Today at lunch, I attended a lecture at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a beautiful cathedral in downtown New Orleans. I discovered "First Tuesdays" a couple of years ago; on the first Tuesday of the month, the church hosts "Spirituality in the City," which is a lecture given by different religious leaders and local lay celebrities (Leah Chase was my favorite). The lecture is accompanied by a simple, free meal. Usually, I attend noon Mass beforehand, even though I am not Catholic, because the inside of the church feels holy in ways I rarely sense.
Today's lecture was given by David Crosby, a Baptist pastor whose monologue centered on the Good Samaritan, easily my favorite story in the Bible. (When it was the Gospel reading in church in the summer of 2008, I cut it out of the bulletin and taped it on my bathroom mirror so that I would be reminded, daily, to show others mercy.)
Jesus finishes his parable by telling his disciples to "go and do likewise." It's my favorite message, partly because it's such an easy one to understand.... and partly because it's so applicable to all of humanity, regardless of religion: love the people around you, even if they are strangers or hurting or want to hurt you.
Pastor Crosby said, "Strangers are always at risk in a human community."
It's natural to not trust new people. It's natural to flock with birds of your same feather. I think it's become natural for us to shame, to "other," to judge... although "they" were certainly around in Christ's time.
Another message today was "the love of neighbor is the foundation to all of Christ's others teachings." I couldn't agree more.
It is difficult to love strangers, but it's more difficult for me not to. I have been known to buy the groceries of the person in front of or behind me in line. I sometimes buy a bottle of water or a jar of peanut butter for someone who asks for my spare change. I smile at people disabled in body and/or mind, knowing that, sometimes, all people need to feel validated is to feel noticed.
The pastor admitted that it is very difficult to love our neighbors: "loving a stranger takes our blinders off." It's true that we all create cultural structures that give us security and comfort, mostly so we know who "we" is and who "they" is.
Rarely are we Americans as divided as a people as we are on Election Day. It's one of the perils of a two-party system. No other day do we shame or "other" or blame or disrespect our neighbors so much. It is rarely a day of love or unity... because it is impossible for one person to represent all of the views of the people who elected him/her. And with so many issues that people see as having only two sides ("we" are for something, and "they" are against it), it makes loving one's neighbor awfully hard.
Especially because, in America, voting and political ideology comes down to a lot of people's interpretation of certain pieces of the Bible... hardly of any of which I would argue is "love your neighbor." That's a pretty difficult thing to interpret incorrectly.
So let's try. Let's show each other, and ourselves, mercy as the results roll in and we, "they," and the pundits forecast what the next two, four, six years mean for us and for our neighbors, despite whether they vote red, blue, purple, or green.
Let's elect to love.