In Matthew 5:46 Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” Anybody can do that.

 
Christianity doesn’t require any power when its only challenge is to do something that already comes naturally. But it will take a powerful gospel—a gospel with guts—to enable us to love across all the barriers we erect to edify our own kind and protect us from our insecurities.

 
Sometimes, in my weak moments, I wish the lawyer who asked that question two thousand years ago had never opened his big mouth. But now, because he did, I am without excuse. I cannot plead ignorance to the question. Now, because of Jesus’ answer, I have to go beyond my comfort zone and embrace neighbors I would rather do without.

 
The answer to the question “And who is my neighbor?” has much to say about the priority we place on loving people who are different from ourselves, especially as it relates to our eternal future. Hidden behind Jesus’ simple lesson on helping others is an intense spotlight aimed right at one of our most serious blind spots—race.

 
DO YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR NEIGHBOR?

 
It doesn’t take much imagination for each of us to figure out who Jesus would use as an example of “neighbor” in our own towns and cities:

 
For an Arab, how about a Jew?
For a rich white person, how about a black welfare mother?
For a poor white person, how about a middle-class black person who got where he is through affirmative action?
For a black male, how about a white male—better yet, a pickup-driving, gun rack-toting, tobacco-chewing, baseball-cap-wearing white man who still refers to a black man as “boy”?
For a feminist, how about an insensitive, domineering male chauvinist?
For a suburban Catholic family, how about the Muslim family that moved in down the street?
For the typical nuclear family of four, how about the married gay couple at the company BBQ?
For all of us, how about the unmotivated, undisciplined, uneducated poor? Or the single mother with 5 children with 4 different fathers?
Or an AIDS victim who contracted AIDS not through a transfusion but through homosexual activity or intravenous drug use?

 

Who would Jesus use as the neighbor if he were speaking to you?

 

 

Source: http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/who-my-neighbor

Beautiful Heart

IMG_3748One day it became too much and I had to look away. I could barely lift my head. I called the hospital and let them know I would not be able to work that day because I had a migraine. But it wasn’t a migraine. I was simply overcome by the death and disease, much of it preventable, and I could not bear the thought of holding one more dying child, one more grieving mother. I spent most of that day crying softly,  lying in bed and staring at the wall. I would have asked God how He could let this happen to His children, but I was too angry to talk to him. I couldn’t bear to see one more emaciated child, distended belly, or swollen head, or hear their weak, pitiful cries like kittens haunting me in sleep. The palpable despair and heaviness in my chest made it hard to breathe. I was tired of getting up every day and trying to make a difference.

That afternoon, two of the nurses, Grace and Florence, knocked on my door. They were concerned I might be showing the early signs of Malaria. “How do you do this every day?” I asked them, “I look at these suffering children and my heart is breaking…the needs are just too great. How can anything I’m doing make a difference?” I will never forget the look on Sister Florence’s face as she wagged her finger at me and said –  “You are here not by accident! It is God’s hand that brought you – not to change anything here, but to change you!”

The next day I woke up and went back to work. The heavy weariness had not lifted completely, but my outlook had changed.

I was given a copy of this story :

The Most Beautiful Heart

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley.

A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. They all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.” 

The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars; it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges.

In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.

The people stared ­ “How can he say his heart is more beautiful?” they thought.

The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed.

“You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine? Mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them,

and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart.

But because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared.

“Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges – giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting.

So, now do you see what true beauty is?” He asked.

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks.
He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect, young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.

The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever,

since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his.

 

 

Healing in Uganda

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It is 5am and I know this because I hear the Adhan, the morning call to prayer coming from the mosque a block away. Here in Mbale, it doesn’t matter that my phone has died and I have no alarm clock. The Adhan or local rooster will wake me every morning. I am in Uganda, at CURE Children’s hospital in Uganda. Today I will meet the two neurosurgeons who perform life-changing surgery every day. The doctors round at 7:30am, then meet in the chapel at 8:00 for morning prayers. There are bibles on every other chair, tattered and worn, some missing covers. They have been well loved.

I meet the nurses and other staff. They are so kind and humble. One says, ”She is here to teach us how to do better.” The truth is, I have much to learn from them. I meet Miriam, the hospital’s Spiritual Director. I ask her what she does on an average day. She tells me, “I sit with every mother and child and just listen. The mama she has so much sorrow to share. I pray with them, with every one of them“. Miriam expresses her dismay when I tell her we have hospital chaplains, but they only come at the patient or family’s request. “Who attends to the spiritual healing?” She asks, “How can the patient heal if the spiritual is not addressed?” I agree with her and I ask her what is most needed, what is the most important thing for me to do while I’m here?  “Hold their babies, love them” she says, “No one in their village will touch them because they think they are bewitched. They need your heart and your hands much more than your head. Your presence is enough.”

The neurosurgeons are John and Peter. They have me stand behind them as they operate, explaining each anatomical structure and procedure. They do the most intricate part of the surgery in the dark. There is a light over the incision point, but they are looking straight ahead at a monitor, their hands like a typist whose fingers tap the keyboard while her eyes stare at the page. I believe they could do this in their sleep.

These doctors have every reason not to be humble, but they are. They are kind to patients and staff. There is compassion in their eyes. I am moved at how they give God all the credit for a patient’s healing. I hear Dr. John singing “How Great Thou Art” in an off-key but sincere falsetto as he works. Dr. Peter has gospel music playing full-blast in the OR and he and the staff sing while they work.

But what makes me cry is when the lights are dimmed, and before any incision is made, the entire surgical team bows their heads in prayer: A heartfelt, out-loud, specifically for this child prayer. They ask God for his help. And this is what they do before every surgery – ask God for His mercy, to heal this child. They acknowledge God as the only true source of healing, remembering that their skillful hands are simply God’s instrument. And in that moment of quiet with the lights dim, the surgical suite becomes a sanctuary, a holy place. There is a calm, a peace and an undeniable healing presence.

Each of these tiny patients has a name, a family, a story. And although state of the art neurosurgery is being done here, even more evident is the spiritual transformation taking place. These children can return home, go to school and live a productive life. No longer will they be looked upon by their community as cursed. Instead, they are a miracle.

Time to Fly

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I’ve been watching the swallows all summer. Every nest is empty now except for one. The combined weight of the three fledglings and their parents should have caused the nest to crumble and fall to the ground by now, but someone, trying to be helpful, propped up the nest with an empty salsa container. So the birds continue their daily routine, not realizing  their young ones are too big for the nest and their home is falling apart. If some well-meaning person hadn’t interfered with the natural order of things, the birds would have to choose: Fall or Fly.

As I watch them, I wonder if they are aware that all the other nests are now vacant. The neighbors have moved out and they are the only residents left. As I look up, I see three youngsters, as big as their parents, in that too small, poor excuse for a nest, still being fed, still hanging out.

One bird has been trying his wings, taking some test flights and now sits busily preening himself. The other two sit squished together and look down at me. I’m sure the ground looks awfully far away. I can almost imagine their conversation: Bird #1, feeling pretty proud of himself and confident that things are going well, comes back to tell the others “Hey you guys, flying is great! You should try it, it’s fun! ”

Bird #2 thoughtfully watches her brothers’ progress and decides to wait and see what happens before she gives her own wings a try. If he’s successful and nothing bad happens, then she will fly too.

And then there is bird #3.  I feel as if I’ve known her my whole life. She sits in the nest thinking of all sorts of good reasons not to fly.  “It’s really not that bad…. I’m comfortable here. The nest is fine; it’s not going to fall anytime soon – the pool guy nailed up that container and that will hold us up. You two will be leaving, so that means more room for me, right? OK… maybe it is kinda’ tight right now, but it’s going to get better, I just know it. You know I’m afraid of heights and what if my wings don’t work, what if they’re defective? I could fall into the water and drown or crash into the rocks below. Seriously, have you seen the statistics on how many tragic bird injuries there are every year from flying?” I have named her “Safety Swallow.”

I wonder if the birds truly understand the risk they are taking, if they experience fear, or is there something in their DNA that causes them to know instinctively when it’s their time to fly?

It makes me ask myself: How many times have I missed out on an opportunity to fly simply because I am too afraid of falling? With each day becoming more uncomfortable, more crowded, at some point a choice has to be made: Do I stay or do I go? Breakdown or breakthrough? Fall or fly?

I am learning that if we’re not willing to take any risks,  we are destined to repeat the past. We will continue to make excuses rather than admitting to ourselves or others what’s not working. It is all too easy to stay numb to our reality, while ignoring the call of spirit and our soul’s cry for relief. To paraphrase George Santayana, “It’s far better to live in the light of tragic fact, than to forget or deny it and build everything on a fundamental lie.” We may remain frozen, settling for a fragile, plastic nest nailed to a wall when we were created to soar and reach the sky.

Sometimes it doesn’t require a big risk, but rather small, daily choices that lead to healing, transformation and making a difference.

With arms open wide, today I choose to fly….

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”  ― J.M. Barrie