To become neighbours is to bridge the gap between people. As long as there is distance between us and we cannot look in each other's eyes, all sorts of false ideas and images arise. We give them names, make jokes about them, cover them with our prejudices, and avoid direct contact. We think of them as enemies. We forget that they love as we love, care for their children as we care for ours, become sick and die as we do. We forget that they are our brothers and sisters and treat them as objects that can be destroyed at will.In physics, the strength of a signal (radio, TV, electrical current) degrades over distance. Bill Hybels believed that this concept applied to human communication, as well - that the distance between the pulpit and the first pew was much greater than the distance across a dinner table. To steal Henri Nouwen's idea, the shorter the gap, the easier it is to bridge it.
Only when we have the courage to cross the street and look in one another's eyes can we see there that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family. (from Henri Nouwen's daily meditations, Bread for the Journey, July 22)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35, NIV translation)
For the last month of my stay at school, I lived with a Turkish Muslim man named Erkan, who arrived in the US for the first time July 1st. Whenever I would mention this in company, at least one child-of-God would say, "You're living with a terrorist?" And my first reaction (which, thankfully, I never voiced) was "No, but I'm talking to a moron..."
Folks who spoke like that simply refused to bridge the gap between their prejudices about one group of people who happen to have the same faith as my former roommate, and the real-life experience of a devout, kind, gentle, Allah-loving doctoral student. They haven't seen his revulsion at violence, his sadness at the death of any creature, or his belief that there is One above us all, even though we understand that One differently. Thirty days of talking - and listening - showed me this truth, and Erkan is a friend with whom I hope to remain connected. We met as strangers - we parted as brothers. I hope that bridge remains strong for the long haul.
Even in the midst of the chaos of moving, I saw this happen. Several (not all) of the people who helped me move were guys from AA - but two were fellow Lutheran seminary students, and one of the AA guys was definitely not hiding his sexual orientation. One of my sponsees talked to me over dinner last night, and told me again how he really enjoyed meeting the two seminarians, and how they really seemed like neat people. And he found a lot of powerful connections with my gay friend, as well - both are farm boys at heart, and both long to return to the joys of rural life. It was neat to be able to see bridges being built, even as we watched.
I firmly believe that if I refuse to see and hear my neighbors - my sisters and brothers - then I cannot love them. I can talk about them; I can even contribute to their welfare. But if I refuse see the person across the dinner table (or the U-Haul loading ramp!) as they are and not as I suppose them to be, then to it is impossible to bridge the gap between us - gaps built by ignorance, fear, and prejudice.
God, grant me the willingness to continue to build bridges with the neighbors I do not yet understand. Help me to see Your presence in all of them.