Right Here in the Neighborhood

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood! This contemporary rendering of John 1:14 posted by a friend on Facebook really caught my attention.

Words can express beauty, possibility, purpose. They can just as well be used to stone others, too often judge or even demean. When someone moves into the neighborhood we spontaneously want to know what we have in common — how are they just like us? Will they “fit in” to become good neighbors. Would we want our children playing with theirs?

What if they are not just like us? What if they speak English as a second language? …with an accent? What if their food comes from a different store because my supermarket carries only a small selection of what they prefer? Am I in any way put off by a neighbor wearing a burka? Do I recognize this reaction as my issue, not theirs?

We who call ourselves Christian would do well to come up with a contemporary rendering of the Good Samaritan story. How do I live with people who are not like me? People who may not even share my Sacred Scriptures or who understand them differently?  How does my faith instruct, prepare and dispose me to “be neighbor” to those different from myself?

Just like the Word of God our words can easily, and too frequently, be used as a weapon rather than a welcome. The sacred Word and our words are too often used to build walls and close doors. They can also be used as God intends — to open minds, give direction, share wisdom.

Church of Sweden Bishop Krister Stendahl (1921 – 2008) suggested three brilliant guidelines for being a better neighbor, using words to build community rather than barriers or walls:

  • When trying to understand another, ask those who love and adhere to this way of life rather than to their critics.
  • Don’t compare your “best” to another’s “worst.”
  • Leave room for “holy envy” — something beautiful about that person’s religious practice they have and we don’t.

Too often we Christians use our sacred words to compete or convert one another to our way of thinking. Did not the Word become human to confirm and complete God’s way of loving?

Rather than looking upon others as potential converts to our narrow way of seeing the world, are we not to receive the “other” as neighbor — welcome and needed companions bearing unique and precious gifts along the Way?


My source for Krister Stendahl’s “rules” is Barbara Brown Taylor who spoke of them in a retreat presentation on August 3 in Minneapolis.

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