In the preschool classic, “Are You My Mother?” a baby bird hatches when his mother is away, and the poor little fella begins a journey to find her. He asks everyone – and everything – he meets, “Are you my mother?”
Imprinting is instinctual; at the very core of who he is, Baby Bird is driven to find a bond, an attachment, love…and it’s natural that he’d do so with his mother, the one he’s physically closest to (or should be). In her absence and driven by his little birdbrain, he tries to attach to a dog, a cow and even a plane.
That story is what came to mind when I learned Grace Table would be exploring the question “Who is my neighbor” this month, except I found myself asking “Are you my neighbor?”
The question has dogged me for weeks. Not in a biting-at my-heels kind of way, but like a playful puppy, because, who is my neighbor, indeed? The people who inhabit the homes on my street? All the colorful souls at Walmart?
I’ve sifted and shaken the theme, at first writing about my neighbors in a literal sense–they are who first come to mind. And I’ll finish those stories because they’re so worthy of telling, but none of them felt quite right, not at this time, not in this space.
I knew I wanted to consider the question in light of the Gospel and with the eyes of Christ. How would He answer the question?
Many of us seated around Grace Table will know Jesus was asked that question. He answered it by telling a story familiar to us, the one about the good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10. (I bet I’m not the only one who mentions it this month.)
The person Jesus says is our neighbor, the person to love as yourself, is simply the one whose path crosses our own…even strangers and philosophical enemies. In the case of the Good Samaritan, one person was in need and the other had the means of provision. Well, several pass by who could help, but only one does….
We are the world.
It was 1985 when an anthem written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie brought the far world near and introduced people in great need to those with the means of provision. Are you old enough to remember? It was unparalleled and revolutionary. I was stilled every time it came on the radio. YouTube hadn’t yet been born, so it wasn’t like we could watch the video whenever we wanted to; personal computers weren’t even common in homes.
In USA for Africa (thirty years ago this month) forty-six superstars – many at the height of their career – joined together to record what would become the first-ever multiplatinum single. Putting aside ego for the greater good, they each played a small part on a big stage, their humble effort not to advance personal platform but to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Bright lights were cast on a dark place. Heartstrings were tugged, eyes were opened, and many were moved to help.
People who were starving to death were invited right into our living rooms, strangers brought near. We could choose to ignore them and continue on our way, or slow down long enough to lend a helping hand. Our neighbors became people we’d never meet face to face, but through the taken-for-granted miracle of television, our figurative paths were literally crossing.
It didn’t matter that they lived thousands of miles away, their circumstances were desperate, their dire need impossible to ignore. “Neighbor” was redefined.
In 2010, twenty-five years after the release of “We Are The World,” eighty artists came together for We Are The World 25 to record a new version of the original song to raise money for Haiti following a devastating earthquake there. Once again, we were meeting people who were battered, bruised and in great need, and we could either ignore them or extend compassion by giving, going or maybe even just grieving with them. This time the message was broadcast a thousand times over thanks to the Internet.
Our neighborhoods are expanded because the world has become smaller; our neighbors are no longer determined solely by our street address. We can get to know, care for, serve and love the people right outside our door – and we should – but when our lives intersect people on those virtual roads, we can love them, too. I suppose it was my mother who first shaped my heart to consider “neighbors” in a broader sense; one of my most precious memories of her is demonstrating that those who have give to those who don’t.
The We Are The World initiative was an early change agent for social justice, but by no means the first; star power simply amplified its reach. Cause advocacy organizations like Compassion International and Mercy House introduce us to new neighbors–people in need for whom, by the magnificent grace of God, we have the potential and power to help.
We’re born with a natural instinct to form relational bonds and to love others. I guess we have something in common with that little baby bird after all.
Q. Are you old enough to remember when “We Are The World” first debuted? Tell me about your response. Have you always thought of your neighbors only as those who live next door? Is our Grace Table series shifting that paradigm for you?