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Loving Our Neighbor

April 10, 2015

Our evolution as humans has given us the same instinct for survival that is in all life. It is part of our animal heritage. A result of that instinct for survival is the related instinct for safety in numbers – the tribal instinct., All this gradual development over millennia has been the result of the slow process of DNA mutations But evolution has also given us humans a sense of self-awareness that is the source of our imagination that allows us to create images of the past and of the future as well as to create language. This amazing ability to communicate – to tell stories, to draw pictures, and to think abstractly – seems to set us apart as humans to such a huge degree from the rest of animal life. As a result we are teachable, we can learn and change even within a lifetime – without waiting for the slow process of DNA mutation to effect change.

It is this sense of self-awareness that allows us first to recognize an identity of oneself. A baby is instinctively self-centered. But how quickly the human baby can grow in awareness of others, and in a mature human to an awareness of the self that is in others – even the development of an empathy for others. At first that awareness of others and that feeling of empathy is within the tribe. For we are social beings, we need one another to grow. And on some level we understand that it is in our human nature to try to help, even if it involves risk or sacrifice. All this was within the tribe at first. Today we can be a part of multiple “tribes” – our comfort groups. Our family, our neighborhood, our church, our work environment, our political party, our nation. But as we grow more fully human, we can recognize and empathize with those outside our “tribe”, with those who are different, those who think or act differently, or are of a different color.

Is not this what Jesus was all about. That we can move beyond our animal instincts, to become more fully human. To strive to reach our full human potential , to become more inclusive, to recognize that we are all more that just being human, that love and justice and compassion are the attributes of God that are also within us.

But we must choose. Both as individuals and as nations or as religious groups or political parties, we can act on our animal instincts and ignore the potential that is within to be “more.” Isn’t that what war and terrorism is about? We see too much of that in the world. We are one tribe. Everyone is our neighbor.

But Jesus makes it even more personal.

We are all familiar with Jesus’ call to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mark 12:31]  We can read that as, “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” Perhaps it suggests that I must first love myself before I can love my neighbor. But to me, it’s not about the quantity or the timing. What it is saying is to love your neighbor as yourself – totally, as if your neighbor were you. In other words, my neighbor is me! I am my neighbor.

We are all one.

In Christ there is no east or west,
To him no south or north,
But one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

Loren Bullock
April 10, 2015

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