"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…" — Matthew 5:43, 44I was teaching my sixth-grade class on that day in 2001. As our school went into lockdown, and broken bits of news and rumor filtered down to us about the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, my role was to reassure frightened children even though I was frightened myself. I had to be the non-anxious presence for my students when all I really wanted to do was huddle in a corner and cry.
Today, eleven years later, the question, "And who is my neighbor?" needs to be asked again. Most of us have no problem identifying with those killed on September 11. They were our sons and our daughters; they were our mothers and fathers; we see ourselves when we look at the faces of those lost.
When asked, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus didn't reply, as his audience expected, with a list of who was in, and who was out. Instead, he told a story — The Good Samaritan — a story in which the word neighbor evolves from a simple noun that could be quantified to an adjective describing a way of being in the world. He chose to use a Samaritan since they were one of the most hated and vilified groups of people in his day. Samaritans were, however, also the Jews' neighbors. The old joke goes that the reason the Lord put love for our neighbor right next to love for our enemy is because they are often the same person. We chuckle because we recognize the underlying sad truth in the joke.
One of the things I felt President George W. Bush did right in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was to make a clear distinction between the terrorists and the majority of peace-loving followers of Islam. Unfortunately, that spirit has not thrived. Instead, since 2001, we have seen a huge increase in hate crimes directed at Muslims and in organized anti-Islamic hate groups. This morning in the Washington Post, there were a couple articles (here and here) about this increasing hatred, and calling us to greater tolerance and acceptance of one another. I posted a comment supportive of the author and quoted Jesus' call to love our neighbor. You'd think that would be kind of noncontroversial, especially among those who espouse Christianity, but no. The article was posted at 5:29 AM PST; it is now 10:40 AM. In these last five hours, 2,634 words have been written in the comments decrying the authors and Islam. Here's just a small unedited sample:
"lying to non-muslims is a muslim's duty”In that same period of time, only 325 words, other than my own, have been written supportive of the concept of increased tolerance and loving our neighbors — that's only about 11% of all the comments.
"Islam is a primtive political ideology masquerading as a religion.”
"no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere”
"expect daily intimidation and violent jihad”
"most radical Muslims intimidate and spew hatred, and satisfy their blood lust by killing”
We human beings are great at building walls. I've been told there is only one individual human-made object visible from outer space: the Great Wall of China. It seems sadly appropriate given how we build walls between ourselves on this small blue planet. Unlike most of human history, Jesus came to tear down walls. No one can pretend it's easy. Perhaps if we just begin by tearing down a few walls in our own lives it will get easier to tackle the big walls: the walls between Muslims and Christians, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, young and old, gay and straight. Maybe someday as we continue to practice our love lessons, we will move beyond mere tolerance of "the other," to a bright dawn where by its new light we recognize we are all, in fact, enriched by our differences.